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Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination concludes review of Uganda's second to tenth periodic reports

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The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning completed its consideration of the second to tenth periodic reports of Uganda after hearing a Government delegation say that the country had to contend with the colonial legacy of divide and rule and the legacy of dictatorship which conflicted with established human rights standards.

Responding to questions raised by Committee Experts, the members of the Ugandan delegation said, among other things, that they were greatly encouraged to find that most members of the Committee had a deep appreciation of the complex factors which Uganda had to contend with in its efforts to protect human rights. It had to contend, among other things, with the colonial legacy of divide and rule and the legacy of dictatorship that the present Government had inherited which were sometimes in conflict with established human rights standards.

The delegation also said that the Karamoja people were disadvantaged because they lived in areas with semi-arid climate conditions; the people had shown great resistance to changing their traditional mode of living which was based on nomadism and inter-clan cattle rustling; and that made it difficult to establish amenities such as hospitals and schools for the group.

Luis Valencia Rodriguez, the Committee Expert who served as country rapporteur to the reports of Uganda, said much had to be done concerning the ethnic groups living in the rural areas whose living standards were comparatively lower than other main groups. He recommended, among other things, that the Government should take into consideration the recommendations put forward by the Ugandan Human Rights Commission.

Also participating in the debate were Committee Experts Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr, Regis de Gouttes and Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Uganda towards the end of its three-week session which will conclude on 21 March.

As one on the 167 States parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, Uganda is obligated to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to implement the provisions of the treaty.

Also this morning, the Committee briefly heard the report of its Working Group on working methods, presented by Committee Expert Luis Valencia Rodriguez, in which he referred to the Committee's relations with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions. The report also raised the issue of whether to adopt concluding observations in closed or public sessions.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it is scheduled to take up the fifteenth to seventeenth periodic reports of the Russian Federation (CERD/C/431/Add.2).

Response of Uganda

The members of the delegation responded to the various questions raised by Committee Experts last Friday. They said they were greatly encouraged to find that most members of the Committee had a deep appreciation of the complex factors which Uganda had to contend with in its efforts to protect human rights. It had to contend, among other things, with the colonial legacy of divide and rule and the legacy of dictatorship that the present Government had inherited which were sometimes in conflict with established human rights standards.

The delegation said that the relevant provisions of the Convention were adopted almost in their entirety into the 1995 Constitution. Chapter 4 of the Constitution was almost a verbatim reproduction of article 5 of the Convention. The provisions of the Convention were fully enforceable in Uganda courts and could be invoked.

The rebel group -- the Lord's Resistance Army -- was led by a notorious war lord who had never put forward any coherent political agenda beyond claiming that he wanted to establish a new political order based on the Ten Commandments. The group had been abducting children who were subjected to the most brutal and inhuman treatment. The Lord's Resistance Army characteristically did not target the Ugandan security forces; it targeted civilians by committing atrocities against them. The Government of Uganda and other Governments considered the group a terrorist organization. The main difficulty in eliminating the rebel group was that it had bases outside the country and it was financed and equipped from abroad.

The Karamoja people were relatively backward people who lived in disadvantaged areas with semi-arid climate conditions which caused drought and famine, the delegation said. The people had shown great resistance to changing their traditional mode of living which was based on nomadism and inter-clan cattle rustling. That made it difficult to establish amenities such as hospitals and schools for the group. The Karamoja were not, however, politically marginalized. They had local councils which they fully controlled and they were represented in the National Parliament.

Responding to a question concerning Uganda's involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the delegation said that because of security threats from the perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda and Ugandan anti-government rebel forces in the eastern part of the DRC, the Uganda armed forces had to intervene to curb the menace of the rebels. Uganda's involvement in the DRC had nothing to do with discrimination or ethnic rivalries with the DRC. Uganda's only involvement was to assist in stopping massacres, and it was anxious to be relieved of that responsibility by the UN Mission in the Congo.

The traditional practices of ignoring women in inheritance were swept away by the 1998 Land Act which decreed that women were entitled to the same rights to inherit property as were men, the delegation said. The same Law provided that husbands could not sell their land or property without the consent of their wives.

All genuine claims as regards the properties belonging to Asians had been duly settled, the delegation affirmed.

The Ugandan Constitution guaranteed civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights to racial, ethnic, religious and other minorities, the delegation said. However, the word minority was not defined in that context. The practice since the Constitution was promulgated had been for the minority groups themselves to come forward and draw attention to their grievances.

Uganda had a population of 237,000 refugees, the delegation said. Most of them were peasants who had fled conflicts from neighbouring countries. The country had no refugee camps; and all refugees were looked after in refugee settlements.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission was an independent body that made recommendations to the Parliament, the delegation said. Through the recommendations of the Commission, human rights teachings had been introduced in school curricula, and in the training of the police and the army. A human rights desk had been set up in the Ugandan police, army and prisons.

The informal courts did not handle issues of discrimination, the delegation said. They only handled common offences and were linked to the formal courts.

An Expert asked about the Government measures to improve the living conditions of the Karamojo people; and about the situation of Ugandan refugees in other countries.

Another Expert said that efforts had to be made to train law-enforcing agents and the police on the implementation of human rights so that inter-clan harmony would reign.

Referring to the HIV/AIDS situation, an Expert asked about the efforts of the Durban World Conference against Racism focusing on Uganda. He wanted further information on the Ebola scourge and the efforts made by the Government of Uganda to deal with that issue.

Responding to the questions raised by Committee Experts, the delegation said that the Lord's Resistance Army had no political programme. The group continued to kill civilians in the areas in which it operated. An effort had been made by a group of people to mediate between the rebel group and the Government; however, the Lord's Resistance Army representative never showed up to meet the mediators.

With regard to the Karamoja, the delegation said that they carried guns and crossed borders into Kenya and Sudan whenever they liked. Although they had a nomadic character, the Government had attempted to create centres where they could find food and water. Because of their increased numbers, the members of that ethnic group were now demanding access to their ancestral lands. The Government was trying resettle them in areas where irrigation was possible. The Government had attempted to build mobile schools and clinics for the Karamoja people.

Ebola had struck in Uganda in 2000 and it had affected about 100 people in a region bordering with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At present the situation was under control and the disease no longer affected the country.

LUIS VALENCIA RODRIGUEZ, the Committee Expert who served as country rapporteur to the reports of Uganda, thanked the delegation for its answers. The delegation had provided information on the situation in the north where a conflict continued involving the Lord's Resistance Army. It had also given further information on inter-ethnic matters, to which the Government had paid much attention.

Mr. Valencia Rodriguez said much had to be done concerning the ethnic groups living in the rural areas. He said they were economically affected, with their living standards comparatively lower than other main groups.

The Ugandan Human Rights Commission was providing information to the Government on various issues, particularly the situation of the disadvantaged ethnic groups, the Expert said. He recommended that the Government take into consideration the recommendations put forward to it by the Commission.

Mr. Valencia Rodriguez further said that the Ugandan Government should give specific directives on the scope and contents of the provisions of the Convention to its law-enforcing agents. The authorities should also provide the Committee with information on the application of the measures to return the properties of Asians who had been expelled from the country during the Idi Amin era.