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Issues in Uganda’s human rights Essay

Assignment – Research Paper
Research Topic: Issues in Uganda’s human rights

As a female-born Canadian, living in one of the better countries of the world, take solace in the fact that as a person, have consciously been able to exercise my “rights and freedoms” through working, schooling or voting. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Constitution Act, 1985.) safeguards our basic human rights. As Canadians, we feel protected in this way, exercising our rights without much thought, passing through our day and night without griping fear for our lives, or of the police. Imagine for a moment waking up and the army has moved in, soldiers, police, trucks, tanks control the streets. All “left-handed” people, regardless of age are being taken away, and secretly relocated for re-education?! As a society or an individual within, we would be helpless and vulnerable, should some form of organized brutality be thrust upon us. The western countries of the world place human rights, in high esteem. In stark contrast, woefully many countries, Uganda in particular, are continually in a desperate struggle for the advancement of human rights. (Ewins, 2011) The country still faces heavy criticism regarding the treatment and growth, or lack thereof in the area of human rights. In particular, the specific malfeasance shown toward women, children, homosexuals, and the disabled.

Officially known as the Republic of Uganda, is a sovereign nation located in the continent of Africa, bordered by Kenya, Sudan, the Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Even though this republic is only forty-six years old, since gaining independence from Great Britain, methods of torture and child labour still exist. Continually, there are seemingly insurmountable struggles (i.e. arrests, enslavement, poor laws, etc) (Middleton & Miller, 2008). Additionally, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) and the mentally/physically ill in Uganda have virtually no protection at all, and both male and female homosexual activity or interaction is illegal. (Ewins, 2011)

The Uganda Human Rights Commission, an agency established in 1995, still continues to struggle trying to put an end to the cruelty concerning the treatment of women, children, homosexuals, and the mentally ill. This same agency is responsible for crimes against children, which is an underlying problem that only exacerbates the situation for the advancement of human rights in Uganda. The practice of child abuse is considered exploitative, extremely unethical, and inhumane. Commonly, children are laboured for days on end, performing chores for superiors. Ugandan children are trafficked within the country, as well as to other countries as Canada, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. (Clark-Kazak, 2010) Karamojong women and children, an ethnic group of herders living mainly in the northeast of Uganda, are sold in cattle markets or by intermediaries and forced into situations of domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, herding, and begging. Many Ugandan security and government agencies, including Uganda’s Rapid Response Unit, the police force, law-enforcement officials and the military, have been accused of torture. (Clark-Kazak, 2010) These agencies persecute opponents of the government, carry out abductions, disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture and act both independently, as well as interdependently with each other, and in cooperation with the Ugandan Police.

Some of these inhumane acts of torture include kicking and beating, which is described as “kandoya” – a tying of the victim’s hands and feet behind the body and strung from the ceiling, and even electric shock by attaching wires to the male genitalia. Because these agencies operate through the Ugandan Police, not much stance has been taken by the government. (Clark-Kazak, 2010) Over the past twenty years, the rebel group LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) has abducted more than 30,000 boys and girls as soldiers. Attacks against Uganda’s Acholi people have resulted in severe trauma to civilians from extreme violence and abduction. Girls are often forced to become sex slaves, and the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Force) has recruited small numbers of children into its forces, some as young as thirteen. (Mujuzi, 2011) Not only are children being treated as property with no rights protecting them, women also receive similar treatment.

For many decades, the Ugandan culture has made it clear that women should treat men as higher class citizens, and respect their commands, as they are higher in value than women. Despite the substantial economic and social responsibilities of women in Uganda’s many traditional societies, women were taught to accede to the wishes of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sometimes other men as well, and to demonstrate their subordination to men in most areas of public life. Customary law also prevails in the event of divorce in that child custody is typically awarded to the father. (Mujuzi, 2011) The physical integrity of Ugandan women is poorly protected. Violence against women is widespread: some estimates say that more than half of the women in the country have suffered domestic violence at the hands of their partners.

