Uganda excluded from physical attendance at Geneva human rights meetings

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Uganda excluded from physical attendance at Geneva human rights meetings
President Museveni

The chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Mariam Wangadya has revealed that Uganda has been barred from physically participating in human rights meetings held in Geneva.

This development follows the closure of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda. Consequently, Uganda's human rights status is expected to be downgraded by June 2024.

Wangadya made these remarks while presenting the Commission's 2024/25 budget to the Legal & Parliamentary Affairs Committee.

She explained that all the meetings Uganda used to attend, including significant ones in Addis Ababa (the African Union headquarters) and Geneva, have been discontinued.

"We were invited to travel to Geneva, but we were asked to attend the meeting via Zoom. We are the only Human Rights Institution in the world attending such a significant meeting remotely," Wangadya stated, expressing her concerns about the downgrading of Uganda's status.

During the meeting, Wilfred Niwagaba, MP for Ndorwa East, accused the commission of remaining silent when the government expelled the Democratic Government Facility (DGF) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He argued that these entities were essential funders for the Commission, and now the Commission is lamenting about limited funding.

"The UHRC is expressing its grievances, but I believe it partly contributed to its own misfortunes. The Commission remained silent when the government closed DGF on flimsy grounds, and it also remained silent when the government shut down the funding from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. You know very well that the funding from this government to the Commission would never be sufficient," Niwagaba criticised.

However, Wangadya denied the accusations of silence, stating that the Commission had written several petitions to advocate for the UN body and DGF to remain in Uganda. Despite their efforts, she was warned against obstructing the government's decision.

"I wish you knew the battles we fought to keep the office here. There were meetings held, including one at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs attended by Cabinet Ministers, where I was invited," she clarified. Wangadya emphasized that she had submitted numerous petitions to support the office's continuation.

"In reality, the meeting turned out to be a lecture. I was lectured on why the office had to go and why I must not be an obstacle. These were decisions made by the government. Besides pleading for the office to stay, there was nothing more we could do," Wangadya revealed.

The United Nations human rights office in Uganda was forced to close in 2023 after the Ugandan government decided not to renew the agreement allowing its operation.

The closure came amid concerns regarding human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, as well as a new law imposing the death penalty for certain homosexual acts.

"I regret the closure of our office in Uganda after 18 years. During this time, we closely collaborated with civil society, individuals from various walks of life in Uganda, and engaged with state institutions to promote and protect the human rights of all Ugandans," stated U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk in a statement from Geneva.

The closure was prompted by the government's decision not to renew the host country agreement under which the office operated.

Türk expressed concern about the situation in Uganda ahead of the 2026 elections, citing an "increasingly hostile environment" for human rights defenders, journalists, and other individuals.

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