Uganda, on the heels of heightened concerns regarding human rights, has completed the development of a comprehensive draft national action plan. Norbert Mao, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, announced this significant move, emphasizing the need for a proactive approach to address internal human rights challenges. The drafted plan is poised to undergo public scrutiny shortly.
Mao, speaking at the 5th Annual Symposium on Business and Human Rights in Uganda, disclosed that the Cabinet has given approval for the establishment of a standing committee on human rights. He will chair this committee, deputized by the Minister of Internal Affairs. The committee includes members from various ministries, reflecting a concerted effort across government bodies.
The theme of the symposium, held at the Sheraton Hotel in Kampala, centered around assessing Uganda’s progress in providing access to justice concerning business and human rights. Mao underscored the urgency of addressing human rights issues within the nation, acknowledging that concerns have been raised domestically and not by external entities.
The draft action plan on human rights assumes significance against the backdrop of global frameworks like the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), adopted in 2011. Uganda, like many other nations, has been actively working on developing supportive policies and frameworks aligning with these principles to guide responsible business conduct.
Mao issued a stern warning to government officials, cautioning against human rights violations. He cited the Attorney General’s decision not to defend officials and agents involved in such violations. This marks a departure from the past practice where government officials received legal representation from the Attorney General’s office.
During the symposium, Hellen Asamo, the State Minister for Gender, Labour, and Social Development in charge of Disability Affairs, emphasized the importance of victims having access to remedies for human rights violations. Asamo proposed the establishment of special courts to address issues related to violations of business and human rights, addressing concerns such as distance to courts, lack of judicial officers, and corruption.
The conversation on business and human rights was highlighted by Dr. Augustine Enyipu, the head of the program at DanChurchAid, Uganda. He emphasized the necessity of dialogue in supporting environmental and social governance, especially in industries like extractives and agriculture, which experience substantial growth.
Nelly Businge from Tax Justice Alliance stressed the need for businesses to respect human rights. She pointed out that while foreign direct investment drives economic growth, it can negatively impact human rights and the environment if businesses do not adhere to human rights standards.
The symposia, organized since 2018 by Resource Rights Africa in collaboration with various entities, have been crucial in advancing the respect for human rights by businesses in Uganda. These events assess opportunities, challenges, and lessons learned, providing a platform for dialogue and advocacy towards the development of the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.