CALLING UPON GOVERNMENT TO RESPECT, PROTECT AND PROMOTE THE RIGHTS OF MARGINALISED AND CRIMINALISED COMMUNITIES
Commemoration of International Human Rights Day 2019
10th December 2019
As we celebrate the 71st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) calls upon the government of Uganda to take positive steps to protect the rights of persons who are marginalized and criminalised.
This year’s theme is ‘Stand up for human rights’ and it calls upon every person everywhere to stand up for the protection of human rights. Among groups that require protection are marginalized communities- among which are: injecting drug users, sex workers, and sexual minorities.
Already marginalised by cultural and religious beliefs, these groups are also criminalised under the law. Various sections of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 2017 criminalise possession of drugs for individual use; Section 139 of the Penal Code criminalises sex work, while section 145 criminalises ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature.’ Rather than putting a stop to the actions of these groups, criminalisation simply pushes them underground and renders them ‘invisible.’ This breeds all sorts of human rights violations against such groups as they will not be able to report such violations for fear of being arrested, and the police will also not investigate such violations due to the feeling that these are groups not protected by the law and by the human rights regime. In the past six months alone, there have been police swoops targeting drug users, sex workers and sexual minorities which have resulted into hundreds of arrests, without any evidence that a crime has been committed. Such arrests almost always do not end in convictions, showing that they are meant for persecution rather than prosecution. Two murders of sexual minorities by private individuals have been documented in the past six months and little has been done by authorities to bring the culprits to book.
In addition to the arrests, in the past five years, it has become routine to close down meetings organised by groups working on issues of sexual minorities. This has even received the approval of the High Court which justified such closures on the basis that Ugandan law criminalises ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature.’ A case appealing that decision, Civil Appeal No. 195 of 2014 has been pending in the Court of Appeal since 2014. The High Court in 2018 also upheld a decision by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) to refuse to register an organisation working on the rights of sexual minorities basing on the law criminalising ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature.’
HRAPF wishes to remind the state of its obligations to ‘respect, fulfil and protect’ human rights which are provided for under the Constitution of Uganda and under the different international human rights instruments that Uganda is party to. All persons regardless of who they are, are entitled to equal protection of the law, and moral considerations may not be given undue weight beyond what is ‘acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.’ The Constitutional Court in the case of Adrian Jjuuko v Attorney General, Constitutional Petition No. 1 of 2009 (decided 2016) observed that:
In a society governed by the rule of law, and according to human rights principles, steps to protect the public from potential future harm - no matter how potentially serious it may be - should always take place within a framework which also protects the human rights of the individual whom it is feared may be capable of doing such harm.
Protection of the rights of minority and criminalised groups should not be limited to only marginalised and criminalised persons, but should be the responsibility of all persons, as dehumanisation of one dehumanises all of us. On this International Human Rights Day, let us all stand up for the human rights of all persons, particularly those that are marginalised and criminalised.
Taking human rights to all