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Uganda Human Rights - History

Uganda Human Rights - History

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Government restricted domestic and international NGOs focused on governance and human rights, including by freezing two organizations’ bank accounts. Accusing them of working to destabilize the government by opposing the government’s plan to rescind Article 102 (b) of the constitution, on September 20, the UPF raided the Kampala offices of human rights NGOs ActionAid and Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS) and raided Solidarity Uganda’s (SU) office in Lira District. Police had secured a search warrant from a magistrate granting them access to the offices’ premises and documents. NGO staff described the raids as “cordon and search operations,” during which staff were prevented from leaving the compound for several hours while police conducted a room-by-room search. According to local media, police confiscated documents, telephones, and computers from the three offices and arrested one SU employee. On September 22, the UPF accused the organizations of “receiving foreign funding to support illegal activities, foment civil unrest, and destabilize the government.” On October 3, authorities directed commercial banks to freeze the business bank accounts of ActionAid and GLISS, and those of GLISS’ staff, as part of an investigation into alleged “conspiracy to commit a felony and money laundering.” On October 11, the NGO Bureau directed 25 NGOs (including GLISS, SU, and ActionAid) to provide a substantial volume of documents, including work plans, and certified copies of bank statements since 2014 within seven days of the directive. Affected NGOs complained that this directive created an onerous burden and violated the 2015 NGO Act’s stipulation that registered organizations would not have to provide additional documentation prior to the renewal of their operating permit, without due cause, which was not provided. The government continued the freeze on the accounts at year’s end.

Authorities denied LGBTI-related organizations official status due to discriminatory laws preventing their registration, however, and NGOs that worked in the areas of governance, human rights, and political participation were sometimes subject to extra scrutiny. The government was often unresponsive to concerns of local and international human rights organizations, and government officials often dismissed NGO claims of human rights abuses by security forces.

In March, HRW reported security forces used excessive force during the November 2016 raid on King Mumbere’s palace, killing more than 100 persons (see section 1.a). HRW called for the suspension of the operation’s commanding officers and an independent investigation into the security forces’ actions. On March 15, Media Center Executive Director Ofwono Opondo said HRW’s report lacked depth and ignored the deaths of security officers prior to the raid.

Some human rights activists faced intimidation in the course of their work. In May local human rights organization Chapter Four stated police in Kasese arrested its researcher three times for recording statements from persons affected by the raid on the king’s palace. According to Chapter Four, police held the researcher for one or two days each time and then released him without charge.

On August 18, the HRAPF stated that police had closed their investigation into the June 2016 break-in at its office without making any arrests, despite having received security camera footage showing the intruders inside the office. According to the HRAPF, the police concluded the break-in, during which the robbers killed the security guard, was a common robbery.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The UHRC is a constitutionally mandated institution with quasi-judicial powers to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, direct the release of detainees, and award compensation to abuse victims. The president appoints its board, consisting of a chairperson and five commissioners.

The UHRC, which had 21 branches nationwide, pursued suspected human rights abusers, including in the military and police forces. The UHRC’s 2016 annual report, released on May 25, recorded 848 human rights cases, an increase of 16 percent from 2015. According to the report, the increase was attributed to increased public awareness of the UHRC’s complaint mechanisms. For the seventh straight year, the highest number of complaints, 73 percent, was against the UPF, of which approximately 40 percent concerned torture and mistreatment. Seven percent of all complaints were against the UPDF, with more than 60 percent of those cases related to torture and mistreatment. By violations, the highest number of cases, 51 percent, involved deprivation of personal liberty by detention beyond 48 hours prior to arraignment--a 77 percent increase from 2015. The second most common violation, 45 percent of cases, was torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, a 10-percent increase from 2015. The UHRC attributed these increases in torture and personal liberty cases to security forces’ heavy-handed responses to opposition activities during the 2016 general elections, as well as postelection violence in Kasese and Bundibugyo Districts. The UHRC noted that torture remained prevalent despite the 2012 Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act. Additionally, the UHRC found that detention beyond 48 hours prior to arraignment remained a problem due to alleged absenteeism of some court magistrates, delays by prosecutors to approve charges submitted by police, lack of resources for police to transport suspects to court, and, at times, police corruption or abuse of office.

According to human rights activists, many victims of torture to whom the UHRC had awarded compensation never received their payment from the government. In 2016 the UHRC awarded an estimated one billion shillings (275,000) in compensation to victims of human rights violations, of which it allocated 40 percent to victims of torture. The UHRC reported the government paid out 35 percent of the total compensation it awarded in 2016. The UHRC stated that in November 2016, the president directed the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development to ensure that the five billion shillings ($1.4 million) in outstanding compensation awards owed to victims of human rights violations, be fully paid by the end of the country’s 2017-18 financial year (June 30, 2018).

Many human rights activists asserted the UHRC lacked the political influence and government support to investigate or identify senior-level officials accused of committing abuses. In May the UHRC summoned senior officials from the Office of the IGP, the UPS, the UPF, the Ministry of Defense, and the UPDF to respond to torture allegations; however, while senior officials from the other agencies attended, the IGP did not attend the meeting or send a representative. According to the UHRC’s 2016 report, the only recommendation the government enacted from its 2015 report was to amend the Children Act, which the UHRC initially recommended in 2011. The UHRC noted that the government also partially implemented 63 percent of its 2015 recommendations, many of which the UHRC had been recommending for several years, including training for parliament on international human rights principles, to ensuring new legislation was in compliance with relevant laws, and translating the constitution into four of the country’s 40 official languages. The government took no action on 36 percent of the 2015 recommendations.

In 2016 the UHRC received 20.6 billion shillings ($5.7 million) in total funding, of which 13.8 billion shillings ($3.8 million) was from the government, and 6.8 billion shillings ($1.9 million) from development partners. Despite having received a 34 percent funding increase compared with 2015, the UHRC’s total funding for 2016 was 6.4 billion shillings (1.76 million) less than its budget request of 27 billion shillings ($7.4 million). The UHRC stated it lacked sufficient funds to implement its mandated activities fully.

The International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court, established by judicial decree in 2011, has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, human trafficking, piracy, and other international crimes defined in domestic law. Lack of resources and personnel hindered the ability of the ICD to conduct investigations and prosecutions of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the country. The ICD arraigned Commander Thomas Kwoyelo in 2011 on charges of breaches of the Geneva Conventions, but the start of his trial was repeatedly delayed. In 2014 Kwoyelo’s complaint against the government for indefinite detention was accepted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and, according to Kwoyelo’s lawyers, the request remained pending at year’s end.

