Uganda Law Society Speaks Out On ‘Draft’ Petition, COVID-19 Achievements

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The Uganda Law Society (ULS) has let on, on a controversial ‘Draft’ Constitutional Petition that leaked last week, allegedly, challenging the constitutionality of the Presidential and Ministry of Health Guidelines against Coronavirus. 

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The Lawyers’ body has also listed its achievements or contributions so far as the Country continues to battle the deadly Virus. 


Describing it as ‘premature,’ the Law Society President, Mr Simon Peter Kinobe, writes in a 6th April statement seen by the Legal Reports, that the document had been prepared by a ‘segment’ of the Society ‘who feel very strongly about rule of law issues’

This  ‘segment’  is the human rights cluster of the Society.

” We draw your attention to the draft petition that had been prepared by a segment of the membership who feel very strongly about rule of law issues for the consideration of the
Executive Council” Mr Kinobe said.

Without necessarily disowning the document, the Senior Lawyer, said it had been released ‘prematurely’ for ‘unknown reasons’ and that the leadership of the Society has ever since decided not to file the petition because ” we are having constructive engagements with the Government,” adding an assurance that:

” We will always push on to ensure the restriction of arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws at all times.

” We have a statutory duty as provided in the Uganda Law Society Act, Cap 276 to advise the government and protect the public with regard to matters relating to the law”

In the so called ‘Draft’ petition, the Uganda Law Society allegedly challenged the ‘actions’ of the President, Yoweri Museveni, in declaring a lockdown and curfew which was claimed, resulted into the infringement of rights and freedoms of Ugandans.

On the 18th of March, President Museveni ordered the; closure of all educational institutions, churches, mosques, banning of all public gatherings and discouraged non essential travel or movement, among other similar measures.

On the 21st of March, he banned the use of public transport means. He banned entry into or exit of the Country by whatever means of transport, among other measures. He however limited travel in the Country to private means.

On 25th March, he banned the use of private means, too, and discouraged all movement.

On 30th March, he effectively locked down the entire country by literally ordering everyone to ‘stay at home.’ He also imposed a 7PM- 6AM curfew.

Movement was however limited to what the President of Uganda called ‘essential services’ providers that included health workers, media, food traders, government officials, the financial services sector, and a few others but never included legal services providers where Lawyers belong.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, who chairs the National Anti-Coronavirus taskforce, the Uganda Law Society would later claim grant of ‘special’ status for its members to continue operations during the lockdown and to be allowed to drive private vehicles to work.

There seems to be wider consensus among members of the public that the measures put in place by the President and later the Ministry of Health, however restrictive they are, are necessary and in good faith to battle the deadly Coronavirus.

Indeed, following the ‘premature’ release of the ‘draft’ ULS Petition, there was considerable opprobrium within legal circles.

The thrust of the ‘Draft’ Petition seems to have been that the measures the President ordered can only be legally undertaken upon declaration of a State of Emergency.


ALSO READ: Lawyers React To Non Essential Tag


 

And, that some of these measures, forexample the limitation of court process to only reception of cases and the lack of the legislature’s involvement in the coming up with the measures  violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers.

Also sued in the ‘Draft’ petition, was the Inspector General of Police and the Commander In Chief, principally over the havoc, Local Defence Units(LDUs) have wrecked on the citizens in the enforcement of the Presidential and Ministry of Health guidelines.

The LDUs are apparently under the command of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).

Now, the Law Society says it has written to the Government about these human rights questions arising in the Government’s bid to suppress the Virus which has so far attacked 52 persons living in Uganda.

” Pursuant to [our] statutory duties we wrote to the Government advising that the human rights of the people should be respected at all times even during this fight against COVID-19″  The Statement reads.

” This was due to the indiscipline of some Local Defence Unit (LDU), Police personnel and vigilantes who chose to implement the Presidential directives by beating up people and breaking into their homes. Violence meted on the people of the Republic of Uganda is unacceptable no matter the circumstances”

Local Defence Units and Uganda Police have been particularly notorious in their enforcement of the Coronavirus lockdown and curfew.

Videos have circulated online showing the agencies beating up citizens including helpless women.

In a show of the LDUs appetite to use violence, one video particularly showed an LDU personnel angrily beat up a dog as citizens seated just outside their houses during curfew time were being forced to enter their houses.

President Museveni has ever since condemned the LDUs and Police’s errant behavior and labelled them ‘pigs.’


BEFORE YOU LEAVE, READ: Ssemakadde: A Typical Ugandan Lawyer Is Not Essential


” This course of action by the LDU and Police personnel”  says, the Law Society President,” prompted the members of the human rights cluster of the Uganda Law Society to peruse and prepare a draft petition for the Executive Council’s consideration and possible adoption for filing in Courts of law.

” Mainly because the Government had not yet adhered to the advice to stop the human rights violations that were taking place.

” Fortunately, His Excellency President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was briefed about these acts of violence and he has since condemned them and ordered Lt Col. Nakalema to take action against any such errant security personnel.

” As of the 5th April 2020, several errant
security personnel were arrested and are being taken through the formal disciplinary process”

Speaking on widespread criticism from some of its members of a potential decision to file a Petition with the Courts of Law challenging the lockdown and curfew, Mr Kinobe says:

” We continue to welcome all the constructive criticism and advice from our members on the different issues of law that arise as we execute our statutory duties under the Uganda
Law Society Act” adding:

” We shall continue to monitor the situation to see if the Presidential orders to the security personnel are respected, but if the Human Rights violations continue we shall not hesitate to consider all avenues available to us, including petitioning the courts of law for redress”

Achievements

The Law Society President, has also revealed, that, in line with the Society’s objective of  ‘ensuring that the lives of many Ugandans are saved,’  they have ‘ so far’ issued three statements relating to the pandemic and we can only undertake to escalate intervention if not heard”

To that end therefore, the following has been achieved according to Mr Kinobe,  “as a result of this approach”

” 1. The issuance of Statutory Instruments by the Ministry of Health to formalize the Guidelines issued in line with the prevention of COVID-19.

Though these may need
to be improved and aligned, we commend this step as one in the right direction.

2. We have obtained representation on the Committee of the Ministry of Health that will continually aid the Ministry with the draft of these Statutory Instruments and update the ULS Executive Council accordingly.

3. We have obtained representation on the National Task Force for the prevention of COVID-19, and so far we have advised the National Taskforce on COVID-19 and Government on several legal matters that need their attention (See our statement
to that effect issued on 19th March 2020).

4. We have advised the Judiciary on preparation of guidelines for court users, and we are engaging both the Executive and the Judiciary to provide a path for those who have urgent matters to be heard.

As the ULS Executive Council, we believe
that continuity of our judicial system at this time should be based on urgency.

Permits should be given to members with urgent matters.

This issue will be resolved by close of business today.

5. We advised and worked with the Uganda Communications Commission and the ICT Ministry to develop guidelines for media companies, telecom companies and
internet service providers.

6. We have engaged Government/Judiciary on human rights, in particular the beating of citizens by Local Defence Unit Officers, police officers and vigilantes (ULS issued a statement to that effect on 30th March 2020).

Measures have been taken by government to address this issue.

7. We intervened on behalf of private sector and secured release of detained doctors, nurses, ISP providers, bodaboda riders and e-commerce/door to door delivery agents who were wrongfully detained by Police in alleged compliance with the directives issued by the President.”

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