By Mike Sebalu
Human Rights defenders under the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda have called for a dialogue with government to discuss issues affecting the work of human rights defenders amidst alleged deteriorating civic space in the country.
According to the Executive Director of the Coalition Mr. Robert Kirenga, there is also need for an improvement in the relationship between government and its agencies, and which he says can only be done through regular interactions to address issues affecting the work of human rights defenders.
Mr. Kirenga was speaking at the Coalition’s annual general meeting, while at the same time celebrating 10 years of existence, at Hotel Africana in Kampala earlier this week.
The 10 years of existence were celebrated under the theme, “Celebrating a decade of protecting and promoting human rights defenders and the work that they do in the ever-changing civic space context”.
“In as far as the relationship between the regulator and the different civil society organizations of human rights defenders, I must say there must be improvement. The improvement is the mere fact that we can have a dialogue with the regulator and its parent Ministry (Ministry of Internal Affairs) every quarter and we set up issues, we discuss issue papers we raise issues we think are affecting human rights defenders. Now, every quarter we will have to raise the same and see to what extent has government fulfilled those obligations,” Kirenga said.
Speaking at the same meeting, the chairperson board of the coalition Ms. Margret Sekaggya asked human rights defenders to consolidate their work as they ensure good working relationships with government in a bid to do their work without any hindrances.
“As you know some times the space is shrinking for human rights defenders, they get criticized, they get attacked, they get arrested, but we have to move forward and convince the powers that the work we are doing is for all of us,” Sekaggya noted.
Sekaggya who doubles as the Executive Director of Human Rights and Peace Centre added “Human rights is for everyone, everyone needs to be protected, we cannot distinguish between those working for the government and those working for human rights, everyone’s rights must be protected and the sooner we all understand that one day you will need that protection wherever you are, the better for us and the better for our communities,”
On attacks or sometimes confrontations between human rights defenders and state actors, the chief political commissar of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, Major General Henry Matsiko, who was part of the celebrations assured the defenders that everything possible is being adhered to ensure that people enjoy a very good working relations to enjoy the freedoms they deserve.
“I am here to testify that today, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces enjoys a very good working relationship with the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders. We are together as stakeholders in the UPR processes; we have been together through engagements and because of this, any past sides of suspicion and hostility from either side, we think now we have leveled the ground,” Matsiko said.
“Indeed, all those areas where there was discomfort really I think to a large extent have been leveled and I would call it cessation of suspicion at times has been due to lack of engagement and communication,” Mr. Matsiko added.
The chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission Justice Miriam Wangadya who was the chief guest urged human rights defenders to work together with government to promote responsible citizenship to counter the possibility of human rights violations.
“Let us work together to promote responsible citizenship. When each one of us plays their part and plays it well, we counter the possibility of human rights violations. In fact, most of the violations arise because people do not abide by their responsibilities and duties as citizens of Uganda,” Wangadya said.
Justice Wangadya further challenged the Uganda People’s Defense Forces over the insecurity challenges where heavily armed ethnic groups attacking with impunity, dispossessing, terrorizing, and killing their neighbors as if there is no government that has failed to go away in areas Karamoja, Acholi, Lango, and Bugisu sub-regions.
“As I speak now, reports reaching me show that by the end of yesterday (Monday), Karamojong had attached the people of Acholi, Lango, and Bugisu sub-regions in particular Bulambuli district as usual, the home district of the chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission,” she said.
Justice Wangadya added, ”In Kitgum district alone, hundreds of cattle have been stolen by the Karimojong and at least 200 huts set ablaze. In Bulambuli district, the Karamojong by the end of Monday, the remnants of the cattle they left some time back 480 of them, several people have been abducted and women have been beaten and forced to undress and surrender their cloths to their attackers,”
Wangadya said during the cattle raids, people have also been mercilessly killed with four deaths registered in Bulambuli and 10 deaths registered in Kitgum district by the end of Monday, adding that Ugandans cannot talk about human rights and freedoms without national peace and security