The former commander of the Allied Defense Forces, Jamil Mukulu, was arrested in Tanzania in 2015 and extradited to the country on charges of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions for his role in a 1998 attack on a student dormitory that killed more than 100 persons. The state prosecutors failed to produce Mukulu for trial during the year.

Human Rights Violations in Uganda

According to Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set forth by the United Nations, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” The interconnectedness in the world produces a new agenda of international issues which affect both powerful and less powerful countries.

The doctrine of human rights aspires to provide the contemporary, allegedly post-ideological, geo-political order with a common framework for determining the basic economic, political, and social conditions required for all individuals to lead a minimally good life (Bova). The effectiveness of promoting and protecting human rights is significantly aided by individual nation-states’ legally recognizing the doctrine. The moral justification of human rights is thought to precede considerations of strict national sovereignty (Bova). For many of its supporters, the doctrine of human rights aims to provide a fundamentally legitimate moral basis for regulating the contemporary geo-political order.

The issue of human rights violations has been prominent in many societies and states for centuries. Uganda, in particular, has faced both national and international backlash over their multiple human rights abuses over the years. For nearly two decades, Northern Uganda has been ravaged by conflict. Thousands of civilians have been subject to brutal attacks, rape, torture, extra-judicial execution and destruction of homes and communities (amnestyusa.org). The two most notable offenses that have received much media attention are the controversies of children being forced into the military and the persecution of homosexuals.

The issue of child soldiers can be traced back to Joseph Kony, the head of a Ugandan guerrilla army called the Lord’s Resistance Army. Initially, this group was an outgrowth and continuation of the larger armed resistance movement waged by some of the Acholi people (globalpolicy.org) against a central Ugandan government which they felt marginalized them at the expense of southern Ugandan ethnic groups Kony has been accused by government entities of ordering the abduction of children to become child-sex slaves and child soldiers.An estimated 66,000 children became soldiers and two million people have been internally displaced since 1986 (govtrack.us).

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is a legislative proposal that would broaden the criminalisation of same-sex relations in Uganda by dividing homosexual behavior into two categories: “aggravated homosexuality”, in which an “offender” would receive the death penalty, or “the offence of homosexuality” in which an offender would receive life in prison (amnestyusa.org). “Aggravated homosexuality” is defined to include homosexual acts committed by a person who is HIV-positive, is a parent or authority figure, or who administers intoxicating substances, homosexual acts committed on minors or people with disabilities, and repeat offenders. (patheos.com)

The United Nations does not do an adequate job of enforcing human rights laws and prosecuting their violators. If the United Nations won’t act to stop these violations, it is up to more powerful, developed nations to step in. However, governments will not usually get involved in other country’s affairs unless there is an outcry from its citizens who pressure them to take action.

Aid and awareness of the two issues mentioned above were spread throughout the world because of actions that citizens of various states took up with their government. Joesph Kony’s atrocious deeds were exploited around the world thanks to Jason Russell’s ‘Kony 2012’ video. As a result of Russell’s viral video, a hundred US soldiers were sent in to help the Ugandan army in tracking and arresting Joesph Kony.

“It was the first time in history that the United States took that kind of action because the people demanded it. Not for self-defense, but because it was right”(invisiblechildren.com). Similarly with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, multiple media outlets, religious groups, and non-government organizations pressured the Ugandan government to get rid of the bill. The backlash against this bill caused such a negative impact on Uganda’s international relations that they completely removed the death penalty for those who were found to be gay (jurist.org).

Through the use of technology, important issues such as those occurring in Uganda were able to be spread from one state to another in a quick and widespread manner. Constructivist would agree that the world is socially constructed, and that the Internet and other technologies just help spread those ideas and values around the world. If we can look at the world in a Constructivist view, the sharing of ideas and sharing of happenings in different countries can only help bring issues of human rights abuses to light, and put pressures on a government to take an action that might have not been considered previously.

Uganda Human Rights

Uganda experiences difficulties in the achievement of international standards of human rights for all citizens. These difficulties centre upon the provision of proper sanitation facilities, internal displacement and development of adequate infrastructure. Nonetheless, Uganda is, as per the Relief Web sponsored Humanitarian Profile – 2012, making considerable developments in this area.

After a heavily contested election campaign, President Yoweri Museveni was re-elected into office and his re-election was independently verified by Amnesty International. Despite verification of the election results, Amnesty did express concerns over alleged election violence and freedom of press restrictions.

Uganda Human Rights : Conflict in Northern Uganda

Since various rebel groups started fighting the government of President Yoweri Museveni, beginning in August 1986, about 2 million Ugandans have been displaced and tens of thousands have been killed. An estimated 67,000 children have been kidnapped by the LRA for use as child soldiers and slaves since 1987.

Signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement in 2006 due to a successful campaign executed by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) put an end to LRA violence in Uganda.

The past conflict in the north of the country between the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has decimated the economy, retarded the development of affected areas and led to numerous gross human rights violations. These violations centred upon the poor emergency provision provided to Internally Displaced Persons fleeing their homes to avoid LRA. In the six years since the signing of hostilities agreement many of those displaced persons have returned to their homes and a rehabilitation and redevelopment programme is underway. It has been acknowledged by both the Ugandan Government and the United Nations that this is a work in progress and that considerable improvements must be made. In this regard a rehabilitation programme has been launched.

Uganda Human Rights : Persecution of homosexuals

In October 2009, a bill was tabled in the Ugandan Parliament entitled “Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009” calling for harsher penalties for homosexuals, up to and including the death penalty. As originally drafted and tabled this bill also requires that any citizen who suspects another person of being homosexual, is required to report the homosexual to police, or they too may receive a fine or time in prison. The proposed bill goes so far as to forbid landlords from renting to a known homosexual, and would ban any public discussion of homosexuality

The international community was greatly opposed to the introduction of this bill and expressed concerns about the fact that it may become law, indeed U.S. President Barack Obama called it ‘odious’. As a result of mounting international pressure the bill never proceeded past committee stage.

On 7 March 2012 backbench MP David Bahati reintroduced the bill to much controversy. He was however at pains to point out that the provision for death penalty had been decided upon as unnecessary and removed from the bill at committee stage in the 8th parliament. As such, the bill as introduced into the 9th Parliament, had no provision for the death penalty.

