Thursday, 31 July 2014

Improving the Welfare of Prisoners is My Interest: Says a VHT Member.

My name is Opio John.  I am a Prisons Officer at Kwania Prison. I was trained as member of a Village Health Team (VHT) by the African Prisons Project. As a member of the VHT at the prison, my role includes identification of diseases (by making regular visits to the inmates and prison community) and referrals for severe cases to bigger health facilities for better medical attention. I also conduct awareness creation meetings with the inmates on their rights to health, good living environment and welfare. 

As a member of a VHT, i am proud to mention that my work has caused a lot of change to the inmates and the prison community at large; this is particularly for inmates living with HIV/ AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB). I have been able to encourage most sick inmates to start medication, and also helped them to access the necessary drugs from the medical centre. Through regular counselling and sensitization of the inmates on positive living, sanitation and hygiene issues, the hope of most inmates has been restored and many are now practicing/spearheading good hygiene and also living positively.

Working with the inmates has been much easier than working with the community. This is because inmates are already an organized/mobilized community which is always willing to listen and receive programmes that are aimed at improving their welfare.
I am grateful to IDF for partnering with APP and to APP for choosing Kwania prison among others as a beneficiary in their project Promotion of the rights of access to justice and healthcare of prisoners in Oyam and Apac districts”. Apart from empowering me as a VHT and human rights advocate, the project has helped in transforming the lives of and restoring hope to inmates. 

If such initiatives are sustained and rolled out i am certain the living conditions and welfare of most inmates will be improved leading to promotion and observance of prisoner rights in Uganda.

Monday, 28 July 2014


Interactive learning is a voluntary experience sharing session between Juveniles and guided by technical persons. It broadens the juveniles’ knowledge on various aspects of life for better living.  Most often they are held in form of open debates/dialogues on issues like; guidance and counseling, justice system, children rights and child protection and other pertinent issues as maybe suggested by the Juveniles during the session.

Through its IDF funded project, “Promotion of child rights through advocacy, legal support and education” Companionship of Works Association (COWA) has been able to support and transform the lives of many juveniles in Wakiso district. This has been made possible through the routine interactive learning sessions conducted at Rehabilitation Centres like Naguru Remand Home. Since December 2013 to June 2014, COWA has been able to conduct 4 interactive learning sessions and reach over 400 children. During these sessions the juveniles shared experience, and were also sensitized on key issues such as Court procedures concerning their cases, and the need for reconciliation with the people/community they offended. During some sessions, the juveniles were oriented on some life skills  in areas of their interest, with the hope that this will empower them economically in future and prevent them from committing crimes (like theft) that would  get them remanded back.

These learning sessions have helped in empowering children on issues concerning child rights and protection, the judicial system and life skills. On the other hand, some children have been encouraged and facilitated to reconcile with the people they offended; as the first step to correcting their lives and paying for their faults:
Kasibante Daniel (not real names) aged 17 years is one of the juveniles who attended the interactive learning sessions.  During one of the sessions titled “Despite the care given to us children, what fails us” and after watching the film “Unconditional”, Joseph was touched and challenged to seek audience with his family and apologize for wronging them. COWA spearheaded this process and Joseph met his family, he apologized for his wrong deeds and asked to be pardoned. The family forgave him and accepted him back, pledging to work with him on his release.

At one of the other sessions about business management, juveniles shared on identifying marketable trades in Uganda. They mentioned hair dressing, motorbike repair and maintenance, brick laying and concrete practice, and carpentry as their areas of interest and they were briefed on the benefits and risks involved with each; but left it up to individuals to choose their areas of interest. Following the sharing on business management, seventeen (17) year old William Bwiire (not real names) of Kazo village, Nabweru Sub County, Wakiso district identified motorbike repair and maintenance as his area of interest and future area of focus. When William left Naguru Remand Home in December 2013, he together with COWA shared the issue with his parents who did not hesitate to support him in acquiring practical skills.  William enrolled for training at Dembe and Kalule Kasimu garage located in Bwaise and acquired knowledge and skills in motorbike repair and maintenance; and due to his hard work and commitment, Dembe and Kalule Kasimu garage retained him as their employee.  William is now a changed and responsible boy. He earns one hundred thousand shillings monthly from which he is able to take care of his financial needs. He is happy with his current life. “I am grateful to COWA for conducting and facilitating the interactive learning sessions from which i learnt so much that has transformed my life socially, spiritually and economically. I do not regret the time i spent there because to me it was a time for learning and shaping my future. With continued support from COWA i am certain that many other juveniles will be transformed into better people.” William asserts. 

