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New UHRC chairperson, commissioners pledge swift investigations

Newly appointed UHRC chairperson Mariam Wangadya addresses the press shortly after meeting the vetting committee of Parliament.

PARLIAMENT, UGANDA: The newly appointed Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) chairperson, Mariam Wangadya has committed to ensuring quick investigations for cases of human rights violations.

Wangadya made the comments shortly after appearing before the Appointments Committee of Parliament for vetting. The committee approved Wangadya together with four other commissioners who were recently appointed by President Yoweri Museveni.

The commissioners include former Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo, the former coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), Crispin Kaheru, former Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) councilor Shifra Lukwago and former Sheema Woman MP Jacklet Atuhaire.

Speaking to journalists at parliament, Wangadya said that she comes with experience having previously served as a commissioner for 16 years. She also noted that the vetting process went well and that she was positive about the outcome. She promised that she would investigate each and every complaint and give redress to victims depending on the outcome of the investigations.

Wangadya also appealed to Parliament to help the commission ensure that awards made by previous human rights tribunals are paid by the concerned institutions.

Simon Lokodo, one of the newly appointed commissioners described his engagement with the committee as interesting and that he had been questioned about his interest in the assignment, challenges envisaged especially in regard to previous reports indicating inhumane handling of suspects by security personnel.

“And I said, overall, the government of Uganda is very apt at ensuring that the rights and privileges of its citizens are respected as per the Constitution,” Lokodo said, adding that he will continue with his work of ensuring that Ugandans respect rights of others and also hold high moral values.

Crispin Kaheru said that the questions posed by the committee regarding the civic space and how it can be improved were pertinent. He added that there is a need for Uganda to invest more in civic education and that these resources and capacity will help the country pay a much lesser price when it comes to issues of human rights.

“And I think we are in a contest, we cannot run away from it. There is a lot that we need to do to continue working on a path of improving our human rights recording and rating as a country. I reaffirmed to the committee that given my background and expertise, I will be able to add relevant value to ensure that we continue walking on a path of improvement in terms of human rights record and rating as a country,” said Kaheru.

Asked whether he has not been compromised to work for a government that he had in the past criticized, Kaheru said that he will continue to condemn human rights violations.

Shifra Lukwago, a former councillor appreciated the President for choosing her as one of the activists of human rights and that she will serve to the best of her capability as she joins the constitutional body mandated with the monitoring and advancement of human rights in the country.

She also noted that her position as Democratic Party (DP) Kampala Women leader is now to fall vacant as she moves on to serve all Ugandans. Lukwago said that Ugandans should not misunderstand her appointment since it is not a betrayal to her past positions and affiliation to opposition political parties.

She emphasized that she is honoured that the President chose a person from the Opposition to protect and promote the rights of Ugandans.

The functions of the Commission are investigating complaints made against violations of any human right, visit jails, prisons and places of detention to assess conditions of inmates, recommend to parliament measures to promote human rights, monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty and convention obligations on human rights, among others.

The body has since 2019 had no chairperson after the death of its former head, Med Kaggwa who died in November 2019. More top positions fell vacant after the resignation of Commissioner Victoria Rusoke Businge, who contested and won the Woman MP seat for Kabarole district in the 11th Parliament while another’s term of office expired in 2018. The UHRC Act provides only 7 positions for Commissioners.

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