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Uganda's development policies under scrutiny from UN rights body


4 November 2016, Geneva/Kampala/New York: Uganda's development policies have come under international scrutiny as representatives of the government accounted yesterday for the country's human rights record before peer states at the UN Human Rights Council.

Among the issues that came under the spotlight during Uganda’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva was the country’s progress in realizing economic and social rights over the past five years.

The recommendations made by states reflected the concerns raised by ISER, CESR and other civil society organizations in joint briefings, submissions and statements on economic and social rights. States urged the country to invest in education and health. Specific to the health sector, states called on Uganda to increase the budget for health in line with the 15% Abuja Declaration commitment, to pass a national health insurance scheme that also caters for the poor, and to take actions to reduce maternal mortality. States also recommended more robust efforts to end discrimination against LGBTI people in accessing health services, to standardize health management information systems, and to improve health care systems particularly for refugees.  A number of recommendations were also made on realizing sexual and reproductive rights.

While commending the government for taking measures to increase access to education, states called on Uganda to increase access to education for all, particularly for vulnerable groups and those in rural areas, and to take measures to improve the quality of education. They urged the country to take actions to address its high drop out rates, particularly for girls. To address the problem of food insecurity, the country was also urged to strengthen the implementation of the national agriculture plan and to provide school meals.

The other recommendations made included urging Uganda to pass a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, passing the Minimum Wage Bill, implementing social security reforms, passing a comprehensive policy on urbanization and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The government delegation led by Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Ruhakana Rugunda had the opportunity to respond to the questions and recommendations made. In response to calls to increase the budget for health and education, it noted that it lacked the resources needed to do so. As evidenced in the ISER and CESR briefings, however, the government could raise the resources needed to realize these and other economic and social rights. Its tax-to-GDP ratio – standing at 13.4% – is barely half the 25% target identified in the East Africa macroeconomic convergence criteria.

Under international human rights law, Uganda is obliged to mobilize the ‘maximum of available resources’ so as to fulfill the various economic and social rights described above. However, the government’s focus on large-scale infrastructure projects has sidelined investment in crucial social sectors. The budget for health for 2016/2017 was far below the Abuja Declaration target of 15% that the government is committed to. Likewise, the government dedicated just 2.4% of GDP to education this year – a figure far below the 6% target agreed to in the Dakar Framework for Action on Education.

The result of the government’s failure to prioritize human rights in its development efforts is the systematic marginalization and deprivation of vulnerable groups such as rural women, indigenous peoples and people with disabilities.

“The issues that were raised today are not news to the government. We highlighted these critical failures in civil society reports that fed into the OHCHR summary of stakeholders’ submissions, in engagements with government officials and diplomats, and in October during the pre-session,” explained Ms Salima Namusobya, Executive Director of ISER. “We were glad to hear states make some specific measurable recommendations on economic and social rights – especially given that Uganda received few such recommendations at its previous appearance in 2011 – and we look forward to working with the government on a plan for implementation.”

The UPR differs from other human rights oversight bodies in that countries are evaluated by their peers in the community of nations, rather than by a panel of independent experts. Following the session, the Council issues a set of recommendations designed to ensure progress towards the realization of human rights in the years ahead. While research carried out by CESR and Sciences Po shows that in the past the UPR has not given as much focus to economic and social rights as it has to civil and political rights, there is increasing recognition that these rights must be fully and robustly addressed. 

“The UPR has offered a crucial opportunity to assess whether Uganda’s development efforts are delivering real improvements in people’s enjoyment of their rights,” said CESR Executive Director Ignacio Saiz. “Robust recommendations on how economic and social rights can be better advanced could provide crucial guidance as Uganda crafts its future plans to meet its sustainable development commitments.”


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