This bill remains highly criticised and controversial. It has again been met with widespread condemnation. The Ugandan government in replying to this condemnation issued a statement citing the fact that the bill was a private members bill and that it did not have the support of the government.

On 24 February 2014 President Yoweri Museveni signed the ‘”Anti Homosexuality Bill” into law. The following day the tabloid “Red Pepper” published a list of 200 allegedly gay men.

Following the tightening of the bill several western industrial nations, among others Sweden, the United States and the Netherlands have suspended their aid to Uganda. The World Bank postponed a $90 million loan to Uganda’s health system over the law

Uganda Human Rights : Abuses by Ugandan security forces

Uganda Human Rights : Political freedom

In April 2005, two opposition Member of Parliament were arrested on what are believed to be politically motivated charges. [14] Ronald Reagan Okumu and Michael Nyeko Ocula are from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the movement believed to pose the greatest threat to the reelection of President Yoweri Museveni in 2006.

The most prominent opposition to President Museveni, Kizza Besigye has run for office three times and been defeated each time. On the occasion of his last defeat (the 2011 elections) Kizza Besigye called for all his FDC party members to boycott the parliament and not take up their seats as elected. Party members of the FDC refused to do this and Kizza Besigye stood down as party leader. Besigye is a prominent political figure and he has identified several incidents whereby his political freedom was violated. Notably in 2011 Besigye was placed under preventative arrest, however he was immediately released as this arrest was deemed unlawful by the Ugandan Courts

Uganda Human Rights : Freedom of the press

As in many African countries, government agencies continue to impinge on the freedom of the press in Uganda.

In late 2002, the independent Monitor newspaper was temporarily closed by the army and police. Journalists from the paper continued to come under attack in 2004, two of whom were publicly denounced as “rebel collaborators” by a spokesman for the UPDF.

In February 2004, the Supreme Court ruled the offence of “publication of false news” to be void and unconstitutional.

In 2005, Uganda was rated as the 13th most free press of 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa In 2010, Uganda was rated the 15th most free press of 48 countries.

On the 24th day of January 2012 Issac Kasamani, a photo journalist alleged in a newspaper report that he had been shot at by a police officer whilst covering an opposition rally. An independent investigation into this incident was immediately ordered and an independent report completed by a foreign national concluded that no live ammunition was fired on the date in question. Upon release of this report Ugandan Minister Hon. James Baba expressed concern over the standards of reporting surrounding the incident and announced his intention to look closely at media regulation. This is of international concern.

In November 2012, John Ssegawa, co-director of the critical State of the Nation play reported that Uganda’s Media Council had decided to ban further showings. Ssegawa said the theatre production company would continue to stage the production and defy the ban

Uganda Human Rights : Child labor

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Uganda has made significant advancement in eliminating the worst forms of child labor in 2013. However, underage children continue to engage in strenuous activities mostly in the agricultural sector and in commercial sexual exploitation. The Department’s report Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor indicates that 30% of children aged 5 to 14 are working children and that 95% of them work in the agricultural sector, picking coffee and tea, growing rice, herding cattle and fishing among other activities. Instances of child labor have also been observed in the mining industry (brick making and charcoal production) and in the services sector. Categorical forms of child labor in Uganda included sexual and military exploitation. In December 2014, the Department issued a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor where 10 goods were listed under the country of Uganda. These included bricks, cattle, charcoal, coffee, fish, rice, sugarcane, tea and tobacco

Uganda Human Rights : Historical rankings

The following is a chart of Uganda’s ratings since 1972 in the Freedom in the World reports, published annually by Freedom House. (1 is best, 7 is worst)

Unlawful killings

Security forces unlawfully killed at least 66 people in the period from March onwards, at least 12 of whom were killed for violating lockdown measures.

Since electoral campaigns began on 9 November, dozens of people were killed in the context of riots or protests, most of them shot dead by police and other security forces, including armed individuals in plain clothes. On 18 and 19 November, 54 people were killed in protests that followed the arrest of opposition presidential candidate and popular musician, Robert Kyagulanyi (also known as Bobi Wine) while campaigning in eastern Uganda.

History of Violence on Repeat in Uganda

Recent protests in support of embattled Ugandan opposition leader Robert Kyagulangi and the security forces’ heavy-handed response emphasize for me how little has changed in Uganda over the last decade.

Nine years ago today, I stood outside Mulago hospital’s emergency ward in Kampala as people injured in protests arrived on motorcycle taxis and trucks seeking treatment, mostly for gunshot wounds. By the end of the night, I sat and watched bodies being brought out to the morgue.

On September 10 and 11, 2009, Ugandan authorities sought to prevent a cultural leader of the Buganda ethnic group from traveling to Kayunga, a town near Kampala where National Youth Day festivities were planned. His supporters took to the streets, in some instances throwing stones and setting debris alight. The military and police beat demonstrators and quickly resorted to live ammunition, killing unarmed protesters and bystanders.

Sources at Mulago told me that all told they treated 88 victims related to the 2009 protests, the vast majority for gunshot wounds. More victims were taken to other hospitals. The government maintains that 27 people lost their lives, largely as a result of security forces’ “stray bullets.” Hospital records and local organizations put the death toll at more than 40. Regardless, the government never investigated or charged any security force members for the deaths.

In contrast to the lack of investigations into the security forces’ killings, the police response to the protesters’ alleged wrongdoing was overwhelming. Almost 850 people were charged with crimes, such as unlawful assembly and inciting violence. Eleven were prosecuted on terrorism charges, only to be acquitted after three years in a maximum-security prison. In a scathing judgment, a judge labeled the police investigation “incurably tainted, rendering the prosecution a nullity.”

Today, nine years later, victims and their families are left with the burdens of loss. “I have a permanent scar on my heart. I request those responsible in government to ensure that all those people who were involved in the killings are brought before courts and charged,” said one man whose son was killed in those protests.

But his plea has not been heard. Ugandan security forces have repeatedly resorted to lethal force against protesters and bystanders without clear justification over the last several years. Each time, the state pours massive resources into arresting citizens and stopping protests, even when they are peaceful, but none into ensuring the conduct of its forces remain within the law and human rights victims receive justice.

