By Our Reporter
Lawmakers on the Greater North Parliamentary Forum have expressed commitment and support towards reintroducing the Human Rights Defenders Bill.
This is because the bill seeks to recognise, promote and enhance the protection of the work and activities of human rights defenders.
Silas Aogon, the chairperson of the forum says processing and passing the bill into law will go a long way in protecting human rights defenders in Uganda.
“We have seen journalists being battered, land being grabbed from people, and the entities we expect to protect us are the ones apologising for violating human rights. There is a need to know the areas of concern and direct these bills to those areas,” Aogon said.
He said this during discussions between forum members and members from the National Coalition on Human Rights Defenders Uganda (NCHRDU) on Friday.
The discussions premised on developing strategic collaboration with concerned entities as well as developing laws that protect the rights of human rights defenders in the county.
According to Aogon, this will be done through imposing specific obligations on the government to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to freely operate as well as criminalising acts that limit the enjoyment of rights and freedoms.
He added that there will be a prescription of functions of human rights defenders being actively engaged in the recognition, promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms of others.
Aogon said these organisations should consider interactions with the President to curb misrepresentation, and utilize his national position as a human rights defender.
“As human rights defenders, we should also be able to gather support from Parliamentary Committees, the Leader of the Opposition, and the entire House because this benefits all Ugandans,” he said.
The NCHRDU Acting Head of Programmes, Robert Mugisa, said that the law is urgently needed to reduce the pressure of violence meted on human rights defenders.
“We have resorted to yardsticks like the use of peaceful means, operating within a known context and training human rights defenders to avoid being on the wrong side of the law,” Mugisa said.
Robert Turyakira, the agency’s deputy executive director urged the Government to rally support for and protect human rights defenders.
“The work done by these human rights defenders is constitutional and they need protection and support to execute their mandate,” Turyakira said.
MPs on the forum urged the NGOs under the coalition to also consider the rights of individuals who may step on the rights of others in the name of working for power wielding officials in the country.
Among the other laws recommended by the civil society is the National Legal Aid Bill, which they have called for to be fast-tracked so as to present a conducive environment.