Uganda's Parliament, on Thursday last week, moved a motion to introduce the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill 2020 in a plenary sitting. The motion was moved by Gulu Municipality Member of Parliament, Hon. Lyandro Komakech who requested for leave to prepare and introduce the said bill on the floor of Parliament as a Private members’ bill.

To back the need for this bill, Hon. Lyandro Komakech said that by nature of their work, HRDs are often the target of coercive measures by governments, security forces, businesses, armed forces and at times, members of the community through misinformation, fabricated criminal charges, forced disappearances, imprisonment, torture, intrusion, intimidation and unlawful restrictions from the state and state organs and are not recognized as a critical body of persons in the field of human rights protection to warrant special legal protection on themselves.

Hon. Komakech also noted that the enactment of the Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2019 which would have protected Human Rights Defenders from abuse has never been fully operationalized through enactment of a specific legislation prescribing and guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of Human Rights Defenders including regulating their activities and providing them with effective remedy and clear enforcement mechanisms to seek redress and protect their work.

"... Cognisant that of the growing significance of the role of Human Rights Defenders and the growing cases of human rights violations, there is need to recognize the work of Human Rights Defenders as an essential part and element in the protection of human rights in Uganda through enactment of a specific legislation to effectively deal with the challenges they face," Hon. Komakech asserted.

This progressive move was initially spearheaded by Defenders Protection Initiative (DPI) who in 2014 conducted a study on The Legislative Climate for Human Rights Defenders in Uganda. This research highlighted the need to establish clear legislation which will provide for the protection of HRDs in the country. It noted with great concern that most HRDs have continuously been subject to violations of their human rights in Uganda. They have been targets to executions, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, death threats, harassments, defamation and restrictions on their freedoms of movement, expression, association and assembly. Hence, an introduction of the Human Rights Defenders Law will help define and promote an understanding of the work of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda, enhance their partnerships with the state well as ensure compliance with International Human Rights standards and best practices for human rights promotion and protection.

Following the above research, DPI embarked on efforts through collaborations with other legal and Human Rights entities such as DefendDefenders, Chapter Four Uganda, The Human Rights Centre Uganda, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda, to develop a bill specifically focused on the protection of HRDs. This birthed the initial draft of the Human Rights Defenders Promotion and Protection Bill in 2016.

In an official message shared on their Facebook page, DPI said, "We call upon the government of Uganda specifically the Executive Parliament and Judiciary to support Human Rights Defenders in this cause." Passing this law will add Uganda to a list of countries like Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Honduras and Brazil that have adopted domestic instruments relating to Human Rights Defenders.