Uganda Human Rights - History

The United Nations human rights programme has grown considerably since its modest beginnings some 60 years ago. Organizationally, it started as a small division at United Nations Headquarters in the 1940s. The division later moved to Geneva and was upgraded to the Centre for Human Rights in the 1980s. At the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, the international community decided to establish a more robust human rights mandate with stronger institutional support. Accordingly, Member States of the United Nations created OHCHR by a General Assembly Resolution in 1993.

The growth in United Nations human rights activities has paralleled the increasing strength of the international human rights movement since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. Drafted as ‘a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations', the Declaration for the first time in human history set out basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all human beings should enjoy. It has over time been widely accepted as the fundamental norms of human rights that all Governments should respect. December 10, the day of its adoption, is observed worldwide as International Human Rights Day. The Universal Declaration, together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, form the “International Bill of Human Rights.”

Alongside the development of international human rights law, a number of United Nations human rights bodies have been established to respond to changing human rights challenges. They rely on OHCHR for both substantive and secretariat support in discharging their duties. These bodies can be either Charter-based and political bodies consisting of State representatives with mandates established by the United Nations Charter, or they can be treaty-based committees with independent experts set up, with the exception of one, by international human rights treaties and mandated to monitor State parties' compliance with their treaty obligations

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, established in 1946 and reporting to the Economic and Social Council, was the key United Nations intergovernmental body responsible for human rights until it was replaced by the Human Rights Council in 2006. In addition to assuming mandates and responsibilities previously entrusted to the Commission, the newly created Council, reporting directly to the General Assembly, has expanded mandates. These include making recommendations to the General Assembly for further developing international law in the field of human rights, and undertaking a Universal Periodic Review of the fulfillment of each State of its human rights obligations and commitments.

    192 pages in PDF format. (via The Parliament of the Republic of Uganda, Kampala)
  • See also: The Judiciary and Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs below.
  • BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation, London, UK)
    "Museveni rival Kizza Besigye arrested over protest march" (February 21, 2016)
    "Uganda polls: Museveni's main rival, Besigye, arrested" (February 19, 2016)
    "Uganda opposition candidate Kizza Besigye held by police" (February 15, 2016)
    "Uganda election: issues, candidates, the poll" (February 10, 2016)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists Blog: "After disputed Ugandan election, journalists fear prolonged crackdown," March 1, 2016. (New York)
  • Election Guide: Uganda Profile for Presidential Elections, February 2016: a list of candidates and political parties. (International Foundation for Electoral Systems, Washington, DC)
  • The Electoral Commission, Uganda (Kampala, Uganda)
  • African Elections Database: Uganda, 1958-2011: summary of presidential and parliamentary electoral results. (Albert C. Nunley, via Tripod.Com, USA)
  • BBC News: "Uganda election: Yoweri Museveni faces Kizza Besigye," February 18, 2011 (London, UK)
  • European Union: Election Observation Mission on 2011 Elections in Uganda (Brussels, Belgium)
  • The Independent. (Online): Election Watch, 2011 (Kampala, Uganda)

A site about a documentary film project on the legacy of the LRA conflict in the Acholi region of Uganda. ". an initiative of Marjoke Oosterom (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK) who started a collaboration with Refugee Law Project (RLP) to translate the findings of her PhD research into visuals.


In 2016, Brenda Kugonza, Helen Kezie Nwoha, and Pamela Agwech) shared ideas about how to create a network for women defenders for better response to WHRDs at risk. We joined together by holding press conference to commemorate the 29 November 2016 (Day of women human rights defenders) at ISIS-WICCE Offices.

Inspired by the experiences and stories of women defenders who continue to stand against the discriminating social, cultural, and religious stereotypes, which expose them to a number of risks in the course of their human rights activities, several of us connected and supported the creation of the network. Thus the WHRDN-U, was founded in 2017 by over 52 women defenders (organizations individuals) directly engaged in women’s rights, oil and extractives, land rights, environmental justice, youth rights, gender based violence, disability rights, media, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights all over Uganda. Connected by their commitment and passion to human rights, many shared there long lived struggles, challenges and risk emanating from 11 sub regions of Uganda which included Acholi, Albertine, Lango , Karamoja, Busoga, Teso, Ankole, Central Buganda, WestNile , Bugisu and Rwenzori sub regions.

The membership of the WHRDN-U has grown from 52 in 2017 to 147 members as of July 2019.


Written by: Mr. Otim Denis Barnabas

The debate about human rights has led to different thinking on its origin, contextualization and consequential documentation. This has been portrayed in a number of documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights to mention but a few. As a result, human rights have then become embedded in states’ constitutions and legislations. This paper seeks to study the understanding of human rights, from the perspectives of Economic and social rights, and the state as an agent in the protection of these rights. Analysis shall be based on the relevant national instruments and putting at the center of the study the case of Uganda.

Following the universalisation of Human rights, many states formulated and adopted some human rights instruments as means for the recognition, promotion and protection of human rights. This included in them the Civil and Political rights and Economic, Social and Cultural rights. In this discussion focus is based on the state and the protection of Economic and Social rights in Uganda. The discussion shall include understanding human rights, and their sources, elucidation on what Economic, Social and Cultural rights are, and their domestication into the Uganda constitution, and the state mechanism used in the protection of these rights.


Understanding and defining human rights has been challenging, this is associated with first knowing what was right or what is right, and acknowledging what it meant to be right from a human centered perspective. In this aspect human rights becomes a subject of our own and individual understanding, influenced by our own judgement.
“A right is some thing to which one is entitled solely by virtue of being a person. It is that which enables one to live with dignity”, it is associated with human beings and their state of survival and livelihood, (Agbakwa, 2002).

This thinking is yet challenging in that rights have limitations and these could be due to the understanding, capacities, resources and the nature of their interpretation and implementation. Therefore, it becomes important to take a holistic approach to understand human rights, and their implementation.

In this section the aim is to trace Human Rights sources. Many theories have been advanced in the understanding of the source or origin of Human Rights by scholars such as Sophocles and Aristotle, John Locke and John Stuart Mills, Hegel and Herder. Focus is limited to the natural law and the positive school which shall influence the study of the state in the protection of Human rights and their treatment in Uganda.

To quote, John locke “No one is subject to the will or authority of other”, this quotation opens the debate between these two school of thought about Human Rights. According to Barash (2000, p.149), a brief history of Human Rights he stated that it is debatable to claim that Human Rights are as old as Human species. Human Rights themselves are God given, inalienable and fundamental and that the issue of ultimate values in a society determines Human Rights. However, Lockes’ thinking is arguably influenced by the natural school of thought, as is presented below in discussing the sources or theories of human rights.

