11 June 2015
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Uganda on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Sulaiman Madada, Minister for Elderly and Disability, Ministry for Gender, Labour and Social Development, introducing the report, said that the Covenant was not directly enforceable but the majority of the Covenant rights were highlighted in the Constitution as National Objectives and Principles of State Policy. Uganda’s Vision 2040 and the National Development Plan recognized several development strategies that put economic, social and cultural rights at the forefront of development planning. Social protection was one of the key strategies to transform Uganda from a low level to a modern and prosperous country; it emphasized diversification and the provision of comprehensive social protection measures for the different categories of the population to reduce vulnerability and enhance productivity of the human resources. With development programmes in place, Uganda had reduced poverty levels from 31.5 per cent in 2005/6 to 19.7 per cent in 2012/13.
Committee Experts welcomed the ambition of Uganda to join the ranks of middle-income countries by 2040 which was a challenge because Uganda was a least developed country that still suffered peace and security issues. Despite a steady economic growth of about five per cent annually, investment in social expenditure had not increased; Uganda had committed in the 2001 Abuja Declaration to allocate 15 per cent of the budget to health, but the current expenditure was only eight per cent. Public financing of education was reduced from 17 to 15 per cent of the budget, which might indicate that the Ugandan State was abandoning its responsibility to provide education to its citizens. It was reported that 2.2 million children were stunted, 100,000 children lived in streets, children suffered violence at home and in school, birth registration rates were very low, and early and child marriages and child labour were a reality for many.
Other concerns raised in the discussion included extremely high maternal mortality rates; land grabbing and forced evictions; corruption and illicit financial flows; discrimination including against women, albino and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; and the restrictive non-governmental organization bill currently being discussed in Parliament.
Responding to the questions and issues raised by the Experts, the delegation said that during its Universal Periodic Review in 2011, Uganda had entered a voluntary pledge to develop a National Human Rights Action Plan, which would be launched in October this year. The Law on Money Laundering had been enacted in 2013 under which the Financial Intelligence Authority was created with the mandate to look into illicit financial flows. Land grabbing was the subject of a comprehensive legal regime which clearly defined the obligation to provide compensation, but the reality was that those payments were affected by limited resources. The sophisticated regime to deal with corruption included the Anti-Corruption Act, the Inspectorate of Government Act and the Anti-Corruption Court. The judiciary was fully independent and a demonstration of its independence was the decision to repeal the Anti-Homosexual Law passed by Parliament.
In concluding remarks, Nicolaas Jan Schrijver, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that Uganda needed to strengthen its institutional and law-making capacity, address the lack of statistics and disaggregated data, and improve the protection of women, girls, and other vulnerable persons. The role of civil society was vital to keeping an accountable and transparent democratic space in the country.
In concluding remarks, Benedict Lukwiya, Deputy Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Government was cognizant of its role as overall duty bearer to promote and protect human rights of all Ugandans, but because of the challenges in providing livelihoods for the people, the priority had been given to alleviating most pressing problems in order to create ground to address other challenges.
Waleed Sadi, Committee Chairperson, in his closing remarks, said that challenges that Uganda was facing were symptoms of serious flaws and expressed hope that the National Action Plan for Human Rights which was in the pipeline would take on board the Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations.
The delegation of Uganda consisted of the representatives of the Ministry for Gender Labour and Social Development and the Permanent Mission of Uganda to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Uganda towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 19 June 2015.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 16 June, to hold a half-day general discussion on the draft general comment on the right to just and favourable conditions of work (article 7 of the Covenant).
The report of Uganda can be read here: (E/C.12/UGA/1).
