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Protectors or Pretenders? - Government Human Rights Commissions in Africa, HRW Report 2001




International Standards: The Paris Principles

Important Factors

Examining the Record in Africa

Innovative and Positive Contributions by Commissions

Regional Iniatives

The Role Of The International Community





Origin and Mandate

    When President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army/Movement took over the reigns of power in Uganda in 1986, the country was infamous for its widespread human rights abuses and massive loss of civilian life. Hundred of thousands of civilians lost their lives during the military dictatorship of Idi Amin (1971-79) and the second administration of Milton Obote (1980-85). Many more had been subjected to arbitrary arrests, beatings, torture, and other forms of human rights abuses.

    Soon after its seizure of power in 1986, the Museveni government established a Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights, with a mandate to investigate human rights abuses committed by past governments from independence until the day the Museveni government came to power. Despite long delays due to inadequate resources coupled with instability in some parts of the country, the commission of inquiry ultimately produced a 720-page final report in 1994, providing an overview of human rights abuses in Uganda from 1962 until 1986, and recommending, among other things, the incorporation of human rights education into the general curricula of schools, universities, the army, and other security personnel.

    On December 12, 1988, the governing National Resistance Council (NRC) enacted statute no. 5, establishing the Uganda Constitutional Commission (also known as the Odoki Commission after its chair Justice Benjamin Odoki), which was charged with writing a new draft constitution. The Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights made a submission to the Odoki Commission, arguing for the inclusion of a permanent and independent human rights commission in the constitutional draft.63 The Odoki Commission ultimately adopted this proposal in its draft constitution.64 Following the recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights, the Odoki Commission identified principles which it deemed essential to the establishment of a credible human rights commission:

199. its ability to function as an independent constitutional body;

200. the integrity and diversity of its membership;

201. adequate financial and human resources;

202. accessibility by all members of society; and

203. adequate jurisdiction, investigative and remedial powers to carry out its duties and gain the confidence of the population.65

    When the 1995 Ugandan constitution was enacted, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) was constitutionally entrenched in articles 51 to 59 which defined the function, powers and structure of the UHRC. The UHRC is entrusted with a wide variety of important functions, including the ability to initiate investigations of human rights violations; to have access to and monitor detention conditions; to conduct educational and other activities to promote human rights awareness; and to monitor and make recommendations for government compliance with its international obligations.66 The UHRC is empowered to subpoena any witness or document, order the release of any detained person, and recommend payment or compensation, or any other legal remedy after it finds the existence of a human rights abuse.67 However, the commission cannot investigate any matters pending before a court of law, matters relating to Uganda's dealings with other countries or international organizations, or matters relating to the prerogative of mercy.68 The powers, functions, and structure of the UHRC are implemented in greater detail by the Uganda Human Rights Commission Act passed by parliament in 1997.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2001

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