The 2nd Annual Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Forum organized by the Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU) in partnership with the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD) was successfully concluded at Imperial Golf View Hotel, Entebbe under the theme ‘Building Bridges: Enhancing Human Rights Defenders’ Networking and Synergy’ this 6th day of March, 2014.
The two day forum from 5th to 6th March, 2014 focused on strengthening communication between all HRDs regardless of their professions and regions of operation in Uganda by giving them an opportunity to connect and interact with one another. The Forum was officially opened by Hon. Justice Jane Kiggundu, Executive Director Judicial Studies Institute who proceeded to launch the 2013 HRDs Annual report on the situation of human rights defenders by the Human Rights Centre Uganda. This report entitled “ HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN UGANDA: Understanding and overcoming potential violations of their rights” analyses the working environment of HRDs and cites the commonly violated rights in 2013 as freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion and expression. The report also acknowledges progress made in the protection and promotion of rights of HRDs with the formation of the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda, the creation of the media forum in Parliament and increased collaboration amongst HRDs. The report makes recommendations to HRDS and government for concrete action to address the issues raised.
In her remarks, Hon. Justice Jane Kiggundu stated that over time, she has seen Ugandans come alive to the realization that human rights are important. “I have witnessed it in the media, through Court decisions, in the mass movements of human rights defenders on specific issues, in the formation of coalitions and committees; for example the Standing Committee of Human Rights in Parliament, and even in the enactment of legislation on some pertinent human rights issues.” She noted that the report meets the need to continuously scrutinize the setting in which HRDs work, in order to identify both negative and positive trends and devise a collective approach to elevate the positive and deal with the negative.
Along the two day Forum, there were fruitful deliberations around effective networking and synergy among HRDs. In the discussions, it was realized that HRDs face challenges that include insufficient resources, inadequate networking and ineffective advocacy skills. The forum also offered HRDs an opportunity to engage with new media providing an introduction to new challenges and strategies for protection, digital and personal security with the increasing threats to HRDs. Ms. Margaret Sekagya, the UN Special Rapporteur for HRDs and Executive Director Human Rights Centre Uganda emphasized the need for networking and synergy among HRDs to ensure that they speak with one voice.
The annual Forum resolved that communication and dialogue should be maintained to ensure sustainability of networks and HRDs should build on internal capacities and harness each other’s strengths to realize a common agenda. With HRDs shared commitment with state agencies, it was agreed that HRDs should work with the state through dialogues to ensure that the state carries out its primary responsibility of ensuring the protection of HRDs.
Among the HRDs attending the forum were government agencies, journalists and civil society organisations from both rural and urban areas working on governance, children, land and women’s rights among others with State organs represented by NGO Board, Uganda Human Rights Commission, Uganda Police Force and the Uganda People’s Defence Forces.