Presentation of the Report
SULAIMAN MADADA, Minister for Elderly and Disability, Ministry for Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, said that Uganda had ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1987 and presented its initial report in 2012. The judicial courts were the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court; judges were appointed by the President and approved by the legislature. The commitment to promote Covenant rights was demonstrated in the establishment of various institutions, ranging from the judiciary, Parliament, line ministers, Amnesty Commission, Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Ugandan National Human Rights Commission, whose mandate included the sensitization of the population on human rights. Uganda was a dualist State and as such all adopted and ratified international instruments did not apply directly, but had to be domesticated under the Treaties Ratification Act. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was not directly enforceable but the Constitution of Uganda provided and recognized in its Chapter IV some economic, social and cultural rights which might be enforceable. The majority of the Covenant rights were highlighted in the Constitution as National Objectives and Principles of State Policy. Ugandan courts had adjudicated some rights such as the right to a clean and healthy environment; however, there had been little reference to the Covenant when interpreting or enforcing relevant domestic legislation.
Uganda’s Vision 2040 and the National Development Plan recognized several development strategies that put economic, social and cultural rights at the forefront of development planning. Social protection was one of the key strategies to transform Uganda from a low level to a modern and prosperous country; it emphasized diversification and the provision of comprehensive social protection measures for the different categories of the population to reduce vulnerability and enhance productivity of the human resources. The plan outlined activities to “develop and implement social transfer programmes to the older persons 65 years and above, persons with disabilities and the poorest quartile of the population”. With development programmes in place, Uganda had reduced poverty levels from 31.5 per cent in 2005/6 to the current 19.7 per cent in 2012/13.
Questions from Experts
NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, welcomed the ambition of Uganda to join the ranks of middle-income countries by 2040 and said that it was a challenge in light of Uganda currently being a least developed country which still suffered peace and security issues in relation to the armed conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Uganda was a dualistic State and some of the rights were in the Constitution, others were in other acts, while there were some rights which were still not codified in laws; there were a number of bills pending in the Parliament and the Cabinet, which might indicate challenges in the law making capacity of the country. There was no general proposal for a Human Rights Act or for a comprehensive National Action Plan on Human Rights. The Country Rapporteur raised the question of land grabbing and the guarantees of land rights in the country, as well as the treatment of the 65 indigenous groups who lived in Uganda. Discrimination was an issue of concern and the delegation was asked about the status of the anti-homosexual legislation and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, while national legislation contained a number of provisions which were discriminatory against women. With regard to labour rights, Mr. Schrijver noted alarmingly high rates of youth unemployment, as high as 50 per cent according to some sources, and asked the delegation to clarify the situation of employment and disparity in development between urban and rural areas.
Another Expert asked the delegation about measures to address the phenomenon of land grabbing, particularly in relation to the oil industry and conservation, the consultation process with land users, the compensation provided to those evicted, and the intention to fully apply the 2013 Land Policy.
There was confusion about the legal status of economic, social and cultural rights in the national legislation, and it was not clear what was meant by the right of judges to “rely” on the provisions of the Covenant in their decisions. It was unclear how economic, social and cultural rights were guaranteed in the National Objectives and Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution. The Ugandan National Human Rights Commission had a great legacy, but was significantly under-resourced.
There was no legislation protecting albino persons; was albinism considered a disability in the law?
Recent economic figures indicated a steady economic growth of about five per cent over the past several years and it was unclear why greater investment had not been made in social expenditure such as health and education. There was concern about the Non-governmental Organization Bill, which, if adopted, would seriously undermine and restrict the work of non-governmental organizations.
Women in Uganda were not seen as rights holders but as appendices to their fathers, husbands or brothers; many laws contained provisions that discriminated against women, including the Succession Act and the Marriage Act. Even laws that protected the rights of women, for example protection from female genital mutilation or early marriages, were not being implemented. What plans were in place to review all laws and policies for discriminatory provisions and what mechanisms were in place to ensure their implementation?
It was reported that women and gender studies courses at Makerere University might be closed because the Government did not see the value in a course of that nature. Could more information be shed on that issue. What was the impact of corruption on the generation of resources that could be used for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights? The lack of adoption of the Land Act was a source of concern.
There were several causes that explained the lack of security of tenure of land, and the delegation was asked whether communities using land for their livelihoods had the right to oppose the acquisition of land by the Government, and whether the draft Land Act took into account the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. The Constitutional Court had found that some of the provisions of the Succession Act and the Marriage Act were in violation of the principle of equality between women and men: how was this judgement implemented? It was estimated that Uganda lost $ 509 million annually as illicit financial flows; what were the main causes of this loss and what was being done to address them?
NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, noted that the minimum wage had not been updated since 1984 and asked about the legal situation with regard to the right to form and join trade unions.
Other Experts noted the very small body of labour inspectors and that temporary and casual workers made up a great proportion of the workforce. Maternity leave was set at 60 days and paternity leave at four days; would these provisions be revised? The return to employment after maternity leave was guaranteed, but no sanctions were defined for offenders. Albino persons were often discriminated against during recruitment and at the workplace: what steps were being taken to ensure their equal treatment? Many women carried out agricultural work and Experts asked what was being done to increase work opportunities for women?
There was no universal social security coverage in Uganda and only two per cent of the population were covered by pensions. Experts expressed concern about the impact of the draft bill on the liberalization of the social security system.
Response by the Delegation
Responding to the questions and issues raised by the Experts, a delegate said that it had taken 22 years to submit the initial report to the Committee which was due to institutional capacity and deciding who had the responsibility to report. The National Action Plan on Human Rights would be launched in October 2015. The process of developing bills in Uganda involved a long consultative process, which in the second reading also involved the public and was very time consuming. With regard to land grabbing, the law was clear that compensation must be provided for land acquired in the public interest, but limited resources affected the payment of compensation.
The judiciary was fully independent and a demonstration of its independence was the decision to repeal the Anti-Homosexual Law which had been passed by the Parliament. Concerning the courses at Makerere University, the delegation said that the Government was looking into mainstreaming courses to increase employability. The Persons with Disabilities Act was being amended to recognize albinism as a disability. The Cabinet had approved the composition of the Minimum Wage Board which would advise the Government on the best way to approach the adjustment to the minimum wage. A number of programmes were in place to address youth unemployment, such as Youth Livelihoods Programmes which provided low-interest loans to youth. The Plan for Modernization of Agriculture looked into the improvement of road networks in order to improve access to markets, while affirmative action for the girl child aimed to get more girls in education, including in higher education. Uganda was currently developing a comprehensive social protection system for the country, and its expansion was part of the National Development Plan 2.
The development of the National Plan on Human Rights was a voluntary pledge that Uganda had entered during its Universal Periodic Review in 2011. The National Plan was considering the establishment of the compensation fund for victims of human rights violations. Most of the funding provided by the Government was being used for wages, while programmatic activities were being funded by donors.
A law could be passed in two ways in Uganda, it could come from a sector of the Government or from the private Members of the Parliament; the Anti-Homosexuality Act had been introduced by private Members of the Parliament. The Law Reform Commission was in place, while the Ministry for Gender had developed the Gender Policy in 2007 which called for the revision of laws from a gender perspective. The law now required that all new bills brought to the Parliament carried a gender certification.
Persons with disabilities had 1.5 bonus points to qualify for Government sponsorship for the university; in terms of employment, a special grant had been created for persons with disabilities, while tax reduction was granted to those who employed five or more persons with disabilities. One of the important barriers to the employment of persons with disabilities was the accessibility of buildings.
Questions from Experts
Uganda had achieved good results in reducing poverty, but the problem was that the reduction had been very uneven and was much higher in central regions, while some of the strategies lacked continuity and the support of the State as they heavily relied on foreign aid. There was also inequality in access to health services between low-income and high-income persons, which was paradoxical because the health status of the poor was worse. The delegation was asked to describe specific strategies in place to address inequalities in poverty reduction and in access to health. Uganda had committed in the Abuja Declaration to allocate 15 per cent of the budget to health, but expenditure on health was currently eight per cent.
Maternal mortality rates in Uganda were extremely high at 438 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and one of the main causes was unsafe abortions. The Expert asked about key obstacles and challenges in achieving the Millennium Development Goal on reducing maternal mortality rates by two-thirds, whether the restrictive law on abortion was going to be revised, and about teaching sexual and reproductive health in schools. Reports indicated that five million children under the age of five were not registered and Experts asked about measures to improve rates of birth registration. It was estimated that there were 100,000 street children in the country, and it was unclear how many were children with disabilities. Could the delegation explain its approach to tackling violence against women, including through the amendment of the Criminal Code which was quite weak in this regard?
