Dignity ,Freedom And Justice For All December 10th, 2022 marks the 75th commemoration of the celebrated Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), being the day the milestone document was brought to life. Human Rights are universal, meaning that they ordinarily should be applied to and enjoyed by all human beings without discrimination. Decades since 1948, there has been much progress in human rights observance and protection. However, just like any pursuit, nations which have since committed to uphold it aren’t without their shortcomings in the ever continuing fight to ensure that all human beings enjoy their rights without discrimination world over. Nations have since 1948 continued to struggle with issues of resource, cultural settings, beliefs and practices among other challenges. The UDHR has nevertheless over the past 75 years continued to be the yardstick by which many nations around the globe have shaped their own rights charters and the standard to which the entire world has been called to uphold. It has served as a foundation for a plethora of many rights old and new in a bid to protect humanity especially vulnerable groups that would otherwise undergo more inhumane suffering in the absence of special protections. This year’s theme focuses on “Dignity, Freedom and Justice for all” and calls upon everyone to “Stand Up for Human Rights”. The UDHR in its preamble recognizes that freedom, justice and peace cannot stand without the foundation of equality and dignity among all human beings. As long as inequality still exists, there shall always be limitations to freedoms and barriers to justice which curtail peaceful co-existence between human beings. Currently, the world at large is still grappling with the social, political and economic impact that Covid-19 pandemic left in its wake. Its negative implications still plague many nations across the globe including Uganda. At its height, the pandemic exposed glaring gaps in the nation’s ability to provide necessary sustainable healthcare, food support and fiscal stimulus to struggling persons and bodies. The economy in turn receded as a result of several lockdowns, many people losing livelihoods and others, lives. More to that, the pandemic exposed human rights abuses such as arbitrary arrests, long detentions and further showed the indignity that poverty, discrimination and racism cause. The world looked to 2021 and 2022 to open a new chapter of recovery in all affected spheres of life. However, 2022 has since dealt the world the Ukraine-Russia armed conflict that has on its own had a ripple effect that has caused much world tension and further prompted questions on freedoms, justice and dignity of persons especially forced migrants as the world has witnessed. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has noted the wide range of human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity that have caused suffering and devastation with thousands of civilians killed and injured among whom are many children. Many actions during this armed conflict have set the international community back many years in the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals in the mass killings and torture that has been reported among other violations. According to UNHCR, the conflict has seen 7.8 million Ukrainian refugees scattered across Europe and another nearly 13 million internally displaced persons. This has created a breeding ground for even more human rights abuses especially against women, children, persons living with disabilities and the elderly. The same conflict goes further to affect the right to work, health, education, shelter and freedom of movement which are difficult to protect in the current context. To add, the same exodus has exposed discrimination with dehumanizing treatment being meted out against people from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East in effect redefining “human” and thereby deepening divisions among nations even in the face of armed conflict. Many people of “other” descent were reported to be barred from accessing humanitarian assistance and asylum on the basis of race and nationality in the presence of opportunities that were extended to other nationals. But more to that, the conflict has caused a shift in resource allocation from other long-standing humanitarian response initiatives towards the conflict which has been felt as far as refugees in Uganda with the ever reducing World Food Program’s food and cash ratios as well as the closure of several NGOs for lack of funding over the year due to a geographical shift in donor priorities. The fact that world economists are warning of a coming financial recession much like or worse than the 2008 financial crisis only spreads more fear regarding the welfare and livelihoods of vulnerable persons who strongly rely on external support and worries only rise regarding whether these vulnerable groups shall be able to live dignified lives should global economies crash further having an effect on livelihoods, healthcare, education, food etc. which in turn shall affect their rights to work, access healthcare and the rights of children which undermines the response of organizations and nations whose goal it is to ensure that vulnerable groups grow into self-resilience from national and global shocks. The world has also seen a wide debate on the freedom of expression captured under Article 19 of the UDHR which grants persons the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The debate has soared both nationally and internationally with the censure of many global leaders in politics, business, education and religion in the quarters of the world’s Third and Fourth Industrial Revolutions which involve the development of Information Technology and the Internet of Things. Uganda has seen the enactment of the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, 2022 that many argue curtails online freedom of expression and have come against the law for violations against the freedom of speech. The world over is also witnessing a new culture of stifling online speech with multinational organizations and governments banning and censoring free speech on online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook in line with divergent views. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated a digital migration in a time when people could not meet physically and the only recourse was the internet. The internet for a long time became crucial for education, work and sharing important information crucial to saving lives. It has since become a critical platform for ensuring Access to Justice through tele-conferencing, the freedom of expression and a vehicle for equality by becoming a means of sensitization of the masses on any matter. All these have made the internet an enabler for the enjoyment of human rights and in itself has increasingly become a basic right. It even goes as far as democracy and the exercise of civil and political rights as witnessed in various internet shutdowns across the world that have greatly undermined access to the service that many depend on for various needs. Censorship and internet shutdowns only work to undermine fundamental human rights of a political, social and economic nature and therefore should be stood against. Today, Refugee Law Project stands with all actors that have done and continue to do their part to ensure that human beings live dignified lives regardless of their nationality, race, religion, political association or otherwise and calls upon civil society actors, organizations and the government of Uganda to stand up and speak against the various human rights violations in our country and beyond and to protect survivors of violations to ensure that human rights are upheld and respected in all spheres of life.
