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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers report of Uganda

GENEVA (8 April 2016) - The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today considered the initial report of Uganda on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
 
Presenting the report, Kyebakoze Sulaiman Madada, Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, said that the Constitution of Uganda recognized the rights of persons with disabilities and promoted sign language.  It enshrined the principle of equality before and under the law, prohibited discrimination and provided for affirmative action in favour of vulnerable groups.  Uganda had elected persons with disabilities as members of Parliament.  The policy framework recognized the rights of persons with disabilities and provided the basic laws and policies to address their concern.  New programmes had specifically targeted women and youth with disabilities, and the National Cultural Policy guaranteed persons with disabilities’ access to social and cultural activities.  Uganda was committed to the continuous implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but had to be mindful of other national realities. 
 
During the dialogue, Experts commended Uganda for being exemplary in terms of the political participation of persons with disabilities.  Experts however were alarmed at cases of torture, and cruel and inhumane treatment against persons with disabilities in psychiatric hospitals, and urged Uganda to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and to establish an oversight mechanism for detention conditions.  Experts were also concerned about the stigmatization of persons with disabilities, and about the lack of awareness-raising efforts by the Government.  Concerns were also raised with regards to sexual violence against women with disabilities, abuse against persons with albinism, and violence against persons with disabilities in refugee camps.  Other questions pertained to access to employment, access to education and access to healthcare of persons with disabilities. 
 
In concluding remarks, the Minister said that his Government would continue its efforts for the inclusion for persons with disabilities, and assured Committee members who wanted to travel to Uganda that there was adequate accommodation for persons with disabilities at the airport.  The Government was also committed to improve the accessibility of tourist sites. 
 
Danlami Umaru Basharu, Committee member and Country Rapporteur for Uganda, in his concluding remarks, expressed concerns over the lack of consultation with persons with disabilities, the lack of budget, the lack of awareness-raising efforts, the delay in the passage of the Persons with Disabilities Bill in order to end abuses by witch doctors and in psychiatric hospitals, family members and police officers against persons with mental issues. 
 
The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 12 April at 10 a.m., to hold a public reading of its General Comment 3 on article 6 of the Convention related to women and girls with disabilities. 


Report
 
The initial report of Uganda can be read here: CRPD/C/UGA/1.
 
Presentation of the Report
 
KYEBAKOZE SULAIMAN MADADA, Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, said that Uganda was actively addressing the human rights issues of persons with disabilities through a number of laws, policies and programmes.  The constitutional reform of 2005 had included in the Constitution provisions on gender balance and fair representation of marginalized groups.  It recognized the rights of persons with disabilities and promoted sign language.   It enshrined the principle of equality before and under the law, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion or socio-economic standing, political opinion or disability, and provided for state affirmative actions to address the unbalance between vulnerable groups.  Uganda had gone further to elect more persons with disabilities as members of Parliament.  An Equal Opportunity Commission had been established and was now fully operational.  It had powers of court and could commit a person to prison.  It had also launched a free hotline for issues of discrimination, and had taken a survey and study on inequality within and outside public services.  Parliament had also established a Committee on Human Rights to address issues reported by the Uganda Human Rights Commission. 
 
The Constitution recognized persons with disabilities’ right to human dignity and to realize their full mental and physical potential.  When it submitted its initial report, Uganda had not yet carried out its national census.  The results of the recent census indicated that persons with disabilities represented 12.4 per cent of the population, and children with disabilities between 0 and 2 years old represented 13 per cent, while that of children between 2 to 5 years was 14 per cent.  The policy framework recognized the rights of persons with disabilities and provided the basic laws and policies to address their concerns.  It provided for fair representation of organized groups, recognized the rights of persons with disabilities, respected their human dignity and ensured the development of sign language for those with hearing impairments.  Furthermore, it required that the State take affirmative action.  New programmes specifically targeted women and youth with disabilities.  The policies which underpinned the core concerns in this area included, among others, the National Equal Opportunities Policy 2006, the Uganda National Employment Policy 2011, the National Policy for Older Persons 2009, the National Policy on Disability 2006, the Uganda Gender Policy 2007, the National Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children Policy 2004, the National Youth Policy 2015, the Uganda National Culture Policy 2006, and the Social Protection Policy 2015.  The National Cultural Policy guaranteed that persons with disabilities should not be excluded from social and cultural activities.  Uganda was committed to the continuous implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but had to be mindful of other national realities.  
 