These and many other testimonies from the juveniles in and out of the Remand Homes have caused the promotion and realization of children’s rights; one of the key human rights aspects that IDF focuses on, in contributing to the attainment of Human rights observance in Uganda.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Human Rights Advocates Have Positively Changed My Life: Inmate Opio Boniface Testifies.

Convicted on 10th December 2013, Opio Boniface commonly referred to as “Bonny” by his fellow inmates at Kole Uganda Government Prison; reveals that the community based human rights advocates (CBHRAs) under African Prisons Project (APP) have transformed his life since he was admitted at the prison. APP is an IDF grantee implementing the project “Promotion of the rights of access to justice and healthcare of prisoners in Oyam and Apac districts”. The project that aims at
A photo of Bonny at Kole Prison
improving the prison environment to one that respects and promotes prisoners’ rights uses
CBHRAs and Village Health Teams (VHTs) as focal persons. 
The focal persons are both community based persons and prison officers, trained and charged with sensitizing and educating prisoners on their rights and the justice system. They also engage with and interest the prison authorities to observe and promote the same.                          

 Serving a sentence of thirty six (36) months for theft and burglary charges, Bonny does not regret his time at Kole prison. He is rather grateful for the learning about his rights and the justice system that he has gotten from the CBHRAs, and the support/guidance he has been able to extend to his fellow in-mates in return. His only wish is if he had met the CBHRAs before his conviction maybe then they would have helped him to apply for bail and bring his case to a better conclusion. 

I wish i had met the CBHRAs when i was still on remand, they could have helped me to apply for bail because I did not understand what was required of me at that time, nevertheless i am still a happy man because they have given me courage and hope during my time in prison. The CBHRAs have taught me a lot about justice, the Justice System and Human rights most especially the rights of prisoners. I am certain this information will still be useful to me even after i leave this place in December 2014; but in the meantime, i am using the information and knowledge acquired from the sessions and I.E.C materials to advise my fellow inmates who are still on remand and yet have no idea of Court proceedings on what they can do to secure bail” Bonny notes.

Bonny further reveals that the I.E.C materials have completely changed his thinking, enhanced his knowledge and confidence to handle life’s situations. It is this same confidence and voluntary guidance that have earned him a new title as head of prison – usually referred to as ‘Mukulu Boma.  Some of the reading materials have completely changed my life; I now have no fear because I am an informed man. My fellow in-mates saw this in me and entrusted me to head them; being Mukulu Boma is a big task but i am not afraid. I just hope i can use my leadership position to sensitize and help more inmates and also work with the authorities to improve the living environment, and, welfare of the in-mates and report to authorities cases of rights violations amongst inmates” Bonny remarks.

Opio Boniface is grateful to African Prisons Project for training the prison staff as CBHRAs and to the CBHRAs for their support. His wish is that this initiative can be implemented in other prisons to benefit other in-mates all over Uganda. Available project reports indicate that this project is steadily causing improvement in the welfare of inmates and facilitating increased access to justice, promotion and observance of prisoner rights in Oyam and Apac districts. 

Apparently some prison officers are considering lobbying the line Ministry to replicate this best practice in other government prisons.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Human Rights Sensitization Increases Awareness And Consciousness On Children’s Rights To Education In Kyenjojo District

Kyenjojo district has for a long time been challenged by poor academic performance and continuous school dropouts. According to a baseline survey conducted by Kyenjojo NGOs and CBOs Forum (KNCF) in 2013 and subsequent reports since then, the dropout rate between 2011 and 2013 was 8 % while academic performance was generally poor. For example out of the 14,709  pupils who sat Primary leaving exams (PLE) in UPE schools between the period 2011 – 2013 schools, only 669 passed in Division I, while 7,496 passed in Division II, 2,937 in Division III and the rest, 4,085  failed.  
Poor academic performance and continuous school dropouts are attributed to mainly lack/limited parents’ support of education programs; most parents prefer investing in farming to education either because farming offers quicker/faster profits than education or because they lack adequate knowledge and understanding on the benefits of education and children’s rights to education. Other issues challenging education in Kyenjojo district include poverty, domestic violence, child neglect, early marriages, and child labour.

