10 October 2009

Uganda: Be Firm, British Envoy Tells Human Rights Activists

Jinja — Human rights activists need to be brave if they are to save Africa from present human rights abuses, says Martin Shearman, the British High Commissioner to Uganda.

The ambassador, who spoke during the five-day training for human rights defenders from the Great Lakes regional in Jinja, says even human rights defenders in the UK never achieved their human rights success on a silver platter.

"It took the human rights activists in the UK a long time that dated back to 800-1000 years," said Mr Shearman, adding: "It took well focused brave human rights defenders to stand up for rights in their country so as to enjoy what is now happening in the UK."

He said it is important Ugandans come up with the Human Rights Act, just like the UK's Human Rights Act 2000 that spells out very clearly the rights of the citizens and in an explicit manner defines the ones which are absolute, limited or qualified.

"When you do that, you will have qualified your human rights since they will be legitimate and proportionately reasoning," said the high commissioner, who also highlighted the countering terrorism as one of the biggest challenges in the human rights discourse.

Mr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, said the meet was intended to build effective social justice movement in the East and Horn of Africa.

"This 2009 summer course is to provide a platform to enrich human rights defenders in the region about the risks, opportunities and new tactics to advance democratic development in the region," said Mr Ssewanyana.

Mr Shearman said there is need to put in place safe guards that help curb terrorism. He said the laws in his country, for instance prohibit retrospective criminal investigations.

The ambassador, who said his country had no strategic interest in Uganda, expressed fear about our political climate and the unemployment in our country. He said he was wary about how political actors are to behave come 2011.

He said there so many challenges that the activists are bound to encounter with most especially in engaging the state, if it's the worst offender of Human rights. And when does one make progress in promoting human rights, is it when government becomes more responsive?

He said it is absurd that although UK has a big engagement with Uganda sending over 80 million pounds annually to benefit the residents, there is a total lack of political will in the country.

"There are so many humans rights issues that have been compromised by many people contrary to what is purposed to be done," said Mr Shearman.

He urged people to assert themselves and raise their voices when their rights are being eroded and lobby the authorities plus providing the necessary safe guards.

He named South Africa's Nelson Mandela and India's Mahatman Gandhi as some of the people who stood up and fought human rights abuses in their respective countries by employing many strategies.

The workshop drew delegates from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, DRC and Sudan.

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