Latest Development on Human Rights and Disability in Uganda

By Edson Ngirabakunzi

Uganda is located in Eastern Africa, west of Kenya and east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is in the heart of the Great Lakes region, and is surrounded by three of them, Lake Edward, Lake Albert, and Lake Victoria. While much of its border is lakeshore, Uganda is landlocked with no access to the sea. The country occupies a total area of 236 040 km² of which 199 710 km² is covered by land and 36 330 km² is covered by water. A total of 10,000 km2 of Uganda’s surface is forest. The remaining surface is mainly open grassland, giving way to semi-desert in the north-eastern region of Karamoja.

Uganda ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol on 25th September 2008 without reservations. By so-doing, Uganda committed itself to accord the same rights to persons with disabilities like all other citizens. After two years of implementation, Government of Uganda is supposed to report on the extent to which its laws and practices comply with the human rights and obligations encapsulated in the Convention. Since then the new legal binding treaty has been seen as an instrument of social transformation among the community particularly PWDs.

Note that events leading to ratification and thereafter were seen as providing momentum to the realization of the rights of PWDs. On the other hand DPOs have been utilizing the document as resource tool for resource mobilization and advocacy. However, the National Council for Disability (NCD) is the Government Institution assigned to spearhead the coordination and monitoring processes geared at domestication and implementation of the Convention. The NCD therefore spearheaded process and worked with KOIS Development Consultants Ltd to compile this report.

What has the government of Uganda done in implementing the CRPD?

Government of Uganda has a number of general laws and policies that contain clauses on disability. The country also has disability-specific legislation. The government of Uganda is compiling a state report on the CRPD. Most of her work depended on heavily on the review of policy and legislative documents.

Interviews were also conducted with key officials in government line ministries and departments at National and Local Government levels, Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) as well as people with disabilities in various communities in the East, West, Central and Northern parts of the country. Two validation workshops were conducted with representatives of all the aforementioned stakeholders before the compilation of the final report yet to be submitted to the UN Committee of Experts.

Note that the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995) recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities and provides the basis for the enactment of laws and development of policies that address their concerns. The Constitution provides for fair representation of marginalized groups on all constitutional and other bodies, recognition of the rights of Persons with disabilities to respect and human dignity, and promotion of the development of a Sign Language for the Deaf. Furthermore, it requires the State to take affirmative action to redress the imbalances that exist against persons with disabilities.

Subsequently, in 2006, the Uganda National Policy on Disability was enacted, and in the same year the rights were translated into The Persons with Disabilities Act. The Act ensures legal protection and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities, emphasizing a rights-based approach to disability.

Since 2009, there has been debate between the Government and DPOs on whether to annul or amend the Persons with Disabilities Act 2006. On the one hand, Government argues that the law was not well written and needs to be annulled and replaced with a new law; while on the other, DPOs argue the law should only be amended to rectify the loopholes in it. This dialogue is still on-going, and Government of Uganda views it as an opportune channel for further domestication of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This notwithstanding, the Persons with Disabilities Act 2006 in its objects fully encapsulates the CRPD general principles of respect of disability as part of human diversity, dignity of the individual, participation as equal citizens, elimination of all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability, full inclusion of persons with disabilities in all programs, and the promotion of positive attitudes towards persons with disabilities.

In order to give full effect to Article 32 of the Constitution, an Equal Opportunities Commission Act was enacted by Parliament and assented to by the President in 2008. The Commission was appointed in 2009 with one of its five members being a woman with disability. The Commission, with a fully-fledged Secretariat, has embarked on its work of promoting equal opportunities for marginalised groups, persons with disabilities inclusive.

In order to operationalise the local legislation on disability, Government in 2009 embarked on developing guidelines to translate the PWD policy of 2006 into tangible and coordinated action. The guidelines (now in their final stages) were developed through a consultative process that involved representatives from multiple sectors and DPOs and in close reference to the CRPD, as well as the Joint Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Guidelines by the World Health Organisation (WHO), International Labor Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Education and Scientific Cultural organisation (UNESCO).

