by Kevin

Equal Opportunities Commission together with the Coalition of Indigenous Minority Groups in Uganda held a press conference at the Uganda media center on 9th August, 2017 in commemoration of the Worlds Indigenous People. The statement was read by Member Joel Cox Ojuko and the excerpt is below;

Today, Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, a day that recognizes the value and diversity of the cultures of the world’s indigenous people. This year’s theme is a celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, 2007 (‘Declaration’), to which Uganda is a signatory and which recognizes the historical injustice faced by indigenous people and calls on States to protect the inherent rights of indigenous people without discrimination. It is an opportunity for us to take stock of how far we have come as a country in protecting the rights of indigenous people and reflect on how we can bridge the gap between formal recognition and practical interventions by government.

Although the Third Schedule of the Ugandan Constitution recognizes all tribes who were in existence at the date of colonization as indigenous, Uganda has Indigenous Minority Groups (IMGs). Uganda does not have a legal definition for IMGs, however, some characteristics include “maintaining close ties to the land in both cultural and economic practices; suffering from economic and political marginalization as a minority group some examples include Batwa; Benet; and Ik.

The country has taken some measures to prevent discrimination of these indigenous groups. The Constitution guarantees Equality and freedom from discrimination including on the basis of ethnic origin and provides for affirmative action. Similarly, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) was established to give effect to the state’s Constitutional mandate to eliminate discrimination and inequalities against any individual or group of person on the ground of ethnic origin, tribe or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom. Uganda is a signatory to various international instruments that reiterate the rights of indigenous people. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1951), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1966), the Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992).

Reference 1: Equality and freedom from discrimination are guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution and must be seen to be enjoyed by all persons irrespective of their ethnic origin or social or economic standing.

Similarly, the EOC was established to give effect to the state’s Constitutional mandate to eliminate discrimination and inequalities against any individual or group of person on the ground of ethnic origin, tribe or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom.

Reference 2: It has to be noted also that rights of IMGs are recognized under international law. Several declarations passed by the United Nations help to further rights of indigenous persons. This is in addition to a variety of international treaties and conventions which provide support to indigenous persons in the quest for their human rights and recognition. The Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 is the most comprehensive. It establishes the rights of indigenous people to the protection of their cultural property and identity as well as the rights to education, employment, health, religion, language and more.

These rights are also provided for under regional human rights instruments. In its first judgment on the treatment and rights of indigenous people, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) held in the case of African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights v. Kenya, App. no. 006/2012, (Judgment of 26 May 2017) that Kenya violated the indigenous Ogiek peoples’ rights to land, religion, culture, development, and non-discrimination when it evicted them from their land.

Despite the formal recognition of equality, IMGs within Uganda have and continue to experience various human rights violations. They are unable to realize their rights to health and education. Every child in Uganda is entitled to basic education and for IMGs it is vital for their survival.  Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls on governments to ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including indigenous peoples. Enrollment rates for IMGs remain low with high dropout rates among IMGs. For example in 2013, only 8 Batwa children sat for Uganda National Examination Board exams at different levels. This can be attributed to the lack of schools with adequate infrastructure and staff within areas inhabited by IMGs. IMG’s access to quality health care is very limited and the few available statistics indicate that their health situation is below that national average. Lack of affirmative action by the government to address the absence of social services such as education and healthcare in the areas where Uganda’s IMGs are predominant has kept the IMGs in a vicious cycle of poverty and threatens their existance.

IMGs have been  evicted or excluded from ancestral ands without community consultation, consent, or adequate (or any) compensation in contravention of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  which requires the Free Prior and Informed Consent of indigenous people before the undertaking of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources.  The case of the Batwa in western Uganda and their eviction from Bwindi and Semuliki forests to create National Parks is a prime example. This forced eviction resulted in significant problems for the community including making them one of Uganda’s poorest disadvantaged communities. A similar situation arose for the Benet community. Although the High Court attempted to rectify the Benet’s dispossession through a consent judgment in their favour, the judgment is yet to be enforced. Where IMGs have been displaced from ancestral their land, it denies them ability to access the land they would have traditionally used for economic or cultural purposes.

The IMGs are poor and lack political representation at both district and national level, thus aggravating the social and economic status. Whilst the government has taken a step in the right direction by creating the Ik constituency in Kaabong, majority of the IMGs remain vulnerable and marginalized.

The EOC takes cognizance of the above and upholds the rights of IMGs to be of paramount importance, deserving of keen and equal protection.  The  Coalition for the Rights of Indigenous and Minority Groups whose members include Cross Cultural Foundation Uganda, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, Community Development Resources Network, Global Rights Alert, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Minority Rights Group, Human Rights Network Uganda, Uganda Women’s Network and Defend Defenders seeks to promote policies, programs and laws aimed at redressing social, economic and other imbalances affecting indigenous minority groups in our society.

As a coalition; we urge the Government to do the following:

  • Make laws that provide legal definition of and policy in respect of Indigenous Minority Groups in Uganda;
  • Provide Constitutional recognition under Article 10(a) and the Third Schedule of the Ugandan Constitution for all indigenous minority groups in Uganda;
  •  Expeditiously address the issues of abuse and erosion of the economic, social, and cultural rights of indigenous minority groups in Uganda, including, but not limited to:
  • Protecting their land and sacred places;
  • Implementing the High Court Consent Judgment relating to the Benet People handed down in 2005;
  • Allowing the ethnic minority Batwa unrestricted access to their traditional lands and sacred places in the Bwindi, Mgahinga, Semuliki and Echuya forests;
  • Ensure increased access to quality health care for indigenous minority groups;
  • Ensure access to justice for indigenous minority groups  through the provision of free legal services (Pro bono services);
  • Translate existing legislation into user friendly local indigenous languages.
  • Initiate deliberate consultation with IMGs at local government levels to ensure adequate political representation of IMGs and access to all social services as well as involvement in public affairs that affect them directly or indirectly.
  • Budgets of local government where IMGs reside should be enhanced to support affirmative action in their favour;

You may also like