Uganda’s human rights watchdog (some would say lapdog), the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), yesterday, 24th November, 2022 launched a mobile phone application ostensibly to improve access to the commission and information about its activities in what appears to be a scratch-the-surface move to make the commission relevant to Ugandans.
The launch of the Uganda Human Rights Commission App was presided over by junior minister for Information, Communications and Technology (ICT), Hon. Kabbyanga Godfrey Baluku.
The UHRC App has features which include a tab through which a person can lodge a human rights complaint to the commission but a complaint can’t be lodged anonymously and this tab doesn’t allow upload of files such as images, documents, etc.
There is also an automated feature through which a person can “chat” with the commission. We tried using this feature last night and have not received any feedback at the time of writing.
All the remaining features carry general information about the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the nature and scope of its work, a list of the commission’s offices country wide and a list of human rights guaranteed under the constitution of Uganda ( Was the minister alluding to this when he talked about the app carrying legal services?)
Some of the information you will find on this App has already been existing (and still does) on the Uganda Human Rights Commission website but we all know the distance to a website is farther than to an App installed on your phone.
As Human Rights lawyer George Musisi told us while analyzing this news: “The idea of the app in itself is okay and it is a welcome move given that all service providers are trying to go ‘e’ [read digital] and to make approach to them better for their clientele or bring services closer.”
The Uganda Human Rights Commission is a constitutional body established under Article 51 of the Constitution with a wide range of functions including the tasks “to investigate, at its own initiative or on a complaint made by any person or group of persons against the violation of any human right;” and “to monitor the Government’s compliance with international treaty and convention obligations on human rights.”
Uganda’s constitution gives the Human Rights commission powers equivalent to that of a court of law such as:
“to issue summons or other orders requiring the attendance of any person before the commission and the production of any document or record relevant to any investigation by the commission;” “to question any person in respect of any subject matter under investigation before the commission;” and “to require any person to disclose any information within his or her knowledge relevant to any investigation by the commission.”
In other words, the commission has more than enough powers to rein in on every possible human rights violation in Uganda yet the country and its government have a notoriously poor human rights record.
Mobile phone Apps are by design intended to enhance access to their developers and their services but there is no evidence to suggest there is a dearth of Ugandans petitioning the Uganda Human Rights Commission for redress against human rights violations that are rampant in Uganda.
Why would a Commission inundated by human rights violation complaints launch a phone app seeking out more?
As George Musisi says: “The biggest problem with the commission right now is not accessibility. It is not that people have been failing to access it.”
The Uganda Human Rights Commission by its own reports has consistently indicted the Government of Uganda for human rights violations – this year, human rights concerns have hovered around Covid-19, unlawful detentions, torture, exportation of labour, among other issues.
Beyond making recommendations to state actors, the Uganda Human Rights Commission has no show for concerted efforts toward ending the terrible human rights situation in the country.
“Even those few who have accessed it (the commission)… gone there for petitions, they have not been handled. So the… App is not going to change the way it executes its mandate because it has not taken its constitutional mandate seriously.” George Musisi says, adding:
“We have not seen it visit places of detention – the ungazzeted places and as a tribunal its operations are supposed to be faster but they are much slower than those of the Courts of Judicature.”
As the race for digitization of government services gains momentum, it is important for bodies like the Uganda Human Rights Commission to prioritize the fundamentals.
Ugandans surely don’t want to lodge complaints with the commission when they have an apprehension they won’t be helped or helped in time – resolution of complaints can delay or be forfeited for one reason or another but not in cases of human rights.
Instead, I won’t be surprised if Ugandans (being the hilarious type) resort to spamming the commission with bogus and junk complaints.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission should instead embark on a real transformational journey in terms of its attitudes towards human rights issues – and not just technology for it is merely supplemental.
“ So, App or no App I don’t expect any change in the way it conducts its business until it redefines and discovers its mandate.” George Musisi says.
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.