The natural law school (Thomas Acquinas, John Lockes, Sophocles and Aristotle)

They trace the origin of human rights from the enlightenment era in Europe which gave rise to the development to the concept of Universal Human Rights for all people and its prominence. The natural law school argued that Human Rights existed from the natural order of things which are: intrinsic and provable. The approach derived Human Rights from what is reckoned as the “natural law”, which is established by authority higher than that of Governments. Thomas Acquinas (medieval Christian philosopher), put great stress on natural law as conferring to certain immutable rights upon individuals as part of the law of God.

Positivism: the positivist school include the work of Thomas Hobbes, (1588 – 1679) and Jeremy Bentham.

They critique the natural law as being vague and hollow in that it is open to vast differences of interpretation. They argue that under the positivist law, instead of human rights being absolute, they can be given and taken away, and modified by a society to suit its need. They state that, existence and content of rights could be derived only from the laws of the state. Under the positivist theory, the source of Human rights is to be found only in the enactment of a system of law with sanctions attached to it. Example the Human Rights treaties adopted by the United Nations reflect a positivist set of rights, that is rules developed by the sovereign states themselves and then made part of a system of international law.

The debate on the sources or origin of Human Rights is some thing which is complex as expressed by the arguments in the previous paragraph. These theoretical underpinnings are important in helping us to examine and understand the context in which issues of rights are advanced and why they are necessary. In this case the positivism theory is the center from which the discussion is taken in the protection of Economic and Social rights in Uganda.


Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights include the human right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing, and housing, the right to physical and mental health, the right to social security, the right to a healthy environment, and the right to education. They are part of the body of human rights law that developed in the aftermath of World War II, and came to be recognized as vital rights globally.
Human rights law includes all economic and social rights, as well as civil and political rights like the right to free speech and the right to a fair trial. These rights are deeply intertwined: for example, the right to speak freely means little without a basic education, the right to vote means little if you are suffering from starvation. On the other hand, the right to work means little if you are not allowed to meet and assemble in groups to discuss work condition. This expression illustrates the indivisibility and interdependence of these rights.

Economic and Social Rights consist of three integrated components of a more comprehensive component with obvious links to Civil and Political Rights. Equal attention should be paid to the implementation and protection of all the rights as provided for by ICESCR. At the core of Social Rights is the right to an adequate Standard of Living.

Therefore, one must have to agree that in order to enjoy the social rights, economic rights should as well be inclusive. These economic rights may include the right to own property, as provided for in the constitution of Uganda Article 26, clause one and two, the right to work, and the right to social dignity. Thus, Economic rights and in particular rights to individual property right is vital in realisation of social rights. Economic rights have dual function, most clearly demonstrated in the right to own property and serves as a basis for entitlements which can ensure adequate standard of living while, on the other hand, it’s a basis of independence and therefore freedom.

In essence the document of Economic and Social rights is a plea to states to take up as a duty to ensure and enhance that individual’s enjoyment of these rights and entitlements are achieved. It also recognizes that, these are progressive rights that are hardly attained easily and its dependant on states resource capacities and policies, which is a great challenge in most developing countries due to low finances and budget deficits. The next paragraph brings with it the starting point of the discussion and the area of focus.


The realisation of Economic and Social rights has not only been at the global level but also at the national level. The center of discussion is on Uganda and in particular the constitutional recognition of Economic and Social rights. The Economic and Social Rights that can be legally binding as they stem from the Bill of Rights are very narrowly defined and disappointingly few in number under the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. This includes the right to own property, right to education, the right to participate and join trade union activities and the right to clean and healthy environment. This position reflects the unwillingness of the government to provide substantive rights that would entail a judicial remedy.
Surprisingly, most of the Economic and Social rights such as fundamental right to social justice and economic development, food security and good nutrition, protection of the age, right to development, access and provision of medical services, and clean and safe water, are enshrined under the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.

From analytical view, Economic and Social rights have been allotted very little attention compared to the Civil and Political Rights such as right to equality and freedom from discrimination, personal liberty, protection from inhumane treatment, and civic rights and activities. Much of the Economic and Social rights have been subject under the section of National Objectives and Directive Principle of the state. These are considered more or else as a set of guidelines and not entrenched in the International Bill of Rights, thus robbing a significant body of Human Rights of legal capacity, with no or minimal litigation measures.

A number of questions have been raised about who is responsible for the protection of Economic and Social Rights and no definite answer has been provided. However, various instruments at the national level have shown the state effort in the protection of Economic and Social Rights. These instrument have included the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda, state financing, programmes and institutions such as the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), The constitutional courts and the Inspectorate Government General (IGG). This discussion presents the prospects and challenges of the state in the protection of Economic and Social rights.

The state has minimum requirement it has to fulfill in the protection of ESR as regards its citizens. The human rights legal framework spells out these responsibilities with obligations to respect which requires the government to refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of ESCR: to protect requires the government to prevent third parties such as corporations from interfering in any way with the enjoyment of ESCR, and the obligation to fulfill which requires the government to adopt the necessary measures to achieve full recognition of ESCR.
The state (Uganda) has used a number of instruments directly and indirectly in the protection of Economic and Social rights. The level of commitment is a subject of prospects and challenges these instruments are discussed in the next page of this paper.

The constitution can be argued to be playing two roles. Firstly, it places a duty on the state to ‘respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights in the Bills of Rights. Secondly, it gives the state a blue print for a number of activities that should proactively guide and shape legislative action, policy, and decision making that enables the enforcement of Economic and Social Rights with redress. Besides, it gives an amount of recognizable Economic and Social rights such as the right to education, property and joining of trade unions and the right to clean and healthy environment.
In fulfilling its duty, the constitution has been a guide in the fulfillment of some Economic and Social rights, such as the right to education. For instance, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) lauds the government of Uganda for its efforts to promote the right to education to all through Universal Primary and Secondary education. However, the UHRC report still raises concerns about the low retention rate at schools, the quality of education and regional disparities in access to education. Another challenge is that, there are no judicial enforcement or remedy to the abuse of the right to education.


