Safia Jjuko Nalule, the chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), has raised concerns about the Ugandan government’s significant disregard for human rights over the past decade, particularly for vulnerable populations like women, children, and people with disabilities.
Nalule made these remarks during the closing of the Rights and Justice Activity (RAJA) programme, which was launched in 2020 by Freedom House, a civil society organization, with funding from USAID.
The RAJA programme was a three-year initiative funded by USAID and executed by Freedom House (FH).
Its primary agenda was to raise awareness among Ugandan citizens about their civil and political rights, legal avenues available to them, and how they can apply these laws to secure their rights in a safe and secure environment.
Additionally, the programme sought to provide relief and support to marginalized populations who have suffered from human rights violations.
By facilitating access to justice, protection, and referral services, RAJA aimed to ensure their safe and dignified existence.
She further pointed out the ironic illegality of certain civil society organizations and their complaints of infringement on their freedom to operate.
In light of this, she urged human rights defenders to comply with the law.
She emphasised the need for advocacy and resilience among Civil Society Organizations and citizens to safeguard democratic practices, fundamental freedoms and create an overall conducive civic atmosphere.
“A conducive civic atmosphere allows citizens to freely associate, express themselves, and promotes accountability and transparency, which are crucial principles of any flourishing democracy.
Therefore, it is important to protect and support civil society in order for them to do their work in a free and fair environment, without harassment or restrictions,” she said.
Nalule called for more support and protection for civil society organizations and emphasized the importance of respecting legal mandates such as the Human Rights Enforcement Act in upholding human rights.
Dr. Donald Rukare from Freedom House listed the efforts they made throughout three years of implementing the RAJA program, from providing legal aid to children to rapid response subgrants to nine CSOs in emergency situations.
While Rukare reiterated their compliance with the law, he emphasised the disagreement they had with certain provisions that undermine human rights.
“We have worked with our teams to ensure that civil society organisations understand their legal compliance requirements, issues related to children and vulnerable individuals accessing legal aid and medical assistance, and advocacy on laws that may not be human rights friendly.
Through our efforts, some freedoms have been advanced,” he noted.
Allen Renquist, the Democracy Rights and Governance Officer at USAID, ensured their commitment towards addressing fundamental challenges in partnership with Ugandans and their institutions, including civil society, to achieve Uganda’s Vision 2040.
He emphasised the importance of protecting basic rights for all citizens, thereby allowing them the freedom of self-expression.