Humans Rights Defenders Day 2017 Press Statement

On behalf of the organisers, partners and participants, we’d like to thank you all for being here to celebrate the International Human Rights Defenders Days. Media and the press play a crucial role in defending human rights in Uganda, so were very glad to have all of you here with us today.

Events like these are here to remind us all of what we have accomplished, but also of the important challenges that still lie ahead. Events like these show us the strength of this community, and the passion they bring to their work every single day of the week. Human rights in this country have come a long way, and we have made great strides in enacting legislation that codifies into law the protection and recognition of civil society’s important role in free and open societies.

In 1999, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which recognized the essential role of human rights defenders, the legitimacy of their work, and the importance of being able to conduct activities safely and without fear of reprisal.

Yet, challenges persist. Over the past year, we have seen attempts to shrink and silence civil society in this country. We have seen office break-ins, raids, and harassment of civil society organisations. We have seen the arrests, interrogation, and unlawful detention of journalists and media professionals. We have seen opposition politicians and peaceful demonstrators intimidated and beaten simply for trying to make their voices heard. These actions of with impunity, must be seriously and urgently addressed.  There can be no doubt, civil society in Uganda is under threat. But there is a way forward.

Everyone here today has made a commitment to protecting and defending the fundamental rights and basic freedom. The right of people to express their thoughts and ideas freely without fear. The right to peacefully and publically gather without being dispersed or beaten by police and security forces. The right to freely associate with the religion, organisation, or political party of one’s choice without persecution. These are not criminal acts, but rather, fundamental rights that must be protected. Human rights defenders are defined not by what organisations they belong to, or by what they claim to be, but by their actions.

Human rights defenders are defined by the ways in which they serve their communities, by the ways in which they pledge themselves to upholding the highest ideals of society.  These people face daily threats for their beliefs, and yet, stand firm in their resolve. They will not be bent or broken, and they will not give up this struggle no matter what obstacles are put in their path.

The only way forward is through unity. Unity not only between human rights defenders and civil society, but also unity with governments, police, and lawmakers. We must work together. This is the only way for us to create a society in which the rights of every single person are upheld and respected. A society in which people are free to live without fear or persecution. A society based on justice and equality for even the most vulnerable. It is not a dream, but an inevitability we must march toward, hand in hand.

This is the way forward, and we will continue this fight.

Thank you again for being here today.