Remarks by the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission to Commemorate the World Press Freedom Day on 3rd May 2018 at Kampala Railway Grounds
The Rt. Hon Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda,
The Representative of the Minister of Information and National Guidance,
Your Excellencies the Ambassadors present,
Fellow Human Rights Defenders,
Members of the Media,
All Protocol Observed
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am happy to be here today at yet another annual event when Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day. I wish on behalf of the Uganda Human Rights Commission and on my own behalf to congratulate those of you who have braved the long walk which is a clear testimony of your commitment to the advancement of the cause for which this day was set aside by the United Nations General Assembly way back in 1993 to celebrate the fundamental principle of press freedom.
On behalf of the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the partners who have come together to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day today, allow me to express our unreserved gratitude to you the Chief Guest for sparing time from your busy schedule by accepting to join us and honouring our function with your personal presence. Permit me to also thank our Chief Walker who accepted to flag off the peaceful procession which we just concluded and for gracing this event with your presence. The Commission and the rest of the partners recognize this as a gesture that not only strongly symbolises government commitment as duty bearers to the continuous improvement of the observance of human rights and freedoms in Uganda, but specifically press freedom in particular.
As has been the practice, the Commission has partnered with other organisations who have been key in advocating for the right to freedom of expression and specifically press freedom as a way of advocating for the advancement of these rights in Uganda, under the global theme for this year, which is: ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law.’ The theme also includes sub themes that among others call for press freedom and access to information; the justice system supporting free media and journalism; and improving self-regulation while exercising freedom of expression online. We therefore, use this day as an opportunity for us to come together to reflect on the gains that we have so far made at the national, regional and global scene in advancing press freedom; the drawbacks and new initiatives in support of press freedom.
Whereas the right to freedom of expression, including that of the press, is guaranteed by Article 29 (1) of the Constitution of Uganda and a number of gains have been made over the years including the presence a legal framework under which these rights are enjoyed, I must admit that we have experienced some draw backs including incidents of continued violence against media practitioners on duty by some elements within the police; continued application of some unfavourable and archaic laws such as the Publication of False News and Criminal Defamation laws that are still contained in the Penal Code; cases of impunity by some duty bearers and some negative consequences of the new technology, to mention but a few.
The importance of free, independent, vibrant and gender-sensitive media to enable citizens express themselves while at the same time facilitating them to enjoy their right to information in developing democracies like Uganda, cannot be over emphasized. This is a prerequisite for them to make informed decisions; participate in their governance; and exercise and enjoy all other human rights and freedoms. In addition, we know that media the world over are also useful as platforms that expose human rights violations and the violators as well as other failures of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligations to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights and freedoms. Infact, on a number of occasions, media reports have assisted the Commission to follow up or monitor incidents with human rights implications and I must report that we have handled and continue to handle complaints of violation of media freedom.
In order for Uganda to entrench a justice system that supports free and safe journalism, it is our call today to all the relevant stakeholders to improve the legal regime in Uganda today by reviewing some redundant laws that are repugnant to media freedom but still sit in our statute books, including those that were declared unconstitutional by the courts. We have noted that such bad laws have occasionally been pulled out and used to harass media practitioners. Again, as we have done before, we call upon the relevant authorities to ensure that the legal framework is conducive for effective media practice.
Just as indicated in the findings of the recently released Media Freedom Index by the Human Rights Network for Journalists, the Uganda Police Force continues to be the major violator of the rights of journalists in Uganda. This has also been a finding by the Commission in its annual reports and we are greatly concerned that the police as duty bearers continue to stumble. We will also not tire to engage with them and other authorities to ensure that this state of affairs is addressed and police reclaim their due place as enablers of realization of human rights, including media freedom.
As we commemorate the World Press Freedom Day and note what ought to be done to ensure that violations are prevented and enjoyment of the right to press freedom is enhanced by documenting evidence of such violations on one hand, there is also need for us to ensure that perpetrators are brought to book. Impunity is the greatest challenge to the enjoyment of human rights and when perpetrators of human rights violations get away with it, it sends the wrong signal to the rest of the duty bearers struggling to comply with their constitutional obligations. Whereas it might be impossible to completely stop violations, its our call today that when they occur, the perpetrators must be held accountable and punished as a deterrent. Permit me therefore, on behalf of our partners to use this opportunity today to remind government of its obligation to punish perpetrators of human rights violations. Government should take stern action on all duty bearers that have been proven to violate human rights including those who violate the rights of journalists.
You will agree with me that the advancing technology has had a positive impact on protection and promotion of human rights. Incidents can be reported in real time; information can be spread massively in a very short time with limited resources; evidence can be gathered and proven in sophisticated ways; and many others. However, it has also brought new and sophisticated challenges for protection of human rights. Human rights defenders are now grappling with how to keep up with effective mechanisms for protection of human rights and media rights online. Media freedoms have inevitably been caught up and violated in this dilemma. As stakeholders, we still need to put our heads together to remain on top of our mandate in these emerging circumstances of advancing technology. It is my hope that some of the challenges reported as incidents that violate freedom of expression while using the various online media platforms will help inform the conversation that has recently started around protection and promotion of human rights using the new technology. As a Commission we are also happy to note that the conversation on preliminary findings on the ongoing Survey/Research on the Best Media Self-Regulation Model for Uganda by the media, which we have all participated in as stakeholders, will be shared at the dialogue due to be held later today at Makerere University. I encourage the key stakeholders to make your input.
I must also hasten to add that, just as it is for every human right, media freedom comes with duties and responsibilities. In fact the duties of media and the practitioners are specifically provided for in international human rights standards requiring of them maximum professionalism, barring them from hate campaigns and promotion of violence. Today we come together to again raise our voices as human rights defenders in continuing to advocate for media rights, but to also call on them to fulfill their duties and obligations so that the power that the media wield is not abused but used to build our country; to build the people, peace and harmony and to promote the respect for human dignity.
Today we acknowledge that a lot still needs to be done to ensure full respect of press freedom and media practice. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that we enhance the respect for these rights; fulfill our duties and obligations as rights holders; and ensure that we consolidate achievements by shunning retrogression on the aspects on which we have scored successes.
As I conclude, allow me to recognize in a special way, the financial, moral and physical support by our partners with whom we have tirelessly worked to make today’s celebrations a reality. I specifically acknowledge the support from among others the Uganda National Commission for UNESCO in Uganda, the UN Human Rights-Uganda, Freedom House, African Center for Media Excellence (ACME), Uganda Media Women Association (UMWA), Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), Makerere University Department of Journalism and Communication and the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) for making it happen. Permit me to also thank our development partners specifically the Royal Danish Embassy and DGF who have walked this journey with us even during the preparatory meetings for this day.
I wish you happy celebrations but remind us all that media freedoms are critical for our freedom of expression and enjoyment of other rights as a country. I therefore urge all of us to embrace our responsibility to safeguard them.
Thank you for listening to me
Med S.K Kaggwa