Domestic violence has wide social acceptance, even by women. Rape is very common in Uganda. In nearly half of sexual violence cases, the victim’s husband or partner is the perpetrator reflecting a widely held belief that spousal rape is a husband’s prerogative. (Ehiri, 2009) Many women were raped by rebel soldiers during the conflict in northern Uganda. Women of the Sabiny tribe are subjected to female genital mutilation. There are no laws prohibiting the practice, but the local authorities have issued a decree denouncing the custom. (Kafumbe, 2010) In addition, in 2006, The World Health Organization (WHO) published results of a study on countrywide domestic violence and women’s health in Uganda. In the study, they found that 22% of adult women in the country experienced sexual violence, with 76% of men transmitting the HIV virus with 82% chance of the women becoming pregnant. 70% of women and 60% of men agreed that wife beating was justifiable under certain circumstances. Ethically speaking, this makes the situation extremely uncomfortable. (Ehiri, 2009) An example one of which can be seen as a step in the right direction is with regards towards marriage and divorce laws in Uganda.

The proposed legislation, the Marriage and Divorce Bill, which was passed in March of 2011, recognizes cohabitation in terms of property rights, abolishes forced marriage, prohibits same sex marriage and allows women to divorce their husbands on grounds of cruelty. Ultimately, the Bill still condemns same sex marriage, however, gives women in marriage more freedom. While polygamy has been quite popular in Uganda, it has been decreasing every decade, with only 27% of men having more than one wife, as opposed to 43% of males with more than one wife in 1988. (Kafumbe, 2010) The situation compared to decades ago, where polygamy was on the rise, is much less in existence. Granted, the government still has a vast array of issues to fix. For example, the period following the collapse of Idi Amin’s regime (which lasted from 1979–1986), was characterized by continued turmoil, violations of human rights, including the killing of innocent people, mismanagement of the economy, and guerrilla warfare, which is civilians attacking members of the military.

The army, led by General Tito Okello, overthrew President Obote in 1985. This gave the rebels of Yoweri Museveni, a former guerrilla leader, an advantage to take over government from Okello on January 26th, 1986. From 1986, however, with a new government headed by Museveni, Uganda started on the path to reconstruction and rehabilitation with new promise of security, peace, and development. (Middleton & Miller, 2008) One issue that it is not showing any signs of improvement, applies to the gay citizens in Uganda. Homosexuality in all its forms is illegal. This includes sexual acts, and just being gay. The consequence for homosexuality can put a Ugandan in prison for life. Prior to 2000, only male homosexuality was criminalized, then in 2000 under the Penal Code Amendment (Gender References) Act 2000, all references to “any male” was changed to “any person” so that lesbianism was criminalized as well. A new bill has been introduced into parliament, providing for harsher penalties for homosexuals, including the death penalty for “repeat offenders.” Ugandan citizens would be required to report any homosexual activity within twenty-four hours or face a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment, and Uganda would request extradition if Ugandan citizens were having same-sex relationships outside the country. Gays and lesbians face discrimination and harassment at the hands of the media, police, teachers, and other groups.

According to Jessica Stern of Human Rights Watch, “For years, President Yoweri Museveni’s government routinely threatens and vilifies lesbians and gays, and subjects sexual rights activists to harassment.” (Clark-Kazak, 2010) There appear to be two types of harassment of the Ugandan LGBT community: human rights violations against this community, as well as failure to provide governmental and non-governmental services to this community. First, in Uganda, there is a strong cultural abhorrence and complete lack of understanding of LGBT individuals. This is reflected in everyday actions throughout the country, from minor forms of harassment in clubs, restaurants, and on the streets, to more pernicious forms of discrimination in terms of jobs and service distribution. Interviews with members of the LGBT community suggest that an openly gay individual will likely be excommunicated by his or her church, will be neglected by his or her family and community, may be kicked out of school, will have difficulty finding and holding a job, and will be otherwise persecuted in everyday life. Stories of people being maimed or killed because they are thought to be gay are a persistent, minute to minute reminder to the LGBT community to maintain strong secrecy, often forcing people to engage in heterosexual relationships to give the impression of being straight to the outside world. Much of this type of cultural bias and discrimination cannot be attacked using current laws; it can only be attacked through new laws creating positive rights enabling LGBT individuals to be free from this type of harassment and discrimination.