The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is empowered with judicial functions under Article 53 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda that enable it to remedy the violations of human rights. The commission has been cited by Mubangizi in the protection of Economic and Social Right.This has been shown in the case of
Kalyango Mutesasira V. Kunsa Kiwanuka & others (Complaint No. 501 of 2000), In this case, the Commissioner held that a person could claim for pension as a right and that refusal or delay in its payment was Human Rights violation. In Uganda pension services is part of social security and a package provided to civil servant after retirement.
The UHRC have shown efforts in the protection of ESR indirectly through activities such as sensitization and training of students, local council leaders, voluntary action groups, police officers and health professionals. It carries Human Rights Education (HRE) and publications, such as the four issues of ‘your rights’ magazine and primary school human rights readers for primary one (1) to four (4), this is a great effort to the realisation the right to education.

The commission has also been active in the protection of the right to health which is not mention in the constitution, except the constitutional objective which emphasizes that ‘ the state shall take all the practical measures to ensure the provision of basic medical services to the population’. The ‘right to health’ according to the UHRC belongs to the category of Economic, Social and Cultural rights such as the right to education, property and development, environment, food and housing. The commission further states that, these rights represent the social liberties that should be ensured “through the state”. The role of the commission is to ensure that the right to health, as in all human right is respected, protected and fulfilled. The commission carried a sensitization workshop in three districts of Uganda (Masaka, Soroti and Fort Portal), in educating the public, government officials, Non Governmental Organisations and Civil Society leaders about HIV/AIDS, in this workshop the nature of the violation of the right to health were examined and opportunities and responsibilities of every one discussed towards the protection of the right to health of persons living with HIV/AIDS.

However, the commission has not effectively decentralized its offices and only operates a handful of regional office who are swayed with the violation of Civil and Political Rights such as right to liberty, freedom from torture, freedom from servitude and assembly. This limits the availability of remedies and violations of Economic and Cultural Rights at the community level under the system of decentralization.
The most prominent and realized case in the protection of ESR’s through judicial contexts, is the South African case as presented by professor John Cantius Mubangizi, in his article entitled “prospects and challenges in the protection and enforcement of Socio-Economic Rights: Lessons from the South African experience”.
In the case of:
Van Biljon v Minister of Correctional Services, the applicants were HIV-infected prisoners who sought, inter alia, a declaratory order that their right to adequate medical treatment entitled them to the provision of expensive anti-retroviral medication. It was contended on behalf of the applicants that because the right to adequate medical treatment was guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, prison authorities could not on the basis of lack of funds, refuse to provide treatment which was medically indicated. This argument was accepted by the court. In the view of the court, the lack of funds could not be an answer to a prisoner’s constitutional claim to adequate treatment. A prisoner had a constitutional right to that form of medical treatment which was ‘adequate’. The applicants’ order was granted and the respondents were ordered to supply them with the combination of anti-retroviral medication which had been prescribed for them for as long as such medication continued to be prescribed.


The Uganda constitutional courts have been vital in the protection of Economic and Social rights with strong decisions for compensation. This includes the ordinary courts and the high courts. This has been in accordance to Article 22, clause 1 of the 1995 constitution of Uganda which states that “whoever alleges that his constitution rights have been violated may apply to the high court for redress”. The primary type of compensation for violation of human rights has been monetary or damages. The courts have also awarded exemplary or punitive damages to a victim in cases in which the agents of state have conducted themselves in abuses of human rights. The other type of compensation is the restitution or restoration of property which have been wrongfully seized.
For example the expulsion of the Asian by the former and deceased president of Uganda Idi Amin in the 1970’s is argued to be in violation of their rights, which was coupled by seizer of their property. This was further elucidated by Edward Khiddu – Makubuya citing the cases of Twaddle: 1975, and Plender: 1972, ICJ: 1977). In response to the Asian case, the constitutional courts of Uganda in 1982 enacted the Expropriated Properties Act, (Act NO.9 of 1982) under which the expelled Asians were authorized to return to Uganda and reclaim their former properties. This laid a ground for the protection of individuals or groups to own property which is a constitutional right provided for under Article 26 of the constitution of Uganda.
However, there are limitations in the actions of the courts provided by laws, such as the limitation Act of 1969, which states that claims for recovery off land may not be brought to court after (12) twelve years.


The Inspectorate of Government (IGG) office, is another institution provided by the constitution of Uganda in the protection of rights under chapter thirteen, under Article 225, and 230 which talks about the functions and powers of the inspectorate respectively. The Inspectorate plays indirect role namely prosecution, investigating, making reports and recommendation to any improper conduct in state public affairs by individuals and or institutions. Since its establishment in 1986, the Inspectorate has powers to receive complaints regarding violations of human rights and abuses of offices.
The Inspectorate has been significantly impacting on the structure and operations of the government in the socio-economic and political arena from where it has addressed both social and economic reconstruction, emphasizing reform and accountability within government and enhanced protection of human rights of the people. The actions of the Inspectorate is debatable in that it has a number of challenges, one which is prior is that it no judicial enforcement neither enforcement capacity either than making recommendations. It is also upon the willingness of the state to take up action to implement these recommendations.


Another state mechanism in protecting and promoting Human Rights is the state financing and budget allocations to the various sectors. This is to enhance the provision of public goods and services. In their budget proposal for financial year 2007/08, Kenya and Tanzania pledged to boost spending on education and health, while Uganda set a side funds for rehabilitating the conflict ravaged north, where internally Displaced Persons are returning to their villages. Uganda finance and Planning Minister (former) Dr.Ezra Suruma said funds would be made available for post conflict reconstruction and development of the North. He stated that “continuing participation and development of northern Uganda and the Karamoja region is the priority in the financial year 2007-2008 budget”. In the support of the programme, a total of Uganda shillings 18.6 billion (US $ 11 Million) was allocated for resettlement and further 5 billion (US $ 3 Million) was specifically for the provision of water in northern Uganda.

In Uganda the government has used decentralization as an approach to the provision of public goods and services. However, the majority of financing for decentralization comes from the central government, and one would argue that this is an aspect of government commitment in the promotion of Human Rights. Decentralisation is a tool for the promotion of Economic and Social Rights (ESR). However, ESR are merely being seen as aspirations, policies and programmes and not real rights. This has affected the manner in which it’s attended to in terms of protection and promotion. The centralized system of governance failed to deliver services to the local Ugandans this was substituted by Decentralisation that now targets and aim at delivery of public goods right at the local levels.
Laura (2007), challenges are faced in promoting the human rights based approaches to development especially in ensuring equality and non – discrimination, increased accountability and consideration of vulnerable groups for specialized and measurable interventions. The challenge is that there is no Economic and Social security for these vulnerable individuals. Non governmental organisations have tried to get them out of the trap but it seems resources and sizes make it difficult for such categories to realize their Economic and Social rights.

