Human Rights in Uganda
The Hon Justice Benjamin J Odoki
Supreme Court of Uganda
There is no single more important issue in developing countries than the question of human rights. Peace, democracy, justice and development which are the most cherished values in the modern world are empty slogans devoid of substance without the component of human rights. Indeed these values cannot be attained without adequate respect for human rights. Similarly the enjoyment of human rights cannot be achieved without peace, democracy, justice and development. Respect for human rights cannot be fully realized unless there is a culture of constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law.
In the past many developing countries have experienced poor record of respect for basic human rights due to undemocratic regimes and political instability. However, as a result of the recent democratic wave that blew across Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, following the collapse of the communist block and the end of the cold war, many countries embraced the principles of democracy, constitutionalism, good governance, the rule of law, respect for basic rights, and economic liberalization.
Uganda suffered gross violation of human rights during the military regime of Iddi Amin from 1971 to 1979. Following his overthrow, successive governments have restored democratic governance, respect for basic human rights, the rule of law, good governance and liberalized the economy based on private sector as the engine of growth. The country has experienced an average rate of growth of 6% per annum.
These political and economic reforms were consolidated through the 1995 Constitution of Uganda which was popularly made by the people through broad country wide consultations and adopted by an elected Constituent Assembly. The Constitution is founded on the fundamental principles of unity, peace, equality, democracy, freedom, social, justice and progress. It has a liberal Bill of Rights which include, the rights of the family, women, children and other disadvantaged groups. Social and economic rights are recognized including the right to a clean and health environment. Affirmative action for women and other vulnerable groups forms part of the Bill of Rights. Dual citizenship is permitted by the Constitution and this will help promote world citizenship.
The Bill of Rights is enforced by the Uganda Human Rights Commission and an Independent Judiciary. Non government organizations (NGOs) are playing a critical role in promotion of human rights. All organs of the Government are required by the Constitution to promote and protect human rights. Consequently, Uganda’s record of respect for human rights has significantly improved.
In order to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights, we must cultivate a human rights culture through human rights education, encourage public interest litigation, develop humane and democratic governments based on the rule of law and promote values of peace, tolerance, respect, appreciation, love and peaceful co- existence. Let us remember that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.