Questions by the Experts
 
DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Uganda, commended Uganda for the practical steps taken through affirmative action to include persons with disabilities in the national Parliament, but expressed concern at restrictions within the Constitution and the Electoral Law that prevented persons with disabilities, especially persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, from standing for elections.  There were varying definitions of disability in the legislation, he noted, and several bills before Uganda’s Parliament were still waiting enactment into law, such as the Persons With Disabilities Fundamental Health Bill.  Discriminatory practices existed against persons with disabilities in several laws, he added.  The full inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations would go a long way in enhancing disability policies and in implementing the Convention.  Although there was a certain level of consultation with organizations of persons with disabilities, such consultation was not all inclusive. 
 
The Country Rapporteur hoped that the dialogue would allow Uganda to find ways to ensure that women with disabilities and persons with psychosocial disabilities were appropriately included in participation mechanisms.  Moreover, he was quite concerned about cases of violence and abuse against women, girls and boys with disabilities, especially in institutions, mental health facilities and programmes run by non-governmental organizations, with no mechanisms or measures to report such cases.  He also expressed concern about forced medical treatment, practices classified as torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, physical and chemical restraints, as well as isolation faced by persons with disabilities, especially persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in psychiatric hospitals, and about the absence of measures to ensure that persons with disabilities were enabled to provide their free consent to medical or scientific experimentation. 
 
Mobility was a key aspect of providing independent living for persons with disabilities, he said, regretting that several persons with disabilities in Uganda continued to experience barriers to their personal mobility, such as the lack of sunscreens for persons with albinism, double fares for using mobile devices such as wheelchairs on public transport and blind persons being knocked down by speeding cars due to lack of guides.  In hospitals, for instance, deaf and blind persons were deprived of their medical privacy, because information given to them was channelled through interpreters and guides.  As a developing country Uganda had a huge potential and also a unique chance to offer new generations with opportunities for social and economic progress. 
 
Starting the first round of questions, an Expert referred to accessibility and asked a number of question regarding budget allocations in that regard.  He asked whether organizations of persons with disabilities were included in the design of accessibility plans and policies.  Another Expert asked whether the Internet was accessible for deaf persons, blind persons, or deaf-blind persons.  How did the Government ensure that architects, urban planners, engineers and designers learned about universal design and apply it?  Questions also pertained to the physical accessibility of airport facilities, hotels and public transport services.  Other questions focused on the accessibility of information and communication technologies.
 
Another Expert was concerned about stigma against persons with disabilities, illustrated by discrimination, denial of responsibility and dismissal from employment.  There were a lot of misconceptions on disability, Experts regretted.  What measures were planned to tackle discrimination against persons with disabilities, and to promote training and awareness-raising of professionals working in all levels of the public sector and of policy-makers.  An Expert asked what measures were in place to address stigma against persons with disabilities in rural areas.  What measures had been taken to address multiple discrimination faced by women and girls with disabilities, and by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons with disabilities?  What remedies were available for victims of discrimination?  Was discrimination a criminal offense or a disciplinary offense?  What forms may punishment take for cases of discrimination on the ground of disability?  An Expert asked how the Government empowered persons with disabilities to vindicate their rights in cases of discrimination, or when they were denied access to inclusive education or healthcare.  Was there any plan to include denial of reasonable accommodation as a ground for discrimination?  In general, Experts noted that the lack of awareness-raising targeting the general public, including through the media, only contributed to discrimination against persons with disabilities. 
 
A Committee member sought information on measures to address the really difficult and tragic situation of persons with albinism, who continued to face violence and discrimination because of superstition and belief.
 