(Hollander, 2009-10) Condemned by world leaders, some western governments threatened to withhold financial aid. In the United States, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has argued that, should the legislation become law, Uganda would be ineligible for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The global backlash to this bill has been significant. President Barack Obama recently denounced it as “odious” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton communicated her “strongest concerns” over the proposed legislation directly to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Resolutions have been introduced in the U.S. Congress condemning the proposed bill, calling on the Ugandan Parliament to reject it, and urging all governments to reject and repeal similar laws criminalizing homosexuality. Some countries have gone even further; with Sweden has threatening to cut off all aid to Uganda should the bill become law. (Ewins, 2011) As well, the U.K. partnered up with BBC to film a documentary on Uganda’s treatment of homosexuals. It was filmed in Kampala and its surrounding slums, where they interviewed leaders in the anti-homosexual movement, as well as homosexuals who are out and living in fear. Radio DJ Scott Mills travels to Kampala where the death penalty could soon be introduced for being gay.

This was aired in the U.K. on February 2011 before the Bill was killed. Mills, who is openly gay, finds out that the living situation in Kampala and around Uganda is incredibly frightening and horrific. Those who are openly gay are disowned by their family and friends, and are forced to live in slums and outside the city so they can be somewhat protected. An effective way that the Ugandan people “capture” homosexuals is through their newspapers. The newspaper “The Rolling Stone” publishes photos of openly gay Ugandans living in and around Kampala, asking citizens to call them or the police if they know where they are located. (Mills, 2011) If a person gets caught, they are persecuted and thrown in jail for adultery. In the documentary, we meet a lesbian named Stosh.

When she was a teenager she was raped by a man to try and “cure” her of her lesbianism and as a result was infected with HIV. To make matters worse, Pastor Male is part of the self styled National Coalition against Homosexuality and Sexual Abuse in Uganda and claims he was the first person in the country to come out openly against gays. Male believes that no one is born gay and that through counseling they can be cured of this “affliction”. (Mills, 2011) Exercising tolerance of ignorance can be quite a bitter pill to swallow

Although the focus of most research in the media on Uganda has been surrounding women, children, and the LGBT community, often overlooked is the mistreatment of the ill, specifically those with mental disorders. A survey of the existing mental health system in Uganda was conducted using the WHO Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems. (Fisher, 2010) In addition, 62 interviews and six focus groups were conducted with a broad range of mental health stakeholders at the national and district levels. Despite possessing a “draft” on mental health policy that is in line with many international human rights standards, Uganda’s mental health system inadequately promotes and protects, and frequently violates the human rights of people with mental disorders; through physical and emotional abuse. Qualitative interviews with a range of stakeholders revealed that patients had experienced various forms of direct human rights abuses within the mental health facilities and units in the country, particularly in psychiatric units in general hospitals.

(Fisher, 2010) In discussions with the mental health service facilities, many stakeholders from different groups spoke about how it is fairly common for mental health professionals to infringe on the rights of patients. Numerous respondents, particularly mental health care service users themselves, spoke about the stigma and verbal abuse patients experience from mental health professionals. As one service user lamented: “Sorry to comment on psychiatrists, but when you are in hospital, instead of calling you by name, they call you ‘case’, ‘this case here’, ‘this mental case’ That is not a proper way to address people. Why do you call me case? I have a name. I am not a case and I have a right to be called my name. But because they have an attitude of labeling.

You are being turned into an object by them.” (Fisher, 2010) Many respondents also spoke about the ‘poor food supply in the mental health units’, which is ‘never enough for everyone’, and is often ‘old’ or ‘so bad you would not wish it upon anyone’. Poor dietary supplies were seen as impacting especially badly those patients who are also physically ill (i.e. as HIV-positive patients). The patients are continuously secluded, sometimes they are beaten up, or starved as punishment, and sometimes they are left alone for hours with no one attending to them. This study was done in every mental institution in the country except for Butabika, which is known as the best mental establishment and is known for its good conditions. Although that does say there can be good and bad institutions, knowing there is only one with a positive rating in the whole country is beyond troublesome. (Bernstein & Okello, 2007) Briefly, a final problem, which falls under the umbrella of human rights, is that of refugee status. In Uganda, refugee policy and programming is focused almost exclusively on providing protection and assistance to refugees residing in rural settlements.