Child malnutrition was a serious problem in some parts of the country and the delegation was asked whether Uganda intended to allocate 10 per cent of its budget to agriculture and food security, as set out in the 2013 Maputo Declaration. What action was being taken to provide social housing, basic services and protection from forced evictions to the poor and to the slum inhabitants? Was there a legal framework on evictions which complied with the Committee’s general comment number seven on forced evictions and with other international standards?
Uganda had been considered a role model in reducing HIV/AIDS prevalence in the 1990s and had managed to reduce the rate among adults from 18.5 per cent in 1992 to about five per cent in 2000; however, the latest figures indicated an alarming reversal of the trend and the rate stood at over seven per cent in 2011. The delegation was asked about the impact of the legislation on the so-called unnatural sex on the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how the access to treatment was ensured for persons engaging in “unnatural sex”? What percentage of HIV/AIDS patients received anti-retroviral drugs and did Uganda extend the ARV coverage by the use of generic drugs which cost just a fraction.
With regard to budgetary choices Uganda made, the Expert said that Uganda had committed in the 2013 Maputo Summit to commit at least 10 per cent of its budget to agriculture, also as a poverty reduction measure, but in 2013 only 3.5 per cent of the total public budget went to agriculture and this was further reduced in 2014. What regulatory framework was in place to ensure that private investment in agriculture respected the right to food and was channelled towards small-scale farmers and ensured that they benefitted from that investment?
NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, said that Uganda needed to focus attention and policies to address child poverty and realize children’s rights, and address various manifestations of that poverty, including early and child marriages, violence against children at home and school, malnutrition as 2.2 million children were stunted, low birth registration rates, and the high number of street children – 100,000 by some reports.
In a further series of questions, Experts noted a reduction in public financing of education, from 17 to 15 per cent of the budget, and the rise in the number of students in private schools, which currently stood at 60 per cent at the primary level. There was a concern about the negative impact of the privatization which was widening the gap between the quality of education available to the rich and poor. Was the Ugandan State abandoning its responsibility to provide education to its citizens and how was it addressing concerns that the privatization of education would lead to exclusion, segregation and inequality?
The approach of Uganda to the education of persons with disabilities was based on the need for special needs education which might segregate the population, while the prevailing international standard was an inclusive approach. Did Uganda plan to allocate resources for the setting up of such a system in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
Uganda was among the first African countries to introduce universal primary education and had almost achieved gender parity in primary education, but all this progress would be seriously undermined with the privatization of education, for families faced with financial problems would pull girls out of schools. What was being done to protect traditional knowledge, particularly for women?
The pluralistic legal system of Uganda fully recognized customary laws which made it very difficult for women to equally access justice on matters related to land and property, and cases brought before traditional leaders were likely to be insensitive to women’s rights to land. Many women were unaware of the rights which made them vulnerable in violation of their land rights, including through the activities of the oil and gas industry, forceful evictions and unequal compensation.
Response by the Delegation
The Government of Uganda was aware of the inequality in the reduction of poverty and had in place a number of programmes and institutions to address regional disparities and imbalances, including the Ministry for Northern Uganda, while the First Lady closely followed the situation in the Karamoja region. One of the main components of the mandate of the Ministry for Gender, Labour and Social Development was to reduce imbalances and support vulnerable persons.
Some of the measures to address inequalities in health included abolition of the system of cost sharing in health, decentralization of the health system and the creation of health centres for every constituency to improve access for all. Uganda would hold general elections in 2016 and had undertaken registration of all persons aged 16 and above; after July 2016 all unregistered citizens would be registered as well. Primary and secondary education was free, and there was affirmative action for women and persons with disabilities in several sectors and areas of life. Uganda had made commitments to invest in health, education and agriculture, but the resources were not sufficient to fulfil those commitments; that was why Uganda prioritized economic and productive activities which would enlarge revenue.
