Gitte Dyrhagen Husager
A UN committee has made a landmark statement, urging the Government of Uganda to recognize owners’ land rights among local communities, including pastoralists and other indigenous communities.
COPACSO, one of DCA’s partners advocating for rights of pastoralists in Uganda, called it “a historic step” in putting the rights of pastoralists and indigenous peoples on the national and international agenda.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) also called on the government to combat corruption, address food insecurity, and to respect the independence of the NGOs and their activities in defending human rights.
The UN recommendations were published following a thorough examination of Uganda’s human rights record in Geneva on 10-11 June. Many of the recommendations reflected key concerns expressed by civil society.
Although Uganda signed the convention in 1987, this was the first review by the CESCR in Uganda’s history.
Given this momentous opportunity, DCA facilitated local partners’ inputs to the process and organized a delegation to Geneva in cooperation with the National Coalition on Economic, Social and Cultural rights and FIAN.
John Musinguzi, DCA’s program officer who followed the process, said that the review “raised the voices of Ugandan rights holders on economic, social, and cultural rights.”
Reflecting on the outcome, he said it marked ”an important step in the way towards better adherence to human rights in Uganda.”
A key concern for the UN committee was the lack of formal land titles and cases of land grabbing and forced evictions.
In Uganda there are many examples where local communities are not properly consulted before their land is given away to projects, for example in the extractive mining sector.
The UN committee pointed to the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens. If examples of land grabbing take place, the government should provide just compensation to those affected.
The UN was especially concerned about the fact that indigenous communities are denied access to their ancestral land. COPACSO had pointed this out in advance of the review in an oral statement to the Committee.
In clear speech, CESCR now recommends that ”the State party recognise indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral lands and natural resources”, and that indigenous communities are consulted to give them free, prior and informed consent, before land is seized, in accordance with international standards.
Following the review, COPACSO said that this landmark statement by the UN “addresses the historical injustices faced by pastoralists and other indigenous peoples of Uganda”.
Another strong point from the UN Committee was regarding the current draft NGO Bill, gazetted on April 10 2015 in Uganda.
The bill includes a number of provisions considered neither in keeping with Uganda´s own constitution, nor in line with its international human rights obligations.
The bill gives the government excessive discretionary and oversight powers and includes a number of vague provisions that risk being arbitrarily applied either not to give operating permits or to dissolve critical civil society organisations.
The UN Committee called therefore on Uganda to amend the bill to respect the independence of NGOs and their important work on monitoring and defending economic, social and cultural rights.
DCA and its partners will follow up and monitor the implementation of these recommendations.