On 22nd of November 2018, the Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Rev.Fr.Simon Lokodo, clamped down on the National HIV Prevention Symposium, and ordered the removal of key population rights leaders and activists from the programme, lest it is shut down. This is despite the fact that it was organised by the Uganda AIDS Commission, which is a government body with the mandate to implement the Presidential Fast Track Initiative (PFTI). The PFTI's action plan includes fast tracking attainment of the 90-90-90 target on HIV testing and treatment among men and young people; a demographic that includes a high number of most at risk populations.

This clamp down is a gross violation of the right to freedom of association, expression and speech, and the right to equality. It follows the halting of the Most at Risk Populations Conference that occurred in May.

The continued suppression of discourse on issues pertaining to key populations has a huge social and health cost implication for Uganda, and Min. Lokodo, the president and all key government stakeholders owe it to all Ugandans to minimise that cost.

Taking Human Rights to All

The abortion question has recently made headlines with the Executive Order released by the new United States President prohibiting any aid from the US going to organisations, which provide services or even information on abortion. This is the ‘global gag-rule’ which will have devastating consequences for women and girls in lower and middle income countries across the globe, including Uganda, as funding for organisations which provide family planning services and information will be cut. This may seem like good news to the majority of Ugandans who are reportedly against any exceptions to the abortion prohibition, but we need to pay more attention to what this will mean in practice for many of our women and girls, who usually pay the price for such populist policies in the currency of life and disability.

We already gag discussions on abortion through the criminalisation of abortion, and therefore what the ‘global gag rule’ will do is to worsen an already bad situation. It is a well-known fact that the criminalisation of abortion in Uganda has not been effective in preventing abortions. The Guttmacher Institute this month launched a report that found that an estimated 314,304 abortions took place during 2013, up by 7% from 293,804 in 2003. There are 438 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in Uganda, of which an estimated 26% can be attributed to unsafe abortions. Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) in a 2016 study found that the criminal status of abortion causes the majority of abortions to be carried out in unhygienic conditions or without the assistance of a skilled medical worker, leading to extortion, disability, infertility and in many cases death.

The majority of Ugandans seems to be of the view that abortion goes against our values as a country. That Uganda values human life and is willing to protect it right from inception. This is such an admirable value. However, we must be willing to live up to it to its logical conclusion, which is that, we need to protect the lives of both unborn children and women.

To do this, we incidentally need to un-gag our women in a rather literal sense by opening up the conversation around abortion, including discussions on decriminalisation of abortion as criminalisation has so far failed. The fact that more than 300,000 women a year are willing to risk their lives, break the law and perhaps act contrary to even their own moral standards in order to get rid of unwanted pregnancies begs us to look at this issue in more detail. The silence around a ‘taboo’ breeds stigma, which isolates women with unwanted pregnancies; dilutes the prospects of a support-network through which alternatives could be weighed; and encourages panicked solutions.

Through open discussion, we shall be able to address the most common reasons why women decide to undergo abortions. We shall be able to contemplate the quality and availability of sex education in schools as well as the accessibility to contraception and family planning services. We shall see the debilitating effect of sexual violence and exploitation against women and girls that is rife in this country, and we shall consider the viability of letting girls stay in school after giving birth. We cannot see the underlying challenges that cause abortions, if we do not open up the discussion around sex and around abortions.

Finally, we need to recognise that the prohibition on abortion in Uganda is not absolute, and have open discussions with health workers and the police on the exceptions. The Constitution recognises exceptions to the prohibition on abortion if they are authorised by law. The Penal Code Act provides an exception as it allows for a skilled person to end pregnancy by a surgical operation for the preservation of the life of a mother. The HRAPF study found that even health workers do not have clarity on whether this exception should also apply when it is the mental and physical health of the mother that is at stake. Life is not simply about the ability to breath in and out, but also about the quality of life. The 2015 Ministry of Health Guidelines, which provided for more analogous grounds upon which abortions could be done, and which were stayed for more consultations, need to be reinstated.

We need to acknowledge that the more we remain silent about abortion, the more it happens, and it happens in unsafe conditions which in many cases lead to the death of women. Society cannot simply look on as this happens. If we accept that human life is indeed sacred, let’s protect our women and girls from suffering unnecessary and undignified deaths.

 

By: Adrian Jjuuko, Executive Director of HRAPF

This article appeared in The Observer on 17 March 2017 http://observer.ug/viewpoint/51814-the-more-we-remain-silent-about-abortion-the-more-it-happens.html

PRESS STATEMENT

Kampala, Friday 9th November 2018

HRAPF SUPPORTS THE CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE TO THE ‘IDLE AND DISORDERLY’ LAWS

Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) supports the petition challenging Section 168 (1) (c) and (d) of the Penal Code Act, which is part of the offences that form the ‘idle and disorderly’ family of laws. The petition, Francis Tumwesige Ateenyti v Attorney General, Constitutional Petition No. 36 of 2018, was filed by human rights lawyer, Francis Tumwesige Ateenyi, represented by Advocates from Rwakafuuzi & Co. Advocates and Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF).

