Thursday, November 29, 2012

Breaking the Silence: Ethnic Equality in Uganda

Unraveling the complex issues of ethnicity … a daunting task because of the emotions they stir.  Often silence is easier, but the consequences can be great.  As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this week at the 5th United Nations Forum on Minority Rights, societies “are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable members.”

Don Rukare (left) presents Global Rights' Desk Study on
Ethnicity and Human Rights in Uganda

This year, Global Rights began a groundbreaking dialogue in Uganda about racial and ethnic equality with members of civil society and the government.  We tailored lessons learned from our 10 years of experience working with Afro-descendent organizations in Latin America to fit the Ugandan context.

Global Rights’ Uganda Country Director, Donald (Don) Rukare, who has been leading this project, was invited to the UN Forum on Minority Rights this week.  He presented our Desk Study on Ethnicity and Human Rights in Uganda to the Forum participants; the UN CERD Committe;  Ms. Rita Izak, the UN Independent expert on Minorities; and Ms. Soyata Maiga, Chairperson of the Committee on Minority Rights in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.

The study provides a picture of the nature, patterns and extent of ethnic discrimination in Uganda and who is most affected.  Here are some of the points Don highlighted from the report:
  • There is no definition and conceptual understanding of who constitutes a minority in Uganda.
  • Ethnic minorities are not represented within decision making bodies at national and local government levels in Uganda. In addition, ethnic minorities have limited access to essential services such as health and education, and lack control of productive assets such as land.
  • There is need for a concerted effort by all stakeholders to highlight the plight of ethnic minorities in Uganda.
  • The majority of citizens of Uganda, especially ethnic minorities, have very limited awareness of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and other related international and regional human rights instruments.
  • Uganda lacks a coherent legal and policy framework to implement international human rights provisions for the protection of minorities.

In the report, Global Rights recommends that:
  • Together with civil society, national human rights and regional bodies such as the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should conduct training and awareness programs on the UN Declaration to ensure knowledge and visibility of the declaration and related international, regional human rights instruments. Specific focus should be paid to ethnic minority groups.
  • The Ugandan government should adopt a national policy on ethnic minorities that incorporates the provisions of the UN Declaration.
  • Using the UN Declaration as a guide the government of Uganda should mainstream issues of ethnic minorities in state development programs and policies.

Global Rights would like to thank the Ford Foundation for making this year’s pilot project on ethnicity in Uganda possible and the Institute of International Education (IIE) for supporting Don's trip to the UN Minority Forum.  We are hopeful that the work with civil society and the government, as well as the study can serve as a launching point for further dialogue and action in Uganda to navigate the complex issues of ethnicity in a measured and meaningful way.   


Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

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