The strength is that, Decentralisation as a state mechanism being used in the promotion of Economic and Social Rights has structures of intervention right from the village and sub county levels. It is a strong approach of ensuring service delivery to reach the locals and gain their participation. The local government at this level plans and execute their priority. The initiative enhances mobilization of resources required for effective service delivery. The general mandate of the local government councils relating to Economic and Social Rights are detailed in the second schedule to the local government Act, 1997 which includes education and medical services.

The protection of Economic and Social Rights has not only been limited to the state machinery, in this aspect one might think of the executive, judiciary and the legislature. Non state actors have as well plaid silent and indirect roles through advocacy and provision of social and economic services, though this is not the focus for the discussion
Much being said about the prospects in the protection of ESR, challenges can not go without mention. Among these challenges includes vital issues such as Territorial sovereignty and the principle of non interference in domestic affairs of other states. This often ignores many concerns about the status of citizenry and human rights enjoyment and on the other hand states being made responsible to account, whether it has been able to exercise effective authority over human right watch. In guise of the principle of state sovereignty and development challenges a lot of issues about Economic and Social rights have not been attended to.

The gender diamension of Economic and Social Rights in Uganda is arguably a failure. The distinction between the poor is distinctively feminine among the poor of the poorest are the females who shoulder the major domestic responsibility in unrecognized manner. Poverty is still a major hindrance to realisation of rights, this is evident by the 2005 Uganda’s Human Poverty Index -1 value of 34.7, which ranks 72nd among developing countries. Mortality rates, unemployment, exclusion and illiteracy are phenomenon that surrounds women this has denied them the realisation of vital rights such as the right to good health, education and ownership of property. The government has not done enough yet to uplift the status of women, yet without the political, economic and social inclusion of all gender, the realisation of Economic and Social Rights is a dream yet to be realized.
The threat of demographic features to the realisation of Economic and Social Rights is a real global challenge and in particular in developing countries. Demographic factors have challenged ESR in terms of employment and under employment. According to Kevin Clement the world population is expected to grow from 6.1 billion to 7.2 billion in 2015. The resultant impact is the negative economic processes that generate malign social and political outcomes, this as well increases frustrations. The decline economic strength such as the global economic crisis is another contributive factor with Africa being worst hit. Demographic factors posses’ strains on labour markets and social services, with reduced quality and efficiency in the enjoyment of Economic and Social rights.. For instance it’s arguable to state that over 50% of services nation wide in Uganda are located within Kampala the City, this shows the challenges in realisation of ESR.

The relation between deprivation and conflict underscores the fundamental link between protection of Human Rights and stability, for instance in northern Uganda that has been facing violent conflict for a period of two decades. In a state of instability, the resulting effect is the denial of basic Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Apart from the instability it causes, the non –realisation of ESCR creates insurmountable obstacle to the enjoyment of Civil and Political Rights. Conflict has been debatably one of the factors that have caused a great challenge in the realisation of Economic and Social rights in some parts of Uganda such as the north and eastern part of the country.

The reflections and recommendations are based on grounds that initial mechanism for the states protection of Economic and Social Rights have loop holes, these reflections are possible prescriptions that can be adopted to ensure the realisation of these rights. However, the successes still depends on the will of the state and how issues of human rights are treated.

The first priority is the enforcement Human rights are to be enjoyed by individuals in their own societies and senses without limitations but with clear respects to other individuals and persons. The recognition, implementation and enforcement should be done through laws and effective institutions such as the courts that should be entrusted with the obligations to sue and charge violators of such rights with punitive measures best prescribe by the state courts. Secondly, human rights provisions should be subject to direct judicial scrutiny given the necessity of ensuring effective protection of human dignity, the enjoyment and protection of all rights without discrimination.
Focusing at the drastic and negative indicators of poverty, human development and security, is a clear focus that the state is not doing enough in the protection of Economic and Social Rights. It is arguable that the causes and failure registered in these indicators are failures to provide better health, education, and food security to mention but a few. Thus it is vital that the state takes good care of these issues. More focus should as well be focused on creating enabling ground and increased sensitization and education about Economic and Social Rights, states should as well in this process be able to deal effectively with individuals and institution that obstruct the realisation of these rights.

Another recommendation can be taken from the work of Edward Khiddu Makubuya, who stated that, there is a need to articulate the very notion of gross violations of human rights. Existing law appears to cater for ordinary, and perhaps, occasional violations of human rights. And yet actual Ugandan experience over the years has shown that extensive, persistent and massive violations of human rights on a wide scale over an extended period of time have gone without redress. It is the latter type of violations (encompassing genocide, mass expulsions, disappearances, mass looting) which are considered gross violations. To deal squarely with these, a new outlook is called for. There must be a national commitment expressed in the Constitution and other laws: to prevent gross violations of human rights by government and its agents, to compensate and rehabilitate victims of gross violations of human rights, in which connection the state should never grant itself immunity from liability for such violations.

Lastly, in attempt to show concern about human rights issues and its protection, fundamental principles need to inform state intervention. State should reckon the desire for peace and development and the international rule of law which is essential to the security and prosperity of mankind. In this aspect, focus on security should be granted fro a human perspective. Not in isolation, states must recognize the urgency of economic and social development to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of the vast majority and the peoples and seek the progressive removal of wide disparities in living standards among the population.

It can be seen from the presentation that Uganda has both challenges and prospects especially the state mechanism in the protection and enforcement of Economic and Social Rights. In recognition of the Bills of Rights in the national constitution though, enough is not provided for the justiciability of the ESR exception recognition face in the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. The most important thing is the state recognition of these rights and what is required is to strengthen the enforcement mechanism, improve on the existing institutions such as the courts and the judiciary, state policy and programmes should as well be responsive to the recognition of these rights. However, the positive aspects of the mechanism should be built on and strengthened. Lastly however realistic or how good the policies and instrument to enforce or protect Economic and Social Rights, it is dependent on the state will, regardless of the contribution of other non state actors.

Title: Are LGBTQ Human Rights in Uganda a Lost Cause?

On October 4, 2019, Ugandan LGBTQ human rights activist Brian Wasswa was found fatally wounded and lying in a pool of his own blood, representing the latest casualty in the cultural war against homosexuality in Uganda.

