Joint Press Statement For Third National Conference On Economic, Social And Cultural Rights
DATE: TUESDAY 13TH SEPTEMBER, 2016
VENUE: UHRC Boardraom (Twed Plaza, Lumumba Avenue Nakasero 3rd Floor)
On behalf of all the partner organisations, allow me to welcome everyone present here especially the members of the media fraternity, to the Uganda Human Rights Commission which is hosting today's Press Conference.
The Commission has since last year worked in conjunction with a host of civil society organisations to prepare and convene this important two-day Annual Conference on the Economic Social and Cultural Rights which is usually held at Makerere University main hall.
The main organizers of this year's Third Annual Conference include; The Public Interest Law Clinic (PILAC) of the School of Law, Makerere University, Centre for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), the Uganda Consortium on Corporate Accountability, (UCCA), the Human Rights Network Uganda (HURINET-U), the Global Rights Alert (GRA) and the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC).
The Conference is will run for two days beginning tomorrow Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th September 2016 at the Makerere University Main Hall under the theme: 'Business and Human Rights in Uganda: Accountability Vs Social Responsibility for corporate abuses'.
The key note speakers include among others; Dr. Michael K. Addo, member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights and Mr. Alfred Brownell, Executive Director, Green Advocates, Liberia.
It is worth noting that Uganda is a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) since 1987. Further, Uganda is a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACPHR), which obliges the States Parties to put in place measures to achieve Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) for its people.
The country has partly fulfilled its reporting obligation under the ICESCR by submitting its first State report after considerable number years of non-compliance with this requirement. On the 1Oth-11th of June 2015, the county was reviewed and concluding observations were developed by UN Committee on ESCR.- Uganda to that extent is meant to address the key human rights concerns and observations raised.
Since the 198.0s, the Government of Uganda has been on the offensive to attract direct foreign investment and build a strong and self-sustaining economy. To achieve this, the Government has made several concessions to attract investors by among others offering tax
incentives such as tax holidays, providing land and in some cases extending financial support to investors. In addition, Government has determined that a vibrant and self-sustainable economy requires physical infrastructure, particularly in the form of road and rail infrastructure. Furthermore, the Government has positioned itself to exploit the country's natural resources. This move has been bolstered with the discovery of oil in the western parts of the country.
It is against the above context that large investments have been made in a number of sectors by both domestic and international investors. What is apparent though is that these investments and the various business activities while building the economy have come with a number of social challenges and costs. Among others, people have been displaced by evictions and infrastructure development projects. Also, in pursuit of profits, business entities have degraded the environment, polluted the air and exploited labour in ways that subject employees to unfavourable conditions and terms of service.
The outcome of the above has been the negation of the country's international human rights obligations as well as the rights entrenched in the country's Constitution. Business activities have resulted into the abuse of such rights as labour rights, right to clean and healthy environment, right to the best attainable standard of health, right of access to water, land and housing, as well as the rights to culture some groups. At the international level, Uganda has a duty to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which among others require state to ensure that business activities do not undermine human rights and that relief is provided to persons whose rights are abused by business activities.
Although the Constitution in Article 20 requires all persons, including business entities, to respect the rights enshrined in the Constitution, the state of affairs on ground show that this is not happening. A Baseline Study conducted by the Uganda Coalition on Corporate Accountability (UCCA) shows that business entities had given leap attention to human rights and in exceptional circumstances only engaged in corporate social responsibility, as opposed to corporate social accountability.
The study shows that massive evictions have taken place both in the name of investment and infrastructural development; people's labour rights have been abused and the environment degraded. As much as there are laws and regulations to regulate business activities, the government structures mandated to implement the laws and regulations are week and in some cases under-funded.
It is against the above context that the 3rd Annual Conference on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been organised. The main aim of the Conference is to initiate and contribute to public dialogue about business and human rights and enhance the need to build structures and frameworks that enhance respect and protection of human rights by businesses, as well as ensuring access to remedies in cases of abuses. The Conference will be used as a forum for disseminating a baseline study on the state of corporate accountability in Uganda. It will also explore the international and regional responses in this field, and how these can be affected in Uganda. Comparative approaches, particularly focusing on National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights will be discussed and best practices underlined .
It should be noted that Uganda is still affected by a host of challenges that affect the enjoyment of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights arising out of among others an inadequate legal, regulatory and policy, framework. Further, the stagnated implementation of socio economic pr grammes by the Government, inadequate emergency preparedness and response to natural disasters, inadequate resources as well as capital flight embodied in the rampant corruption, have perpetrated the slow realisation of ESCR.
This situation has not been helped by the continued state invocation of the notions of 'progressive realisation' of these rights and implementation according to the 'available resources', whenever challenged about lukewarm attention to economic, social and cultural rights.
In the 2014 Inaugural National Conference on ESCRs, it was established that 'social exclusion' is one of the impediments to the enjoyment of ESCRs in Uganda. Social exclusion is a form of discrimination whereby certain groups are denied access to rights (such as health or education) and also to opportunities (such as markets or jobs). It can occur within the household, within communities or through public sector systems and services - such as health services, or the legal system, and can take place on the basis of among others race, religion, age, disability, gender, HIV status, migrant status or geographical location.
It is therefore important to note that with the nature of the abovementioned conditions, social exclusion has also contributed to poverty; conflict and insecurity with vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities have been consistently left behind. The country is still also experiencing hunger amidst plenty of food with homeless children eating from garba-ge pits, ill-fed internally displaced people and refugees, 38% of children below 5 years are stunted, and the Karamoja region faces persistent food shortages .
If social economic problems and challenges are to be tackled effectively, we need to acknowledge their existence, investigate the root causes and find appropriate solutions for socio-economic and cultural rights friendly environment.
The Conference is targeting up to 600 participants including policy makers, officers from independent statutory bodies, practitioners and activists, academics, researchers, development partners, community groups and members of the general public who will be directly involved in the conference. The wider population in Uganda will benefit indirectly from the outcomes of the conference.
Participation in the conference is open to all members of the public, but key stakeholders and special interest groups will be targeted for specific invitations to provide particular input.
We look forward to seeing you all there!
Uganda Human Rights Commission Public Interest Law Centre Makerere
Global Rights Alert
Human Rights Network Uganda Initiative for Social Economic Rights
Uganda Consortium on Corporate Accountability ..... Centre for Health Rights and Development