Global Theme: Whoever. Wherever. Whenever. Everyone has the right to seek safety. Every 20 June, the world celebrates World Refugee Day to honor refugees worldwide for their strength and resilience. This year, the commemoration focuses on the right to seek safety. Every person has the right to seek safety – whoever they are – wherever they come from and wherever they are forced to flee. Uganda remains a generous country with a long history of over 60 years of hosting refugees. It currently hosts over 1.5 million refugees, making it a top African refugee-hosting country and among the top five countries worldwide. Every migrant is entitled to safe and dignified treatment like any other human being as they seek asylum. Today, world leaders and their nations have been reminded not to discriminate against migrants at borders. Borders should remain open to all people forced to flee their homes besides seeking asylum is a human right. The World Refugee Day campaign presents a reminder of the big challenges refugees face globally as they seek safety. Ensuring refugee safety is a pressing issue in refugee protection. More people are on the move than ever due to wars, climate change, etc. Every minute, 30 individuals around the globe are displaced. There is growing xenophobia, closure of borders and fear of asylum seekers in many countries, which has led to a tendency not to see refugees as victims of war but as perpetrators of insecurity. This kind of aggression has interception measures and higher barriers to indiscriminate detention, threatening refugee safety. Today, Uganda hosts refugees from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea. With the ongoing fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda has opened its borders to over 25,000 new arrivals through the Bunagana border. Through the Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR and humanitarian partners, the government of Uganda manages transit centers for asylum seekers along the Uganda/the Democratic Republic of Congo border and is responding to the emergency. Despite struggling to sustain the refugee operations, Uganda continues to share its little resources with refugees. During the launch of the three-year Uganda Country Refugee Response Plan 2022/2025 (UCRRP) in Kampala, the Minister of Disaster Preparedness in the Office of Prime Minister revealed that Uganda needs 1.5 trillion annually to cater for refugees living in the country. Most people on the move are from poor countries; these countries cannot support Uganda to sustain the refugees. The host communities that welcome refugees are often struggling to survive themselves. However, the government of Uganda continues to establish safe access to all people forced to flee and integrate them within the settlements in the refugee-hosting districts. While Uganda continues to receive refugees and enable them to access the available services through government institutions like any other Ugandan, especially those services within their areas of residence or settlement, more must be done to support Uganda’s comprehensive policy on refugees. In 2018, world leaders adopted a new global compact at the United Nations: one on refugees and one on migration. Whereas the compact emphasized that refugees should be helped and treated with respect at every stage of migration, hosting countries are incapacitated to ensure refugees live dignified lives due to challenges in accessing the basic needs like food, shelter, medical care etc. The vulnerability of refugees is magnified when they have limited resources like food, medical care, financial resources, shelter for their families, poverty, security, fuel wood, access to safe, clean water, and their communities are major issues they need. Refugees within settlements face physical security challenges, and some live in constant fear due to inadequate protection within the settlements; this calls for amendment of the laws to better protect the refugees. There have been cases of kidnapping of refugees, trafficking of refugees, and disappearance of refugees. The Refugee Law Project’s 2001 paper on ‘Refugees and the Security Situation in Adjumani highlighted critical security threats refugees face. Victims of several war-related violence complain of meeting perpetrators within the settlements, and this causes people to live in constant fear within the settlement. More reinforcement should be doubled to address such issues that specific categories of migrants are appropriately settled for the safety and peace of all migrants. Notably, reported cases are properly investigated, and actions are taken. The government should consider high-profile asylum seekers and ex-combatants to help overcome their fears and protection needs. Break-down in the family network causes trauma and fear. This calls for prioritising family reunification to enhance the safety of individuals and their families. The family is considered to be the first unit for safety. Family reunification needs to prioritise separated families and facilitate reunions with known family members within the settlements. The national theme focuses on the right to seek safety, protection and conservation of the environment. UNHCR estimates that 20-25 million trees are cut down annually in and around refugee settlements. The urgent need for cooking fuel drives 90% of this deforestation. The refugees within settlements mostly are challenged with access to fuel. The resulting environmental problems threaten safe living conditions and livelihoods for refugees. This calls for empowering refugees and host communities on environmental protection and conservation measures. We appeal for more interventions and funding for reforestation and the promotion of clean cooking energy programs to conserve the