Esteemed Partners, Friends and Colleagues,
Greetings from the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Uganda. As we come to the closure of the year 2020, I would like on behalf of the secretariat team to express our deepest appreciation to all our partners and human rights defenders on the ground and on the front line that anchor our protection of human rights defenders in Uganda.
This year has been an extra-ordinary year with a very unprecedented pandemic in our midst that has changed how we work and severed community ties minimizing our physical and direct contact. It has also shown us the importance of protection to human rights defenders and why it is critical. We continue to call for the appointment of a substantive Chairperson of the National Human Rights Institution-wherein we issued a public statement urging the authorities to prioritize this appointment.
During the period 2020, numerous protection grant requests showed us how challenging the COVID-19 pandemic has and had become to human rights defenders (HRDs). In 2020, we were able to support 73 HRDs;40 male,18 female and 15 others with small protection grants. The support ranged from legal, medical and psycho-social and in some cases re-location. And this was direct support. Under the framework of the National Referral Network, numerous other levels of support were extended by our partners through referrals.
Across the year we continued to have minimal interactions with HRDs at grassroot through risk assessments, capacity building needs assessments and monitoring visits. We undertook 4 regional risk assessments in Northern Uganda, Rwenzori subregion, West Nile and South Western Uganda. These risk assessments were the basis of our nascent retooling exercise; the retooling exercise headlined as “Standing Side by side with grassroot HRDs” was an opportunity to meet HRDs at their point of need with enhancements to their security; CCTVs, alarm systems, computer locks and door locks. We also targeted the marginalized groups with Laptops, desktops. For us, it was an opportunity to step up the work of these HRDs as they support their communities.
In 2019, we initiated dialogue forums named Regional town halls between HRDs and duty bearers, despite COVID-19, this year we managed to hold two townhall dialogues in the Rwenzori and West Nile regions respectively attracting close to 170 HRDs and 13 duty bearers. We are enthused by the stakeholder interest in the work and protection of Human Rights Defenders within the community.
However, we are also concerned with the continued targeted attacks towards HRDs, in our research this year we documented these patterns. We launched an Assessment of the state’s implementation of HRD specific recommendations to Uganda in the 2016 Universal Periodic Review. Iam glad to report that the coalition initiated advocacy around revitalizing the National UPR Stakeholders Forum and through a consensual process was earmarked by stakeholders to coordinate the 2020-2022 cycle of Uganda’s UPR. This isn’t a mean feat and we will require your support and the support of our development partners.
Our interactions with HRDs in the Oil and Extractives Sector drew us to further understand the operating environment in which they operate. In our most recent study titled “Silencing Defenders: Human Rights protection and promotion in the oil and extractives sector” we detail some of the hardships and pressure that these HRDs face on a daily basis and we hope to going forward utilize the same findings to scale up advocacy in Karamoja and Albertine where the extractives industry thrives.
I would also like to remind ourselves that all electoral contests are often charged and there is heightened political activity that impacts both the citizens and Human Rights Defenders in Uganda. In our most recent research, “Democracy on Trial” we detail the operating environment of Human Rights Defenders working in the context of elections. It remains relevant now, importantly to aid in scenario building and mitigating on the different risks.
Across the year, we equipped HRDs with various capacity building skills to enhance their capacity to detect and prevent or mitigate threats and risks towards them during the course of their work. We focused our trainings with close to 162 HRDs across the year on safety and security and also on Monitoring, Documentation and Reporting. We believe this will equip them with requisite skills to participate in the electoral process.
Since December 2016, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Uganda has attempted to offer leadership towards the commemoration of International Human Rights Defenders Day and it continues to grow. We are deeply grateful to all that have supported us in these events. For the first time we awarded resilient and courageous HRDs under our Human Rights Defenders Impact Awards 2020.
This year isn’t unique, we have differently though; partnered with our friends at Defend Defenders to deliver a week-long event that integrates conversations-panel discussions and workshops to enhance the capacity of HRDs to undertake their work. This comes at a critical time in our country as we prepare for general elections. We would like to extend our appreciation to Defend Defenders, SIDA and the DGF for enabling this event
Our joint advocacy with like-minded collaborators such as Defenders Protection Initiative, Defend Defenders, Chapter Four Uganda, Human Rights Centre Uganda and the Greater North Parliamentary forum has been focused on ensuring that we see improvement in the sector- especially on the legislative operating environment by seeking to have a specific piece of legislation to acknowledge the work of HRDs and protect them. I wish to report that the seven years of joint advocacy on the need for this specific legislation that seeks to protect the work of Human Rights Defenders is now taking shape. We are pleased that the Human Rights Defenders Bill 2020 came to the floor of Parliament in October,2020. It’s been a concerted effort and we must continue to rally all human rights defenders until the bill is passed into law. We wish to request and urge our development partners to add their voice to this process when engaging with their host governments.
We are also offering leadership to CSOs in Uganda towards a consistent, structured and inclusive UPR process as means of making a contribution in improving the human rights situation in this country. Ugandan CSOs entrusted us with this leadership role in October,2020 and we look forward to working with all stakeholders in this important cause.
We are putting in place mechanisms to respond to the emerging concerns of Human Rights Defenders in the mid-term and in the long-term during the 2021 electoral cycle. We are giving them this support where they need it-at the grassroots. Our support has since shifted from the conventional support from mainly capacity buildings to actual practical support-tools that support HRDs to step up their work.
As we break off for the festive season, I would like to thank you for your continued support and partnership and the hard work you dedicate towards defending rights. Our successful completion of the year 2020 is testament of this continued commitment. Our offices will be closed from the 21st December to 4th January,2021 but a rotating team will remain available to deal with any protection and emergency requests.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New year -2021
For God and My country.