While international law allows refugees the right to freedom of movement and choice of residence, Ugandan legislation restricts refugees’ residency to rural settlements, subjecting those who wish to live outside of settlements and in urban centers to severe restrictions. This study sheds light on the reasons refugees choose to reside in Kampala as opposed to rural settlements and the challenges they endure while attempting to sustain and support themselves. Research findings indicate that at all stages of exile, refugees in Uganda are put under pressure, either implicitly or explicitly, to relocate to settlements. The lack of progressive thinking and hence over-reliance on settlements as the mainstay of refugee protection and assistance has hampered reforms of refugee policy and hindered the broader involvement of municipal authorities in responding to protection and assistance needs of refugees in urban areas. Research findings suggest that many refugees have talents, skills, and abilities, which would enable self-sufficiency in Kampala and other urban areas.

However, these capabilities are currently undermined by a refugee regime which only promotes self-reliance in rural settlements. In an effort to enhance refugees’ overall human security and to support their own efforts to become independent and self-reliant, this paper asserts that refugee policy in Uganda should be reformed to support refugees’ decisions to choose their own places of residence, instead of restricting them to rural settlements. (Bernstein & Okello, 2007)

When first beginning my research on Uganda, I wanted to focus specifically on the lack of rights for the LGBT community, yet there is a glaring human rights problem all throughout the country, especially including women, children and those with mental/physical ailments. While researching through my references, it is positive to note that “human rights” is a hot button topic in Uganda, there is some progress; albeit small. (Ewins, 2011) There is focus on the topic of “human rights” in Uganda and how it effects women, children, the mentally ill, and homosexuals. As a Canadian, I recognize and exercise my rights because I have all of them as a woman and a Canadian citizen.

Often times, people seem to forget how fortunate they are to live in a first world country where they do not have to be afraid everywhere they look because of who they are. Dismally, many Ugandans have to exist that way with no escape in sight., as a significant amount of the population are poor and unable to flee to a safer place. Having always been interested in human rights in all countries and how they differ from Canada’s laws, researching the human conditions in Uganda has been a huge eye opener concerning the depth of despair. Although I am not gay myself, rights for LGBT members is one of things that I am very passionate about changing around the world. My research will show what they have to go through on a daily basis as Ugandans and changes that have been made throughout the decades to improve on these rights, or make them harsher.

With my research, I have developed the following research questions: Creating the Anti-Homosexual Bill has received negative attention from countries around the world including the United States and Sweden. How has the Ugandan government dealt with this image the rest of the world has about their country? In Uganda, if someone is homosexual, they will most likely be discriminated against. What acts of discrimination by the rest of the Ugandan population will put homosexuals in danger?

Some forms of data that will be presented are primarily from observation and documentaries. Ideally, it would be more advantageous to travel to Uganda and experience life there first hand, therefore many researchers document their work by recording it, so others can see exactly what they saw. Most of my references are in text form and come from either observation from the writers’ own perspective or research from other writers, which can be also known as unobtrusive research (Trochim, 2006), or more specifically, content analysis. (Chapter 10, textbook) All my research has been through the Concordia Database in the Sociology section. From that database, the oldest document used is from 2006, with an exception to the New Encyclopedia of Africa”. (Middleton & Miller, 2008) which described various significant years in Uganda’s fight for human rights in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Additionally, this specific topic is not one that I can do myself or ask people about while I am in Montreal.

These observations are helpful for my research, as it is the easiest and most precise type of research. The work will be even more helpful if anyone can see it first hand rather than just reading text. The documentary will show you more of an in-depth, depressing look at the lack of human rights in Uganda. The ethical issues I will be facing are my own, since being aware of these issues, I feel obligated to help in some manner. I do not know anyone from Uganda that faced the brutality or human rights violations themselves, or someone who has studied human rights in Uganda. While not doing interviews myself, several of my references have taken certain documentaries when it comes to citing their research. One in particular, which I happened to find on YouTube, is a documentary done by BBC3 in the U.K titled “The World’s Worst Place to Be Gay?”. It is hosted by a British radio DJ and openly gay Scott Mills, who traveled to Uganda where the death penalty is the huge issue for homosexuals.

He finds out what it is like to live in a society which persecutes people such as himself, and meets those who are leading the hate campaign. In its favour, is that it is a recent documentary, originally aired in February of 2011 on BBC. I have also located two other documentaries under my own independent online research, one entitled “A World of Conflict” in which reporter Kevin Sites covers every major war zone in the world in one year, and another called “Hope for Uganda”, a documentary created by World Vision, a non-governmental organization. While these highlight how poorly a condition Uganda is in, there are definitely ethical issues that occur during filming. Ethical issues include threats of violence open discrimination and hate. While I seemingly cannot do anything to prevent it, it still remains extremely horrific and unethical. One has to come into contact with this venue of research to appreciate this line of study in a proper context.