environment and support vulnerable refugee situations. This will help revert the degradation of the environment in refugee-hosting districts. UNHCR reports that as the wood collection perimeter widens with deforestation, women and children travel long distances to collect wood, putting them at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Environmental degradation also heightens the risk of conflict between refugees and hosts. In addition, schools consume a lot of fuel wood, and alternative energy sources need to be established. The human waste within schools needs to be utilised to produce clean energy for fuel use by schools. Access to food within refugee families and reduced food and cash ratio threaten refugees' safety. World Health Organization states that food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. A lack of safe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, which overburdens public health services, disrupts social and economic progress and detracts from the quality of life. The reductions by World Food Program on refugee food ratio and cash ratio coupled with the low income, unemployment, and poverty worsen the refugee situation at individual, family and community levels. The refugees should be supported with land and other alternative mechanisms for food production such that food security can be enhanced. Refugees need to be empowered with information such that they are not vulnerable and exploited as they seek alternatives for food production. What is RLP’s position on refugees and migrants about safety? Refugee Law Project programmes promote the safety and protection of refugees within Uganda. We have championed the promotion of understanding of refugee rights, their obligations and protection in Uganda. Basically, to broaden the understanding of refugee issues, safety and peaceful co-existence of the refugees with the host. We advocate for respect for the rights of refugees and other categories of migrants and non-discrimination against migrants.
World Environment day is always commemorated every 5th of June. This year the theme is “Only one Earth” which was the motto for the 1972 Stockholm conference and it reminds us of actions we can take to sustainably use the earth given the raising impact of climate change that is affecting every living organism on the Earth. Scientists estimate that there are at least 8million species of plants, animals living on the earth today, including humans. These species live together in what we call an ecosystem. An ecosystem can be as large as desert or small as a pond and containing living and non-livings things like rocks, sand and humidity and all these depend on each other like a jigsaw puzzle. For instance, a change in temperature will have an effect on animals and plants. We live in a connected ecosystem however, due to the growth of the human population, we are seeing encroachment on it, which in turn has limited the ability of the ecosystem to deliver vital services to humanity. In 1972 the UN General assembly designated 5th June as World Environment Day(WED). the day is aimed to create awareness on the problems facing our environment such as air and plastic pollution, deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, sustainable consumption, rise in sea level and food security among others. World environment day helps to drive change in consumption patterns and in national and international environment policies. Refugee context Uganda continues to be the largest refugee host country in Africa with a refugee population of approximately 1,500,000. Palabek refugee settlement alone hosts over 63,000 refugees and 14 asylum seekers (UNCHR data as of Feb 2022). While forest degradation is not new in Uganda, increased influx of refugees may pose a threat as refugees and hosts will have an increased demand for firewood, timber and charcoal. The ecosystem has the potential of providing both the hosts and refugees with opportunities and security nets for alleviating poverty but there is need to sensitize both hosts and refugees on sustainable methods of harnessing nature while preserving it for future generations. The reduction of food ratios for refugees has forced refugees to supplement their incomes and food by encroaching on the environment to secure their subsistence needs. Refugee Law Project with funding support from the Ministry of Foreign affairs of the Kingdom of Netherlands, is working towards restoring the degraded landscape within the districts of Adjumani, Kiryandongo and Lamwo through growing assorted trees of nutritional and environmental value in partnership with schools and institutions in and around the refugee host communities. Over the last four years RLP has grown over 207 acres of woodlots established and managed under the supervision of the organization. This has enabled the communities to tackle some of the ecological challenges affecting them. What does the theme “Only one earth” mean to us? As we commemorate WED , we are reminded that if we do not protect the only natural resources we have then we are bound to loose all we have, including our lives. The earth is the only home that we humans have that sustains and nourishes us. But most certainly as humans many of us have embraced a path of self-destruction by destroying the many aspects of the earth that are important for human survival. This year’s theme hence reminds us that we need to take care of the only home we have through ecosystem restoration. Promote farmer managed natural regeneration. Although several initiatives have been practiced by different actors, there is need to build on the capacity of the local land owners on how they can allow Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). This is a low cost sustainable landscape restoration