As a development partner, KNCF with support from Independent Development Fund (IDF) through its “Protection of the rights of Women and Children project” between January to May 2014 was able to get sixty seven (67) pupils back to school, handle and settle 100 cases of child abuse and domestic violence, and also reach and sensitize 16,835 children in 25 primary schools about their rights to education. The sensitized children have formed 25 child rights clubs, which go around educating and sensitizing other children about their rights and responsibilities to education. According to Mpamize Robinson a primary seven (P.7) pupil at Butunduuzi Model, child advocacy has yielded. We are glad for the information on children’s rights and to be involved in this sensitization work. We now know our rights and responsibilities to education as children. We also have been taught on how to demand for and how to protect our rights. We hope to be listened to and to see reduced cases of rights abuse among children Mpamize asserts.

In its interventions, KNCF has through these Child Rights Clubs and women rights activists, community sensitization outreaches, and Advocacy engagements with duty bearers at service Parish, Sub County and District level educated and empowered the populace with knowledge and skills on children’s rights, women’s rights and child protection. This undertaking has led to increased awareness and consciousness on the rights of women and children especially on the issue of education, as well as increased participation of women and children in development initiatives and processes.
Cases of this are evident in the testimonies from the community about the activists’ support to neglected children; for example Kebirungi Agnes an 18 years old primary six (p6) pupil at Rwentuha Primary School in Bugaaki Sub County dropped out of school in 2011 after her fathers’ death and mother’s failure to pay her school fees. Because of the harsh conditions at home, Agnes sought a job as a bar attendant and house maid. Unfortunately for her, she was impregnated and also neglected by the man. While at the bar Agnes was met by Kaija Helen a human rights activist who educated her on the value of education and encouraged her to go back to school after birth. Agnes gave birth and took the baby to her mother and later went back to school. She is now the head girl, chairperson child rights club and one of the best performers in class. Agnes testifies that Life at school is promising and better. She is grateful to the activist for her counsel and support.

Another example is of Kyaligaba a S.I student at Maddox Secondary School. Kyaligaba was neglected by her father while in primary six. She sought help from activists who engaged her father with little success. Looking at the little girl’s zeal for education one activist Businge Rose encouraged her to consider doing petty jobs after classes, weekends and holidays to raise money for her scholastic needs. Kyaligabba agreed and Rose found her several of these to do.
When I reached p6, I almost failed to continue with studies, but with counseling, guidance and support of the activist, I did not stop schooling. I have been able to hang on and reach S.1 and I look forward to go to university too. Doing petty jobs and rearing chicken have enabled me to pay for my school requirements and brought me this far.” Says Kyaligaba.

As more awareness on children’s rights to education is created, more children are going to  return to, stay in and complete school.  Similarly an improvement in the parents’ support towards education programs is yet to be witnessed. These coupled with other interventions by Kyenjojo District Local Government, will definitely foster improved academic performance and address the historical challenge of school dropouts in Kyenjojo district.

When a Mother Is Battered For Seeking to Cultivate Family Land

In 1998, Uganda enacted a Land Act, which was supposed to address historical gender imbalances in land ownership and usher in a new era of women's rights, although the act recognized women’s rights to land, the act did not provide for co-ownership of family property by spouses. Even though such statutory law does not bar women from owning property, the reality within which they live effectively denies them this. The many socio-cultural practices that discriminate against women particularly the widowed and divorced, coupled with certain customary practices, like the giving of bride wealth and polygamy reduce women's security on land. Many women in Uganda today continue to be defenseless victims of illegal evictions from customary land in the face of customary law which is still strictly observed in many parts of the country. The law on cohabiting couples has also not been well spelt, and or understood by many leaving several cohabiting women defenseless and vulnerable to rights abuses;
One Justine Pitho cohabiting with Mr. Amura Orach in Kyantamba village, Dwaniro sub-county –Kiboga district, was living happily with her husband until she requested to use part of the family land for commercial farming. Justine also suggested renting out a small fraction of the land to raise more income to support their children. Suspicious of Justine’s intentions, Amura rejected Justine’s request. He argued that Justine was only disregarding his authority as a family head and was also plotting to sell off his land. No amount of talking would get Amura to believe Justine, they argued and disagreed about the issue so much so that Amura pounced on Justine and beat her seriously. Amura also asked Justine to leave his home immediately, calling her a witch who had brought misfortune to the family. He accused her of the late brother’s death saying it was part of her plan to kill his family members and then take up the land.
Justine shared her situation with a friend who showed her to a community based paralegal, Afisa Namammonde working with Uganda Community Based Association for Child Welfare (UCOBAC). UCOBAC is an IDF grantee implementing a women's land and property rights project in Kiboga district. This project focuses at empowering women, their families and communities through increasing their ability to exercise their land and property rights.
Afisa talked to Amura about the wife’s situation and how her request/suggestions were not bad afterall but he wouldn’t listen. He instead incited the whole clan against Justine. Afisa then engaged the local Council I and III Chairpersons, the Police, Probation Office and the Chairperson of the area land committee. They advised that a meeting be held with the troubled couple to help them resolve their differences.  From the discussions held, it was agreed that Justine would be allowed to till the land since this was beneficial to the family; however renting would be put on hold since she was not legally married to Amura neither was she a co-owner on the land in question. The couple was further counseled on marriage, educated on land/property rights and domestic violence and the effects these conflicts would have on their children. A letter from the district Probation Office was issued to affirm what had been agreed on, and today, Justine is happily cultivating the family land.