Experts encouraged Uganda to operate a shift towards the Convention’s human rights-approach to disability.  A Committee member asked whether Uganda had undertaken a thorough review of its legislation in order to align it with the provisions of the Convention, and whether organizations of persons with disabilities had been involved in that process.  How did the State party publicize policies or measures related to people with disabilities?  What steps had the Government taken to bring its definition of disability in line with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?
 
An Expert was concerned that Uganda had not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
With regards to definitions, a delegate said that the Trial Indictment Act and the District Courts Act did not use discriminatory language anymore.  The Government, through its cultural policy and its action plan, was undertaking a review of the entire legislation relating to culture. 
 
The sanction for discrimination was up to 15 years in prison, a delegate said.  The position of Uganda was very clear about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issue, and these persons were not denied access to any service.
 
Consultations for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment were ongoing. 
 
The Government had been taking some actions on awareness-raising within the framework of the National Policy on Disability.  Some persons with disabilities themselves were included in the media campaign to raise awareness on this issue.  The Government was collaborating with communities and service providers to ensure that they appreciated issues of disability within their service-delivery.  Efforts had also been made to promote persons with disabilities’ creativity. 
 
With regards to stigmatization, the Government was trying to identify negative tendencies on disability.  Ugandans had traditionally talked about disabilities at the community level.  The cultural policy also emphasized social inclusion.
 
The Government was in the process of developing a national plan of action on disability, and was conducting many consultations with representatives of persons with disabilities, including women with disabilities, in that regard. 
 
Questions by the Experts
 
An Expert referred to the institutionalization of persons with psychosocial impairments in Uganda.  There did not seem to be a proper monitoring of this practice, which seemed terribly widespread, she noted.  There was a range of institutions, including a lot of psychiatric hospitals and other institutions where persons with disabilities were interned.  One of the problems was that Uganda had a Public Health Law which seemed to be rather obsolete as it went back to 1965.  It had a rather medicalized approach, focused on pharmacological treatment and placing people in care, and did not seem to properly protect the human rights of individuals in psychiatric institutions.  Furthermore, the conditions in psychiatric hospitals were reportedly deplorable.  The Expert urged Uganda to create a mechanism monitoring places of deprivation of liberty.  Was there any plan to absolutely ban deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairments?  What protective measures were available to children with psychosocial disabilities?
 
As regards article 16, an Expert noted that there was no proper level of protection of the rights of children and women with disabilities, particularly when it came to protecting them from violence, nor were there mechanisms for access to justice for those people who had had their rights violated.  What was the Government doing to protect the elderly, women, and children with disabilities who suffered ill-treatment or sexual violence?
 
An Expert referred to recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concerning women and girls with disabilities and gender-based violence, abduction and sexual slavery they were subjected to within the refugee camps.  She regretted that the national policy for internally displaced persons contained no reference to persons with disabilities.  She was also deeply concerned about the discrepancy between landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities in terms of funding for psychological support, social and economic integration and community-based rehabilitation.  The Expert asked whether the Government was taking measures to address “virgin cleansing”, which was the practice of having sex with virgins based on the belief that this could cure HIV/AIDS.  This practice disproportionately affected women with disabilities because they were wrongly considered to be sexually inactive and virgins.  An Expert asked the delegation about the practice of female genital mutilation in Uganda.  What measures had been taken to provide services to the victims of sexual violence?
 
A Committee member asked whether measures had been taken to ensure the protection of refugees and migrants with disabilities, and the protection of persons with disabilities during disasters and other emergency situations. 
 
Experts sought information about the accessibility of places where social support services were provided to persons with disabilities, including their physical accessibility and the use of sign language interpretation and Braille.  Was reasonable accommodation provided during court proceedings?
 
The delegation was asked whether training for personal assistants included disability issues. 
 
Experts noted that the Citizenship Act made it impossible for a mentally imbalanced person to obtain dual nationality, and asked whether that provision would be repealed. 
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
The right to dual citizenship was guaranteed by the Constitution, a delegate said.  Any other law that came in conflict with the Constitution was considered null and void.  The law on citizenship was being amended to conform to contemporary international law and to the broader immigration framework, he added. 
 
