• Francis Obonyo
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What you need to know about the Human Rights (enforcement) Act 2019

1. Introduction
1.1 The objective of the Act
This is an Act of Parliament that gives effect to Article 50(4) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda. It does so by providing for the procedure of enforcing rights under Chapter 4 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda. The law was assented to by the President H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on 31st march 2019 and gazetted in November 2019, therefore, putting it in operation.

2. Highlights of the Act
According to Article 50 of the Constitution, the Act highlights that in the event of a human rights violation or infringement, the aggrieved person or organization should seek redress from a competent court. The high court shall hear and determine any application relating to the enforcement of violation of rights and freedoms enshrined in Article 44 and 45 of the Constitution or those above the pecuniary jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court.

A suit for the protection of human rights freedoms shall be instituted in the court in whose jurisdiction the violation took place.
Any person with expertise on any issue before court can appear before court as amicus either by application or request of court.
Suits shall not be dismissed for failure to comply with standard procedures or technicalities.
Where human rights violations arise in any suit being determined by a subordinate court, the matter will be referred to the high court for determination.

Likewise, where a suit is being determined, and an issue of a human rights violation arises, the high court shall stay proceedings and first determine the issue.
Where the court has determined a human right violation, the court can order for the following;

  • Compensation of the victim,
  • Restitution to the original situation before the human rights violation,
  • Rehabilitation of the victim or satisfaction of the victim which may include restoring their dignity,
  • A public apology and
  • Guarantees of non- repetition.

A public officer who violates human rights individually or in association with others is liable regardless of whether or not the state is vicariously liable for his or her actions. It shall individually pay the compensation or restitution ordered by the court.
Whenever It is found in a criminal proceeding that the accused’s non- derogable rights have been infringed upon, the presiding judge shall declare the trial a nullity and acquit the accused.

Criminal proceedings shall be instituted against someone who violates a non-derogable right whether or not an action has been instituted.
Persons with immunity lose their immunity when they violate a right or freedom and shall be prosecuted or found liable for the acts or omissions.

3. Key issues and analysis
National courts in Uganda, while enforcing the observance of human rights, are heavily dependent on many organs of the state and directly answerable to the executive, such as the police, to enforce its decisions. Hence this undermines the accountability of the executive to the judiciary for its actions.
The remedies provided by the Act not only operate after human rights have been violated but also enforce the observation of human rights in the future. Remedies such as satisfaction gives the court an avenue to address future human rights violations of a similar nature. The non-repetition counters the tendency of repetitive violations against different persons or entities.
The imposition of personal criminal or civil liability of human rights violations deprives the violator of the state or institutional cover, making them personally accountable for their actions.
The Act also requires court orders to be complied within a time frame set by the court hence making enforcement of rights efficient.

4. Conclusion
The Judiciary in Uganda often lacks independence and is often restricted by political will, thus making enforcement of orders on government entities tricky. This Act gives the judiciary a substantial amount of leverage in enforcing its orders, thus strengthening courts in enforcing human rights.