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Gov’t Officials Snub Launch of Civic Space Index :: Uganda Radionetwork

Gov’t Officials Snub Launch of Civic Space Index

Robert Kirenga, the NCHRD-U Executive Director, noted with concern the growing trend, and self-censorship of the sorts, among government officials who fear associating with or even attending events aimed at discussing the subject, owing to the ongoing contraction of civil space in Uganda.
Richard Nelson, Head of mission for USAID in Uganda launching the civic space index

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Several government officials were a no-show during the launch of the 2022 Uganda Civic Space Index. The National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders Coalition-Uganda (NCHRD-U), the organizer of the event, extended invitations to officials from various ministries, departments, and agencies, whose work is closely related to Civic Space in Uganda.

These included among others the Uganda Police Force, Uganda People's Defense Forces, Uganda Communications Commission, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, judiciary, and parliament. This was meant to allow the offices to receive the report, contemplate the findings, and engage in a dialogue about improving the situation.

Robert Kirenga, the NCHRD-U Executive Director, noted with concern the growing trend, and self-censorship of the sorts, among government officials who fear associating with or even attending events aimed at discussing the subject, owing to the ongoing contraction of civil space in Uganda.

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Despite the government officials ignoring the event, Kirenga noted that as advocates for civic space, they are still determined and will persistently engage in discussions with the government, policymakers, and other relevant parties.  He explained that their aim is to convey the citizens' opinions regarding civic space and related rights in the country, as well as propose ways to improve the situation.

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He further stated that it is crucial for the government and civil servants to recognize that the index merely reflects people's perceptions and is not manipulated by foreign agents or civil societies contrary to the beliefs held by certain individuals within the government.

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The civic space index report by NCHRD-U was their second publication, following their initial report in 2021. This report specifically analyzes the period between October 2021 and October 2022. It delves into the five globally acknowledged aspects of civic engagement, namely freedom of information and expression, the right to assembly and association, citizen participation, non-discrimination, and human rights and the rule of law.

In the 2022 Civic Space Index, the NCHRD-U noted that the civic space in Uganda is considered to be restricted. Among the five civic dimensions examined, three of them were ranked as restricted, indicating significant limitations on those aspects of civic space. 

The remaining two dimensions were identified as partially protected. Among the five dimensions of civic space, respondents identified the Rule of Law and Human Rights as the most violated liberties in 2022. This was followed by Freedom of Information and Expression, as well as Rights to Assembly and Association. 

“Human Rights/ Rule of law was rated as the most violated right among the civic space dimensions with an 86.9 percent score. This is followed by Rights to Information and Freedom of expression, another dimension ranked as restricted at 754 percent,” the report read in part. The read added that; “rights to assembly and association was rated 3rd on the most violated rights in the measurement of the civic space at 67.2 percent. Citizen participation came 4th and Non-discrimination and inclusion was 5th with 42.6 percent and 26.29 percent respectively.”

According to the report, the top three concerns were listed as Police brutality at 56.5 percent, Abductions attributed to the police's infamous "drones" at 45.2 percent, and corruption at 38.7 percent. Equally issues of concern were torture, NGO closures, abuse of girls, and unfair restrictions on peaceful demonstrations. The top three institutions associated with violating the civic space were the Police at 88.7 percent followed by the courts and judiciary system at 46.8 percent and thirdly was UPDF. 

The findings were similar to the previous report which also placed Police and the UPDF as top violators. The previous report had The Executive/ The Presidency as the second highest violator while this report has the courts and judiciary as the second violator. 

David Manyonga, the lead researcher behind this year's report, expressed concern over the inclusion of the judiciary as one of the institutions highlighted in the report. Manyonga emphasized that it is particularly troubling because this institution is expected to play a crucial role in safeguarding citizens' security and ensuring the enjoyment of their freedoms.

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Richard Nelson, the Head of Mission for USAID in Uganda, who served as the chief guest at the launch, praised the government for its efforts in establishing institutions and policy frameworks to formalize civic space and protect human rights in the country. However, Nelson emphasized that during his three-year stay in the country, he observed a gradual reduction in the available space for civic activities.  

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The Head of Mission for USAID in Uganda further stated that it is essential for stakeholders to engage in sincere discussions about this issue before the situation deteriorates further. To him, together they can work towards finding a more favorable path forward.

The assessment provided by NCHRD-U aligns with the findings of other prominent human rights organizations, such as CIVICUS. CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organizations committed to enhancing citizen action and civil society worldwide. Their evaluation, through the CIVICUS Monitor, indicates that civic space in Uganda has been restricted.

Additionally, Uganda is ranked 132nd out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2022 report also classifies Uganda as "Not free." These independent assessments collectively highlight the challenges faced in maintaining civic space and upholding freedom of expression and human rights in Uganda.    

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