Uganda Blocked From Global Human Rights Meetings-UHRC

Uganda Blocked From Global Human Rights Meetings-UHRC

By Spy Uganda

Kampala: The Chairperson Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Miriam Wangadya, has revealed that Uganda was blocked from physically attending human rights meetings in Geneva, following the closure of the United Nations Human Rights Office in Kampala.

Wangadya fears that no invitation will again be extended to Uganda for this year’s meeting in June when the country’s rankings on global human rights index are expected to drop.

”All the meetings that we used to attend, there are some key ones like in Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African Union, in Geneva all those have stopped. And it is one of the reasons that come June 2024, we are going to be downgraded in status. We were invited to travel to Geneva and we were requested to attend this meeting on Zoom. And we are the only Human Rights Institution in the world, to attend a meeting of such significance via Zoom. And when I went to that meeting, I had gone with documents to show how much support we had received. So, you can see that we miss this office and there is nothing much we could have done” Wangadya noted.

She made the remarks while appearing before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee to present the Commission’s 2024/25 budget.

Ndorwa East MP, Wilfred Niwagaba asked why the UHRC has remained silent following the Government’s decision to send packing the Democratic Government Facility (DGF) and Office of the UN high Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The international bodies were key funders to the UHRC.

”The Commission is reading from the book of lamentations, but that book of lamentations I believe is partly contributed to by the Commission. Because I know the Commission used to benefit from DGF. When the Government closed DGF on flimsy grounds, the Commission was silent. I know the Commission was getting funding from UNHCR, [when] the Government closed it, the Commission kept quiet and yet you know that funding from this Government to the Commission wouldn’t be adequate” Niwagaba said.

The Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February 2023 wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights announcing that that the mandate of the office had not been renewed. Indeed, in September 2023, the UN office closed shop in Uganda, ending nearly two decades of operating in Kampala.

The departure of the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights in September 2023, followed the earlier exit of DGF in May 2023. DGF was a multi-donor fund established in 2011 to properly coordinate donor assistance and activities in Uganda whose departure has negatively affected several Non-Governmental Organisations.

 The Fund boosted seven members including; Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and the European Union, and the fund was to a tune of over UGX 500 billion with most of the money being used to fund civil society organizations and government institutions engaged in human rights and good governance activities.

DGF’s exit followed a February 2021, letter by President Museveni ordering the Ministry of Finance to suspend the activities of DGF accusing its managers of operating such a mega fund without proper Government oversight. The Government was demanding to be represented on the Board, a proposal DGF managers vehemently declining, thus leading to its ousting.

Wangadya, however denied accusations of being silent as the Government closed operations of the UNHCR and DGF who were key funders to the Commission. She said the Commission had severally petitioned the Government  making a case for the UN Human Rights Commission should stay, but instead, the Commission was warned against obstructing the Government’s decision to chase away the global human rights body.   

”I wish you knew what we went through, the battles we fought so that this office would stay and the meetings which were held and the last one was in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs attended by Cabinet Ministers, I was invited. I had written several petitions, trying to make a case for the office to stay. Actually, I was lectured, that is what it (meeting) turned out to be. I was lectured on why this office must go and I must not be an obstacle. And these were decisions taken by the Government, other than pleading that let this office stay, there was nothing more we could do” Wangadya explained. 

”When the decision to end DGF was taken by the Government, this Commission wasn’t fully constituted. The Chairperson was deceased and the Commission is defined under the constitution and with the absence of Chairperson, there is technically no Commission” she added.

Niwagaba also called out the UHRC on ignoring human rights violations committed by the State against people opposed to the regime, wondering why Wangadya in her performance report to Parliament didn’t indicate the cases that have been handled and how many are pending completion.

” Most of the victims of human rights violations, especially by state agents, are those who have different political opinions from the current Government. Unfortunately, the general views especially for those who don’t belong to the current Government find this Commission as the most cadre Commission they ever had. The feeling amongst members of the Opposition especially those who run to you is that, they come to a Commission that has a pre-determined mind that their complaints aren’t genuine, their complaints aren’t addressed. You haven’t even indicated in this particular write up the case backlog that you have and dating from when” he noted.

 This allegation was denied by Wangadya who told the lawmakers that the Commission is aligned to the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime.

”You observed that the Commission isn’t keen on listening to the concerns of people with views opposing the Government and that the current leadership of the Commission is the yellowest or the most cadre-ish I have been hearing these sentiments. If that was the case, how come under my leadership, the Government stopped funding? So how come, when its cadre is now at the helm, the Government hardly gives a penny, only UGX 400 billion for operations” Wangadya said. an accessible web community

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