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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Foundation for Human Rights Initiative

Posted by Taylor

The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative is an independent human rights advocacy organization in Uganda. Their support for each person’s right to life is completely not-for-profit and separate from the government. Their vision is “A strong and democratic human rights culture as a foundation for peace, stability, democracy, social justice, and sustainable development in Uganda.” Sheila Muwanga spoke to our group about the major services offered and issues faced by the organization. She focused a lot of her discussion on the overcrowding that is currently happening in Ugandan prisons. 53% of these prisoners are waiting to be tried. Holding these prisoners in remand is considered unlawful, but the lack of affordable and available representation makes it difficult for them to defend their rights. FHRI offers free legal services that allow inmates and other citizens to seek justice. FHRI was also involved in a fight against the growing number of inmates being placed on death row. The constitutional court ruled that inmates on death row for longer than three years will receive life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. More emphasis on mitigated factors for each case and each person’s right to life was defended by FHRI’s Right to Life Project.
Some recent changes in Uganda’s recognition of Human Rights have led to more fair treatment of the general population. The revised constitution recognizes a need for rights and equality. The addition of a Bill of Rights now backs up the entitled rights that were often overlooked in the past. Another recent change is the addition of separate political parties in Uganda which allow for different views to be considered. The government still struggles to give equal rights of expression and assembly to all. The media is still censored to an extent, rallies are dispersed quickly, and many feel as if the right to life is still not being respected by government officials.
I was very impressed with Sheila’s talk and her openness about the issues that FHRI faces. I respect the fact that they strive to give a voice to those who often go unheard. It was very interesting to hear about the overcrowding within the jails because that is something I never would have thought about as a Human Rights issue. I went into this experience thinking that we would hear a lot about the rights of women, children, and gays, but these topics were only addressed minimally. I think that improvement in human rights efforts is a huge step in the right direction for sustainable development in Uganda. Now that the improved Constitution includes a Bill of Rights, enforcement needs to become the focus of their efforts. We have seen a lot of evidence that this country is very corrupt. I think that this corruption is affecting people’s openness and willingness to get involved with these issues. Many important advances have been made in recent years, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure the rights of all citizens in Uganda.
What did you think of Sheila’s talk? Is there anything that surprised you? What would you have liked to hear more about?
Do you think that recent advances in Human Rights are affecting Uganda’s sustainable development? How so?
What do you think the next step in Human Rights in Uganda is?


  1. Great post Taylor!

    I was also very impressed with Sheila's presentation. I was surprised how open she was about the issues and you could tell how passionate she was.

    The part of the presentation I found most interesting was when she was talking about corruption in the government involving the legal system. She said anyone can be arrested at anytime for doing anything. I think this poses a very large obsticale to sustainable development in Uganda because how can you expect your citizens to make themselves stand apart by stiving to excel when they fear they may be arrested for who knows what. Sheila even stated that sometimes people are arrested just because a man, who is good friends with "the right people", likes another man's wife. The married man will be arrested so the jealous man can get the woman. She didn't say this was really common, but that it does happen.

    I also thought it was interesting when we asked how much the government got in their way and she talked about a break in that they had. It was suspicious because not everything was taken, just a few key computers. If it was a normal break in more would have been taken then just a few key computers and due to this it looked like the government may have been involved.

    On a happier note, it's great to see that Uganda is taking steps to move forward with human rights by adopting their new bill of human rights and the revised constitution. Hopefully this trend continues in the future.

  2. I thought that this talk was one of the best parts of the trip. I am very passionate about the Right to Life movement here in the states (in terms of abortion) so I was very interested to hear what the Ugandans take on human rights were.

    One thing that surprised me the most was that a large portion of the issues that the FHRI deals with have to do with prisoners. Taylor did a great job of detailing this in the main post. I guess it was so surprising because, in the United States, I get the impression that people consider the prisoners' rights as very low priority. I've never heard anyone concerned about the rights of prisoners in the States, which is very unfortunate. I supposed people view prisoners as having lost their rights because of whatever crime they committed. Though I do believe the prisoners need to face the consequences of their actions, these consequences never ever include losing their basic rights. I was very pleased to hear about all of the work that the FHRI is doing to give ALL people their rights, regardless of their previous mistakes.

  3. Thanks for your post Taylor,
    I also really enjoyed Shelia's talk and her openness to answer any and all of the questions thrown at her. I personally really enjoyed her comments on rights to health care since this is my research topic and is a subject that interests me.
    Shelia commented on the importance that all citizens have full access and to quality health care. As we saw at Mulago Hospital, overcrowding and nurse shortage is a big struggle in the healthcare system. Also the availability of hospitals and drugs is something that needs to be worked on to ensure the citizens' rights to quality health care.
    I found out at Mulago that ARVs are only available at hospitals and clinics; this means that those that live in rural areas or do not have means of transportation and have HIV/AIDS would have difficulties accessing neccessary drugs.
    Uganda as a country has a long way to go to fully provide equal and quality heathcare to all of its citizens. Shelia commented on this necessity and I feel like it is an issue that should most definitely be one of top priority. The improvement in this area will undoubtedly increase the sustainable development of Uganda.

  4. I really enjoyed this session. Sheila was very passionate about the issues of Human Rights in Uganda. I got the chance to learn about the current issues regarding Human Rights. I was shocked by some of the ridiculous laws Uganda has in place! The "Landlord Law" is a law that pretty much states is a landlord or mother knows of a tenant or child who is homosexual and doesn't turn them in, they can get prosecuted. I thought this was absolutely ridiculous!

    The FHRI is doing a great job fighting for human rights in Uganda! It was interesting learning about the torture in prisons as well as the death penalty which both are pressing issues in Uganda today. I can only hope and pray that the FHRI will one day break through and get changes to these current topics on Human Rights in Uganda.

  5. I was overly impressed with today's presentation oh the human rights initiative! It only takes one group of people to make a difference! I believe that the people of FHRI will be able to challenge and stir different communities into standing up for their rights. This organization can gradually make a difference just as long as the support and moral stays high within this organization. They stand and fight for a lot and need all the support they can get. Since FHRI believes in the rights of the people, and people are the ones that can change Uganda's development, I think that the communities should take a more active role advocating for their own rights so eventually a difference can be made!

    The speaker was so inspirational and touched on a variety of topics and issues that FHRI must deal with. I don't understand why the government has such an issue with the promotion of access to justice and citizen awareness... With the foundation that FHRI is trying to create, I believe this could could aid in Uganda's sustainable development.

  6. I was very impressed that FHRI is able to exist because their goals seem very bold with consideration to the current state of government and corruption. It seems like they have been as successful as possible given their circumstances, but I think the key to their success is that the Ugandan people seem to stand up for what they want and if they don't get it they don't just give up.

    This organization is a crucial portion of Uganda's sustainable development as a guide and advocate, and I feel that Uganda would face extreme violations of human rights without it because the president holds so much power that it is pretty much possible for him to do as he pleases, and with that much power there are only a few people that would not be corrupted and abuse that power.

    I also noticed that even FHRI, with such an important role, is susceptible to the cultural laziness and complacency that is part of the rest of the country. I noticed this while talking to Fred who had said they had received funds from an international donor in order to protect people's land rights and collect data, but instead FHRI passed the operation on to a 3rd party to be done and the data that was supposed to be collected didn't get collected correctly.