Turning to the issue of sexual violence against children with disabilities, the delegation said that the child helpline was an ecosystem of the entire justice framework for children in conflict with the law, for children who had been victims of abuse, and for children in need of affirmative action.  In case of abuse, there was an immediate and rapid response by law enforcement to address it.  There was an Act that specifically tackled sexual violence against children with disabilities, which aggravated the punishment imposed on the perpetrator. 
 
The Equal Opportunity Commission received 13 cases in 2016.  There was a general hotline established regarding children of vulnerable people who were victims of discrimination, marginalization and violence.  Regional offices were established to make sure it outreached to remote areas. 
 
With regards to the participation of women with disabilities, there were about 1,800 women within local governments and commissions, including women with disabilities; 5,000 women with disabilities had been trained on starting a business by the International Labour Organization.  There was a grant for persons with disabilities, which benefited 35,000 women. 
 
The Government had created a programme on female genital mutilation, which had led to the reduction of this practice from 60 per cent to 20 per cent now.  The Female Genital Mutilation Act also sought to combat this practice. 
 
A policy on support services would provide such services for learners with disabilities in universities and schools.  Recently, a university had launched a programme to train personal assistants of persons with disabilities.  The Government was also ensuring that training in sign language was provided in universities, and introduced in the curriculum for teacher training. 
 
Uganda was working on addressing the needs of refugees with disabilities through ensuring their access to services such as education, health and employment, particularly in the agricultural sector.  It was not true that landmine survivors were provided more support services than other persons with disabilities, the delegation said.  A comprehensive plan on victim assistance was developed, and included all persons with disabilities. 
 
With regards to awareness raising, a member of the delegation referred to training for service providers on the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  There was no specific strategy on training but awareness raising was being carried out under the National Council of Disabilities, through campaigns to disseminate information on the Convention and to promote the rights-based approach to disability. 
 
The participation of the organizations of persons with disabilities in Uganda had already been mainstreamed into the 2030 Agenda national review process, through the preparation of the report that Uganda would present to the High-Level Forum in New York in July. 
 
The purpose of the proposed Mental Health Bill was to bring the care and management of persons with mental health problems in line with the principles of the National Health Policy.  The proposed Bill took into account the current best approaches for managing mental health problems, and would be guided by a human rights-model.  The Government had a very strong will to address challenges faced by persons with mental health difficulties.
 
Under the Constitution, the National Human Rights Commission had the mandate to look at prisons and other places of detention, and to make recommendations.  An enabling law was based on the Constitution’s provisions. 
 
Questions by the Experts
 
An Expert reiterated his questions about the accessibility of the election campaigns in Uganda.  Were debates between candidates broadcast with sign language interpretation and captioning?  Could blind persons receive materials from political parties and candidates in Braille print and electronic formats?  Could persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities receive information in easy-to-read formats?
 
With regard to political participation, an Expert noted that Uganda was an exemplary country.  Parliament included elected members from the community of persons with disabilities, which represented progress.  Nevertheless, the Expert asked what the election procedure to the Parliament meant for these people.
 
Experts reiterated their concerns about serious and alarming reports of cruel and inhumane treatment in psychiatric hospitals.  Noting that the National Human Rights Commission had the mandate to visit such places, an Expert asked what were the Government’s plans to follow-up on the findings of non-governmental organizations on that issue.  Did it plan to carry out inspections in order to bring administrative, if necessary criminal, proceedings against those responsible?
 
An Expert was concerned about abuse against children with disabilities, in particular deaf-blind children, within their own families, and asked what was planned to ensure the protection of the physical and mental integrity of children with disabilities and to prevent them from being abandoned by their families. 
 
A Committee member raised a concern about social protection measures being reduced, which had affected poor families and challenged their right to an appropriate standard of living.  What information and support services were provided to parents of deaf children?  How did the State party ensure that specialized services or special needs services were available in the mainstream education setting as a mean to strengthen inclusive education? 
 
