Last updated on July 14th, 2021 at 12:26 pm
n a landmark ruling, the High Court has Wednesday ruled that Ugandan prisoners and Ugandans living in diaspora of 18 years of age and above are entitled to vote in the Country’s elections, breaking a decades long tradition that disenfranchised them.
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High Court Judge Justice Lydia Mugambe found that being a prisoner or living in the diaspora does not take away one’s citizenship and that the Electoral Commission’s practice since the promulgation of Uganda’s Constitution in 1995 of refusing to register for voting prisoners and Ugandans living in the diaspora is illegal and discriminatory.
” These Ugandans are part of the citizens envisaged in Article 59 [of the Constitution which provides for the right to vote to all Ugandans of 18 years and above].
” As the supreme law of the land, all other laws must be in consonance with the Constitution. In the same way, all government entities must act in accordance with the Constitution.
” However, the response of the second respondent [ Electoral Commission] does not demonstrate in any way that there has been any effort to give life to Article 59 in regard to these categories of Ugandan Citizens ” the Judge said.
About 1.5 Million Ugandans live in the diaspora, according to the Ministry of Foreign affairs citing the UN Human development report of 2009. And in 2019, there were 55229 persons held in Uganda’s prison facilities, says the World Prison Brief, an online data base hosted by the University of London that provides access to information on prison systems around the world.
“The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and the personhood. Everybody counts” – Justice Mugambe
The Court struck down the Electoral Commission’s argument in the 2018 case brought by Lawyer Kalali Steven against the Electoral Commission that these Ugandans could not vote because the current electoral laws do not cater for ‘intricacies’ involved in their voting.
” I have read this over and over. The more I read it, the more it pales in the face of Article 59. In fact, it sounds disconnected when read against clause 3 which requires the State to take all necessary steps to ensure that all Citizens qualified to vote register and exercise their right to vote ” Justice Mugambe responded.
” Maybe for my discernment the second respondent [Electoral Commission] should have pointed more specifically to these intracacies related to prisoners’ voting. Nonetheless, I cannot imagine anything that can take away the constitutional right to vote for prisoners and Ugandans in the diaspora” She added.
Justice Lydia Mugambe’s progressive Judgement comes at a time when Uganda is gearing up for its 2021 general election for which the registration of voters ended late last year.
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The issue of prisoners voting rights was brought in a formal complaint by Legal Brains Trust, a human rights watchdog, to the Electoral Commission’s attention before the deadline for registration of voters ostensibly for its consideration ahead of the election but the Commission did not budge.
Court has now ordered the Electoral Commission to take all necessary steps to ensure that as Citizens, prisoners and Ugandans living in the diaspora register and exercise their right to vote.
Benjamin Ahikiiriza is a Legal Writer And Digital Communications & Marketing Specialist majoring in Lawyers, Law Firms And the larger Legal Sector.
Benjamin currently Works as the Director of Content and Business Development At LegalReports.