technique that aims to improve the productivity of agricultural lands while increasing tree cover and biodiversity. It allows proper site species matching and conservation of the indigenous tree species that have several benefits to community in terms of fuelwood, medicine and shade. This approach being low cost can best be promoted in the settlements since it has no costs of acquiring planting materials like seedlings which are scarce and expensive for refugees. Such costs discourage refugee participation in landscape restoration activities. Promote enrichment planting of both the natural and artificial forest. Population increase has put immense pressure on our natural resources. Forests covers 31% of the Earth’s surface, 32 million of forest are lost annually and yet now 300 million people live in forest where they all depend on the forest for food, medicines, water among others yet no one is worried about the impact of the activities on the forest which we think there is a lot of need of enrichment planting to allow these forest to regain back the lost ecosystem. Involve the local communities in the restoration decision making and activities. Natural resources are at the heart of rural communities social, political and economic life as the primary source of livelihoods, nutrition and employment. But often restoration activities have ignored indigenous knowledge from the locals yet they understand better how the ecosystem has been lost and what have been some of the challenges and activities leading to their restoration. This has led most restoration initiatives to fail to achieve the targets because locals end up not owning some of these projects. Farmers remain pivotal to any successful land restoration and we also acknowledge the local actors have a wealth and depth of knowledge about where they live and tapping into the knowledge is key to long-term success of restoration projects. Secure land tenure rights to achieve restoration neutrality. Many of the worlds estimated 2.5billion indigenous people, afro-descendant and local communities lack secure land rights and at the UN Convention to combat Desertification (UNCCD COP15) discussions have been going on the importance of securing land rights for success of tackling land degradation. The Refugee Law Project has seen these challenges with the schools and institution where we partner on landscape restoration. Most sites have no ownership of the land because the partners have no land titles. This affects the progress of the restoration activities at various project sites. From the SRHR – EP project that RLP is currently implementing, there is evidence that Land Rights are the critical mechanism that allows people to find, implement and scale the most appropriate solutions for themselves and also for their communities. Tenure security also increases people’s motivation to protect and restore land over the longer term. Enhance youth and women’s rights and lives through gender equitable restoration. Women and youth play a critical role in managing natural resources and are most certainly the ones who get affected by climate change effects. In Lamwo for example, women in the settlement walk not less than 8Km to find firewood, spending at least 6-9 hours away from home on days when they have to collect firewood, Moreso they face constrains in implementing restoration practices as they don’t enjoy the same rights and resources as their male counter parts due to entrenched gender norms. Their limited access to and control over land mostly hinders their engagement in restoration activities. Limited rights to land are as result not only of formal policies but also customary rules which vary according to ethnicity, village, social status and position of youth and women in polygamous families (Konate 2006). Unequal ownership of assets like fertilizer, tools and improved seeds coupled with long standing disparities between women and men in access to formal education, information and agricultural extension also has negative impacts on youth and women farmer’s ability to adopt to innovative restoration practices (Njobe and Kaaria 2015). There is need to understand what motivates youth and women to invest their efforts in restoration of land and forests. Important to also understand what obstacles they face in implementing land and forest restoration activities and how restoration activities affect the living conditions of women. This would give guidance to stakeholders on how to best work with women and youth as key partners in restoration processes. Manage native bush encroachment. Bush encroachment in the East African region has largely been driven by overgrazing, rampant wild fires, change in rainfall pattern and increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. These need to be managed with high level of technical restoration practices. Climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, pollution and waste are evidence that the earth is “coded red” . The way out of the dilemma is to transform our economies and our societies to make themselves inclusive, fair and more connected to nature which means we need to shift from harming planet to healing it. This year’s themes “Only one earth” calls for collective, transformative action on global scale celebrate, protect and restore our planet which means everyone should take action to restore the only earth that we have.
Sustainable Tomorrow Without A Guaranteed Today? A call For Renewed Commitments Towards Gender Equality In A Time Of Existential Threats
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- Sustainable tomorrow without a guaranteed today? A call for renewed commitments towards gender equality in a time of existential threats
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