I have not required any approvals, as all of the research I have is not mine. The documentaries were approved by World Vision and BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). With regards to the rights of the Ugandans shown in the documentaries, they were given approval to show themselves on camera beforehand. If they were not comfortable being on television, their faces would be blurred out. While filming “The World’s Worst Place to be Gay?” in Kampala, the city was warned beforehand that there would be camera crews around. Given that all the stories in the documents and in the films are quite painful, the risks were ever present. Some quotes remained anonymous, some were given with names. It took a great deal of courage for Ugandans to come forward with their hardships and their pain, however it sheds light on the primitive condition of human rights in their country.

In conclusion, this topic was something I chose to study, due to the fact that this is a subject that greatly interests me, and that one day, might want to help to fight for this cause, or be involved with as a career. While I might not ever travel to Uganda or work in Africa, I can pursue those fights in Canada. It is certainly an area in which I desperately want to see change in the world; equal rights at every level for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Despite having some background knowledge on this issue, I have many more things to learn, and that is also again in support of my selection. Something I know a lot about is not as challenging or interesting to research. I somehow feel consciously and morally obliged to learn more about the violated and disenfranchised of this country. Lastly, there will be an examination of the “human rights” issues in Uganda, focusing on how children, women, and homosexuals are treated.

The research covered many kingdoms and cities all over the country. I am hoping that because of this paper, the readers will learn more about the situation in Uganda and are motivated to get involved in a project such as this, and possibly compel them to do something to help. At the beginning of the course, deciding which subject I would focus this research paper on, and focusing it on something I want to see change and would want to make a difference in that situation. In the future, it is my hope that Uganda’s human rights will be improving in the years and decades to come, with the determination, aid, and influence of other countries, apolitical outside agencies, as well as Ugandans learning to help each other. By doing so, people can make the world a better place, not just for today, but rather for the future, and proactively forever. In my future, there will always be a watchful, hopeful eye on Uganda.

1.) Cooper, S., Ssebunnya, J., Kigozi, F., Lund, C., & Flisher, A. (2010). Viewing Uganda’s mental health system through a human rights lens. International Review Of Psychiatry, 22(6), 578-588. 2.) Kafumbe, A. (2010). Women’s Rights to Property in Marriage, Divorce, and Widowhood in Uganda: The Problematic Aspects. Human Rights Review, 11(2), 199-221. 3.) Miller C. J., John, M. Ed. (2008). “Uganda.” New Encyclopedia of Africa. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 119-127. 4.) Bernstein, J., & Okello, M. (2007). To Be or Not To Be: Urban Refugees in Kampala. Refuge, 24(1), 46-56. 5.) Ewins, L. (2011). “Gross Violation”: Why Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act threatens its trade benefits with the United States. Boston College International & Comparative Law Review, 34(1), 147-171. 6.) Hollander, M. (2009). Gay Rights in Uganda: Seeking to Overturn Uganda’s Anti-Sodomy Laws. Virginia Journal Of International Law, 50(1), 219-266. 7.) Mujuzi, J. (2011). Protecting Children From Those Who Are Supposed To Protect Them! The Uganda Human Rights Commission And Children’s Right To Freedom From Torture. Journal Of Third World Studies, 28(1), 155-168. 8.) Clark-Kazak, C. R. (2010).

The politics of protection: aid, human rights discourse, and power relations in Kyaka II settlement, Uganda. Disasters, 34(1), 55-70 9.) Emusu, D., Ivankova, N., Jolly, P., Kirby, R., Foushee, H., Wabwire-Mangen, F., & … Ehiri, J. (2009). Experience of sexual violence among women in HIV discordant unions after voluntary HIV counselling and testing: a qualitative critical incident study in Uganda. AIDS Care, 21(11), 1363-1370 10.) Mills, S. (Producer) (2011). The world’s worst place to be gay? [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=168gaNmaIFo 11.) Allyson, S. (Producer) (2007). Hope for Uganda [Web] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IGKnQRPF-I 12.) Trochim, William.
“Unobstrusive Measures.” Research Methods: Knowledgable Base. (2006): 1. Web. 4 Apr. 2012. . 13.) Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 15. (Constitution Act, April 17th 1985.)

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