Whereas the law and some cultural practices/systems aren’t providing outright justice to women whose rights have been violated, there can still be ways of ensuring that the victims access redress of their plight. Through IDF’s support, these redress mechanisms are being seen to function and enable women enjoy their entitlements and live full lives like other people in the society. Disrespect, discrimination, and abuse of women is being seen to decrease where specific interventions have been directed towards this cause of promoting and protecting women rights.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Radio Talk Show on Women's Rights to Land and Property Restores Hope to a Widow in Lira District.

Over 80% of the land in Uganda is held under customary tenure and is regulated by customary law or the local custom. In this framework, land is passed on to children through inheritance and managed by the family unit; traditionally through the male line from father to son. This patrilineal tradition remains especially dominant in the rural areas of Uganda, and is characterized by male control of decision-making about who will inherit and manage the land. Usually the land management responsibility is passed on to members of the family through the actualization of events such as marriage (for boys), divorce (for wives who return to their homes), death of husband (for widows), death of fathers (for heirs), or death of brothers (for uncles managing the land of orphans).  Although the same custom acknowledges that everyone who is born married into or accepted as a member of a family has automatic land rights whether male or female, preference for male over female heirs is dominant.

In most parts of the lango sub region, land is passed from father to sons. A woman’s right to land is guaranteed through her husband. If he dies, her children inherit this land, but her rights as a widow are protected through her own children, and through her late brother’s family. Traditionally, in Lira District, one of her late husband’s brothers would provide a more formal protection role for her place within the clan by giving her the status of his wife; however, this practice is slowly dying out because of the fear of spreading HIV/AIDS. Because the family’s land was customarily administered through the clan system (giving rise to a widespread misconception that all land is owned by the clan), it was the clan which protected the rights of orphans. Clan elders ensured that friends and family heads in-charge of orphans looked after them rather than exploiting them. 

Unfortunately for Lucy Amot of Abed ber village this was not the case. Following the death of her husband in 2002, the good relationship Amot’s family had with their neighbour Okello Cyprino ended when he resorted to grabbing her land instead of protecting her. In-spite of the deceased’s will stipulating that his land be given to the wife- Amot, Okello Cyprino was determined to grab it from the poor widow. Cyprino reported the case to Lira Court (case no. 30 of 2007) and Amot was summoned to appear; only to be surprised at the judgement which was in favour of Okello Cyprino. Lucy was later kicked out of her land.
While listening to a radio talk show by an IDF grantee Guu Foundation Community Based Rehabilitation (GUFO) on Voice of Lango FM about women rights to land and property, Amot felt a rush of relief flowing through her. She couldn’t imagine there was still hope for her to reclaim her land. Amot later shared her ordeal with GUFO’s reflect volunteer in Ogur Sub County. GUFO helped Amot to find a lawyer who submitted an appeal for review of the case. Court sitting on 17th January 2014 heard the case and ruled in Amot’s favour.

Okello was defeated and forced to give Amot’s land back. Since then, Amot has become an advocate for women rights to land and property in Ogur Sub County. She is now processing a Certificate of Customary ownership. Her story and advocacy work have changed the lives of many women in Lira. Amot sharing her experience with other women during a meeting organized by GUFO.
With continued support to Civil Society strategies that address women rights to land, IDF is certain to contribute to enhancing access to redress mechanisms leading to consequent realization and enjoyment of women rights by women in Uganda.