Schooling and education were the best measures to protect children from labour and Uganda was about to launch an Action Plan against Child Marriages. In its efforts to address the situation of street children, the Government was looking at the push and pull factors, such as domestic violence, poverty and food insecurity. Uganda was encouraging inclusive education, and all institutions which registered children with disabilities had an obligation to ensure that they had the necessary facilities. The social assistance grant, a regular monthly payment, enhanced school retention for children.
The Non-Governmental Organization Bill aimed to enhance transparency and accountability of civil society; they would retain their autonomy in pursuit of their declared objectives. All civil society organizations needed to declare their objectives which called for some form of registration. While there were many good non-governmental organizations operating in the country, there were also cases of fraud, cults, dehumanizing activities, and others. Since 1986 the number of civil society organizations had grown to over 60,000 and there was a need for the Government to monitor and regulate this activity.
The Law on Money Laundering had been enacted in 2013 and had created the Financial Intelligence Authority which looked at illicit financial flows. The matter of land grabbing and compensation was subject of a comprehensive legal regime. Uganda had created a sophisticated legal regime to deal with corruption, which included the Anti-Corruption Act, the Inspectorate of Government Act and the Anti-Corruption Court. Youth unemployment was a big issue in the country and policies and programmes were in place to create employment for the youth such as the Youth Employment Fund, Skilling Uganda to create skills that matched the needs of the market, and the Youth Capital Venture. The National Health Plan 2 would focus on increasing access to health, and ensuring 60 per cent sanitation coverage and access to safe drinking water in each village.
The Government was in the process of developing a comprehensive national social protection system, to ensure better coverage of both formal and informal workers. There was a specific clause on women with disabilities in the Domestic Violence Act and there was cooperation with civil society to identify gaps in the protection. The United Nations Children Fund had recently carried out a study into the situation of children with disabilities, and was launching a programme on children with disabilities.
Polygamy was widespread and had been part of the tradition and the culture for a long time so it could not be simply outlawed but required education and information. Addressing domestic violence and violence against women was a priority and steps were being taken to address it such as the 2007 amendments to the Criminal Code, the Local Council’s Code and other acts, and the enactment of the 2008 Law on Domestic Violence and Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation. Privatization of education had increased access to education, while free education had ensured access to compulsory primary and secondary education to those who could not afford private schools. The district quota system ensured equal access to university for students from all parts of the country.
The Non-governmental Organization Bill was before the Parliament and the public was free to give their views. The protection of women with disabilities against violence was included in the amended Penal Act. The rate of new infections was not rising and many people living with HIV/AIDS lived longer due to the use of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs; over 821,000 persons, or 76 per cent of the target population, were covered with ARV. Development in Uganda was not foreign aid driven; all development interventions must be aligned and linked with the National Development Plan.
NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur, said that Uganda had made important progress in the implementation of some of the Millennium Development Goals, including in reducing poverty and achieving almost universal free primary education, and expressed appreciation for the Government’s firmness in combatting corruption. There were areas which needed further improvement: institutional and law-making capacity needed strengthening, statistics and disaggregated data were lacking, the judiciary was slow in examining the cases before the courts, and the protection of women, girls and other vulnerable persons needed to be improved and their voices needed to be heard. The role of civil society was vital to keeping an accountable and transparent democratic space in the country.
BENEDICT LUKWIYA, Deputy Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Uganda as one of least developing countries was dealing with multiple challenges, including a poor institutional and legal framework and the lack of adequate human and financial resources. While the Government was cognizant of its role as overall duty bearer to promote and protect the human rights of all Ugandans, because of the challenges in providing livelihoods for the people, the priority had been given to alleviating most pressing problems in order to create ground to address other challenges. This was a gradual process, but the most part important was to start. The Committee should make recommendations that would be a positive contribution to the efforts of the Government.
WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, expressed appreciation for the spirit of openness and said that the challenges that Uganda was facing were symptoms of serious flaws. The National Action Plan for Human Rights was in the pipeline and it was hoped that the plan would take on board the Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations.
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