Yesterday the class had the privilege to hear from Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana who is an activist at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI). FHRI is a powerful lobbying group in the country, and Sewanyana mentioned that someone from FHRI was at parliament every day.
Although Uganda has signed many human rights charters as a member of both the African Union and United Nations, Sewanyana points out that the country still has much work to do. Torture is commonly used in the country, prompting outcry from FHRI and other organizations. Although Uganda recently passed a law which can hold the torturer liable, the law is weakly enforced. In general, law enforcement is very weak and criminals often go unpunished. This situation is made worse by the fact that many policeman are corrupt and knowingly undermine the law. This leads to another predicament. Police officers often arrest before they investigate, and sometimes they do not even investigate. According to Sewanyana, 52% of Ugandan prisoners never received trials because the system is so backlogged, confusing, and judicial personnel are lacking.
Museveni’s government has not made significant strides in improving human rights. Sewanyana worries that human rights will be continued to be undermined as long as he or his son (who is rumored to be groomed to succeed his father) is in power. FHRI calls for electoral reform so someone else may be elected. Specifically, they desire the creation of an impartial electoral commission, more accessible voter registration, and a crackdown on vote buying. However, he notes that Museveni/the party in power actually benefits from these confusing laws.
By the end of Sewanyana’s speech, I was feeling pretty hopeless about Uganda’s fate. However, he is optimistic. “Fifty years ago,” he said, “no one was talking about rights. Now human rights are a household name.” People now know they are entitled to freedom of expression, food, clean water, and they are excited about it. They are talking about it. They are ready for change. With FHRI leading the movement, support for human rights will only grow.