Uganda was not always the extremely homophobic country it has transformed into. It first gained international notoriety in 2009 when David Bahati, a member of the Ugandan parliament whose views were heavily influenced by American evangelicals, introduced the now infamous “Kill the Gays” bill. Under the guise of “protecting the traditional family,” the bill advocated for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and the imprisonment of anyone “promoting” or failing to report homosexuality. Supporters of the bill equated homosexuality with pedophilia, insinuating that gay adults groomed vulnerable children into homosexuality. Although the death penalty was dropped from the 2009 version, the bill was still signed into law in 2014 as the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Six months later, and after widespread international pressure, the Ugandan Constitutional Court ruled the Anti-Homosexuality Act invalid on procedural grounds. However, even though the law itself fell, the spirit lived on, as the bill had enjoyed wide-spread support in Uganda, where 93 percent of Ugandans were opposed to homosexuality.

For Christian fundamentalists, Uganda—an impoverished country recovering from years of corruption and violence—provided a blank canvas to project their missionary zeal and strong homophobia. American fundamentalist missionaries were on a mission to save God-fearing Ugandans from the evil Western “gay agenda.” They found willing servants in opportunistic politicians and Ugandan religious leaders who argued that homosexuality was “un-African” and a Western export. But as Ugandan scholar Dr. Sylvia Tamale observes, “it is not homosexuality that is un-African but the laws that criminalized such relations…what is alien to the continent is legalized homophobia, exported to Africa by the imperialists where there had been indifference to and even tolerance of same-sex relations.”

Uganda is not unique in its criminalization of homosexuality. Over seventy countries still criminalize homosexuality, and Uganda is among thirty-two countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that still criminalize homosexuality. But Uganda is among the worst of these countries. It ranked an “F” or “Persecuting,” a failing grade on the F&M Global Barometer of Gay Rights™ (GBGR). The GBGR measures the extent to which countries are human rights protective or persecuting towards sexual minorities, ranking countries on a scale from “A” to “F.” Uganda scores a mere 11 percent, sharing this dubious distinction with The Gambia, South Sudan, and Tanzania.

Uganda continues to be ground zero in the cultural wars over homosexuality. On the heels of Wasswa’s murder, the recent threat of reintroducing the “Kill the Gays” bill from member of Parliament (MP) James Buturo and other MPs, and the arrests of over one hundred suspected homosexuals at an LGBTQ friendly bar, catapulted Uganda back into the international spotlight, signaling an escalation of violence and repression toward the Ugandan LGBTQ community. In response to international pressure, the president’s office denied that the bill will be re-introduced. But statements by high-level officials in the Ugandan government, such as Ugandan Minister for Security General Elly Tumwine, who claimed that LGBTQ people are connected to terrorism, continue to put the LGBTQ community at risk.

LGBTQ Ugandans have courageously refused to stay silent and continued to fight for their human rights. Clearly, the LGBTQ community became a pawn in the political process and a scapegoat for the ills facing Ugandan society. Stemming homophobia in Uganda will be difficult it is fully entrenched in Ugandan society and politics and is an easy way of unifying an otherwise ethnically and politically divided population. That is why a sustained, multi-pronged approach is needed to move forward.

The most important first step is challenging the narrative that homophobic politicians, religious leaders, and outsiders have crafted. This is not about the West exporting homosexuality to Africa or a “gay agenda” it is instead about right-wing Christian evangelicals from the West using homophobia as a tool to establish a foothold in the African continent, and local Ugandan politicians and “men of the cloth” profiting from this narrative. Religion has been hijacked to demonize and persecute LGBT minorities. Ugandan society has been poisoned by this exported homophobia and deliberate misinformation. There should be real consequences for this deadly promotion of hatred and bigotry. Individuals like Scott Lively, who campaigned for the repression of LGBT groups in Uganda, must be held accountable for their actions. Politicians such as David Bahati and religious leaders like Pastor Martin Ssempa and Pastor Robert Kayanja should not be granted visas to visit countries that adhere to international human rights standards. The passage of the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE Act) would be a start. This ACT would restrict entry into the United States for anyone who commits abuse or murder against LGBTQ people. This should also be extended to members of government who promote or support the persecution of LGBTQ individuals.

To effect real change, this cannot be the work of a single government. Although US security and development aid to Uganda alone is $970 million, as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has made clear, “no one should think of using aid to dominate us.” The recent very public disagreement between the US envoy to Zambia and the Zambian government over the sentencing of two Zambian gay men to fifteen years in prison is a case in point. Coalitions such as the Equal Rights Coalition, comprised of forty-two countries and over thirty international non-governmental organizations, provide an important pressure on human rights persecuting countries like Uganda.

Similarly, as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated, businesses must become “active agents of change.” The UN Standards of Conduct for Business for Tackling Discrimination against LGBTI People encourages businesses to challenge abusive government action through public advocacy, collective action, and social dialogue. Museveni himself acknowledged the impact that a trade or consumer boycott would have on Uganda.

Furthermore, courageous leaders like Botswana’s president, who came out supporting the human rights of LGBTQ individuals, need to be supported. Bobi Wine, the charismatic “Ghetto President” musician and politician running for president in Uganda, shows some hope for Ugandans. He was initially against homosexuality but has since evolved in his stance, and recently stated that he “does not agree with homosexuals, but respects their rights.”

It will take generations to reverse the harm that has been done to Ugandan society. LGBTQ human rights in Uganda are not a lost cause, but they will require a concerted, sustained effort by the international community and brave Ugandans to undo the damage. The international community must maintain pressure on the Ugandan government to adhere to international human rights standards, and keep the spotlight on Ugandan society. Those courageous enough to stand up to bigotry and hatred must have the support of the international community.

The sovereignty of all countries must be respected however, when a government or society deliberately tramples on the human rights of its most vulnerable minorities, the international community must react. LGBTQ people deserve the same basic human rights as everyone else irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity to treat them otherwise is to violate established international human rights law. This is not just a Ugandan LGBTQ human rights issue—it is the human rights issue of the twenty-first century.

Susan Dicklitch-Nelson is Professor of Government at Franklin & Marshall College and co-creator of the F&M Global Barometer of Gay Rights® & the F&M Global Barometer of Transgender Rights®. She is the author of The Elusive Promise of NGOs in Africa: Lessons from Uganda, and of numerous scholarly articles on human rights.