HRAPF supports the petition as part of its campaign against petty offences, including the ‘idle and disorderly’ offences. These offences criminalise poverty and are discriminatory and thus not justifiable in a free and democratic society. In 2016, HRAPF conducted a study on how these laws are enforced. The study found that the provisions give those with the mandate to enforce them, the power to misuse them, and impact negatively on the poor and marginalised members of our society. The study was based on the enforcement of these laws in Kampala district over the period 2011 to 2015. This study has been used as part of the evidence in the petition.

These laws on their own are discriminatory as they criminalise people based on their social-economic status and thus do not meet the constitutional guarantees of equality before and under the law. They are also too vague and wide sweeping and thus fail to meet the constitutional requirement for a criminal offence to be defined. Their enforcement also violates a myriad of rights including the right to liberty. It is upon this background that we support the constitutional challenge to these laws.

Taking human rights to all

The Human Rights Advocate magazine is a legislative review and advocacy tool in favour of marginalised groups. Each issue contains deliberations from a variety of authors on a particular enactment or proposed enactment, which affects marginalised groups, all focusing on a common theme.

The third issue of the Human Rights Advocate focuses on the new Non-Governmental Organisations Act, 2016 and the impact of this Act on marginalised groups in Uganda. The Act came into force on 14 March 2016.

Although the Act was well intentioned in its objectives and some of its provisions, it has human rights implications at two interlinked levels. Firstly, the Act presents obstacles in the way of NGOs operations in Uganda in general and closes the space for civic participation in governance. At the second level, the NGO Act poses threats to the exercise of the right to freedom of association for marginalised groups in particular.

This third edition of the magazine contains an editorial, feature, two opinion pieces, two commentaries on the Act and two commentaries on case law. It also contains a case update on the case of Frank Mugisha, Dennis Wamala & Warry Ssenfuka v Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), which challenges a decision by the URSB to refuse to register the name Sexual Minorities Uganda, and consequently incorporate the organisation because its objective of protecting for the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons was viewed as contrary to the laws of Uganda.

The editorial considers the NGO Act, 2016 and the two levels of threats that it poses from a human rights perspective. The feature considers the legislative history of the NGO Act and describes the contents of the NGO Act. The first commentary considers the NGO Act from an international human rights law perspective while the second commentary compares the regime governing NGOs in Uganda to that of Kenya. The first opinion piece argues that the NGO Act forms part of a broad series of ‘legalised repression’ of political rights and freedoms. The second opinion piece considers the impact of this law on the human development of the country through its repression of the associative rights of minorities. The first case commentary considers the impact of the recent Constitutional Court decision in the matter of HURINET and Others v Attorney General in which provisions of the previous NGO Act and Regulations were upheld on the new regulatory framework of NGOs. The second case commentary discusses the High Court case, which has been filed subsequent to the Uganda Registration Services Bureau’s refusal to register an organisation on the basis of its objective to protect the rights of LGBTI persons.

Finally, the Appendix contains the text of the NGO Act 2016; the position paper on the NGO Act, 2016 released by HRAPF shortly after the Act came into force and HRAPF’s suggested regulations to the NGO Act, which would address the concerns of minorities and marginalised groups in respect of the Act, are included.

We hope that readers find this magazine to be a valuable tool in analysing the human rights implications of the NGO Act, 2016. In particular, we hope that this magazine will shed light on the dangers presented to the future operation of NGOs advocating for the rights of marginalised groups or persons who engage in activities, which are criminalised along with the threats posed to the NGO sector as a whole. It is our aim for this magazine to be used as an advocacy tool to challenge the provisions of the NGO Act which are not in line with Uganda’s Constitution and international human rights standards.

HRAPF has made an analysis of The Human Rights Enforcement Bill, 2015. The Bill was published in the Uganda Gazette on 1 October 2015 as Bill No 26 of 2015. The Bill is sponsored by the Human Rights Committee of Parliament and its main objective is to give effect to Article 50(4) of the Constitution by providing for the procedure of enforcing human rights under Chapter Four of the Constitution. The Bill was tabled in Parliament for its first reading on 10 November 2015 and is currently with the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary affairs for considerations, consultations and reviews.

The Bill has bearing on the rights of marginalised groups in as far as it can be used to ensure that their constitutional rights are enforced and that violations of rights are addressed. The Bill was analysed by HRAPF through the lenses of ensuring that optimum protection would be provided to these groups and that they would not be excluded from the protection and benefits which the Bill aims to provide.