To further guide planning and budgeting, the government also developed the National Program and Plan of Action on Disability with the following focus areas:
• Accessibility to Basic Services;
• Physical Environment and Information;
• Capacity building;
• Conflict and Humanitarian emergencies;
• Livelihoods and Employment;
• Research and Documentation;
• Monitoring and Evaluation.

In order to cope with current international and national legal reforms, the NCD Act is undergoing amendment to strengthen its monitoring and policy influence work.

The role of disability movement
In 1987 the Government enacted the NGOs Statute to facilitate registration of NGOs. As a result of that policy framework many international and national NGOs have registered in Uganda. Among others those specifically engaged in disability work are; the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU); Uganda National Association of the Blind (UNAB); Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD); Mental Health Uganda; Epilepsy Support Association of Uganda; Uganda National Action on Physical Disabilities (UNAPD); National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (NUWODU); Uganda Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities (UPACLED); Spinal Injury Association of Uganda (SIA) and Legal Action on People with Disabilities (LAPD); Uganda Society for Disabled Children; Action on Disability and Development; Sight savers International; Katalemwa Leonard Cheshire Home, and Basic Needs UK in Uganda.

Since 1998 the Government has created an enabling environment for the civil society organizations to participate in the promotion and protection of human rights. DPOs have been instrumental in implementing the UNCRPD

Whilst not mentioned in the domestic legislations, the State has taken effort to ensure reasonable accommodation through modification of new public building designs to ensure easy access by persons with disabilities. This practice has been adopted by Local Governments as well in the awarding of tenders for the construction of public buildings. A number of Local Governments have rumps in public schools and health centres. Government has also made provision to ensure that students with disabilities in public universities who need extra support have guides (particularly for blind students and students in wheel chairs). However, Government has not enforced building plans – particularly of public buildings, and encourage private investors to adopt universal designs. It has also not yet included clauses on reasonable accommodation in the appropriate laws. However, the PWD Act 2006 is being amended and is providing for physical access to buildings.

DPOs and NGOs have created awareness on the CRPD using information materials, media and training workshops to sensitize policy makers and the general public. NUDIPU has developed popular versions of CRPD which has been used during training on CRPD. This is in line with article 8 of the CRPD.
DPOs particularly NUDIPU has been working in the war and post war areas of northern Uganda to ensure resettlement of PWDs after the LRA insurgency. PWDs have been supported return to their homes. Peace and Recovery Development Plan has been developed to ensure quick recovery from war effects. DPOs have lobbied to ensure the plan captures the needs and concerns of PWDs In line with Article 20 on Personal mobility, NUDIPU has been purchasing and distributing assistive devices especially walking aids and wheelchairs persons with disabilities from 2008. In addition, orthopedic workshops which were established at regional referral hospitals including Gulu in the north, Kumi in North East, Buluba in the East and Fort Portal in the western region have not been functioning to ensure PWDs access assistive devices.

Also, there has been series of meetings with Uganda BureUBOS charged with conducting demographic surveys and census. The meetings aimed at ensuring that the data and statistics on disability are captured during the 2012 population census. NUDIPU with other DPOs, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development have engaged the Ministry of gender labour and social development to ensure that disability data is purposely captured during the enumeration exercise by the census enumerators. Indeed statistics or data on disability is global issue and more so a human rights issues as enshrined in the CRPD.

What are the major topical issues in Uganda?
The domestication of the CRPD is a live debate among DPOs and even in government circles. Whereas both the government and DPOs have drafted reports to CRPD Committee, none of them have submitted so far. The demand of domestication is being noted as gradually taking shape with the current review of PWDs Act 2006. Both government and DPOs view this as an opportunity for domesticating the CRPD, although none of these originally agreed on how to proceed with the process.
The review of other laws such as those relating to the conduct of elections PWDs political leaders is yet to be submitted to the floor of parliament by the Ministry if Gender, Labour and Social Development.