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Friday, June 6, 2014

Foundation for Human Rights Initiative Visit

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. 


  1. Although Aaron has mentioned some negative aspects of this organization, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative has had quite a few achievements. Being 23 years old is one of them! They are also apart of the United Nations and although not internally so strong, are a major player in and around Africa. Internally some achievements include prison reforms and improving the quality of life for prisoners, campaigning against the death penalty and reducing the amount of police brutality.

  2. I was also worried by many of the problems that Dr. Livingstone said are still facing Uganda today. But I think it is also important to remember that Uganda is still a relatively young country politically speaking. Hopefully over time the government can work to overcome corruption and in turn many of these human rights issues. One issue that I found particularly alarming was the NGO bill that is working through parliament currently. The bill could threaten many non governmental organizations such as FHRI. If the bill passes these NGOs may be significantly less effective on helping Ugandans, and human rights overall would be at a more significant risk.

  3. I thought Dr. Livingstone's presentation today highlighted the inconsistencies between Uganda's written law and the law that seems to be enforced in reality. As a fairly new and developing country, I think it is understandable that Uganda lacks some of the systems necessary to enforce these laws, and I think that overall it is admirable that many people in Uganda are trying to implement human rights from the beginning. Although there are still many challenges facing human rights activists today, I think that the work they are doing is instrumental to making sure that as Uganda makes strides forward in development it is encouraged to make the best interest of its people a priority.