In Uganda, very few persons with disabilities were employed, especially youth and women with disabilities, one Expert regretted.  This was particularly alarming when comparing it to the general rate of unemployment, which was relatively low for the region.  There was a lack of affirmative action and of specific incentives and measures regarding the employment of persons with disabilities.  Were organizations of persons with disabilities consulted for the elaboration of work opportunity measures?  Another Expert noted that the National Health Insurance Bill focused only on employed persons, which was discriminatory against persons with disabilities.  What training programmes were in place for employers?
 
An Expert noted that Uganda had no universal healthcare system, meaning that one had to have money to go and see a doctor.  What special measures had been taken to accommodate the special health needs of persons with disabilities?  Experts referred particularly to access to sexual and reproductive healthcare for persons with disabilities, and to the needs of persons with psychosocial disabilities.
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
On the issue of sexual violence against children with disabilities, a delegate reiterated that the Penal Code Act categorized violence against a person with disability as an aggravating factor, for which the punishment was severe.
 
The Government had recently passed the Policy on Early Childhood Identification with the aim of early identification and early assessment for appropriate support of children with disabilities, including children with hearing impairments.
 
The National Human Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunity Commission were very proactive.  The mandate of the Equal Opportunities Commission was a protection and reaction mandate.  Until now, it had handled about 16 cases specifically brought by persons with disabilities.
 
The Government had sought legal opinions on the best way to ratify the Marrakech Treaty, and would consult with organizations of persons with disabilities on that process to make sure that the text of the ratification instrument included the views of all stakeholders.
 
A delegate said that the Mental Health Bill was the main legislation on criminal responsibility and had ensured that the implication of the term “sound mind” was no longer used in dispensing justice for persons with disabilities. 
 
Persons with Disabilities in Uganda were able to fully access and participate in elections and voting.  The Parliamentary Election Act provided for accessibility for persons with disabilities during elections.  Physical accessibility and the access to polling centres were still being realized progressively.  Persons needing assistance during the actual voting were, by law, free to be accompanied of the person of their choice.  Persons with disabilities did not have to stand long hours as they waited for voting.  The electoral commission had been tasked to undergo a comprehensive study on this issue.
 
Programmes were in place in terms of inclusive education, a delegate said.  The overall policy objective was to ensure that persons with disabilities were not excluded from the educational system.  There was a draft policy on special needs and inclusive education to address remaining challenges.  The Uganda Examination Board was in charge to make sure that children with disabilities were able to sit through their exams.  Students with disabilities were given appropriate time to take the exams, and were also provided with sign language interpreters and Braille support.  Through the Universal Institution Act, the Government had been implementing affirmative actions since 2009, targeting 64 students with disabilities admitted to different Government institutions every academic year.  To date, around 400 students had benefited from the programme.  The University was responsible for training teachers to the special needs of students with disabilities.  Any school enrolling a learner with a disability had to provide learning material with sign language and Braille service. 
 
The Health Policy required written consent.  The National and Social Protection Policy would increase access to social security and protection, and the Government planned to expand the coverage for vulnerable groups, through a plan of action.
 
In terms of employment, the delegation informed that new laws in Uganda provided for the employment of all persons, including persons with disabilities.  The Employment Regulation 2011 had included disability in its checklist.  The Government was in the process of compiling desegregated data on the employment of persons with disability in the country, and had adopted a number of programmes aimed at equipping persons with disabilities with the necessary skills to access the labour markets.  The 2015 budget had introduced a “Women Entrepreneurship fund”.  Under a new piece of legislation, employers who did not provide facilities required for the employment of persons with disability would be making an offense and be punished.

Concluding Remarks
 
KYEBAKOZE SULAIMAN MADADA, Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development of Uganda, in concluding remarks, thanked the members of the Committee, who had enhanced the delegation’s knowledge and understanding on issues relating to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The Government would continue its efforts for the inclusion for persons with disabilities.  He assured Committee members who wanted to travel to Uganda that there was adequate accommodation for persons with disabilities at the airport.  The Government was also committed to improve the accessibility of tourist sites. 
 
DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Uganda, in his concluding remarks, said that the dialogue had been truly constructive.  Committee members had highlighted many difficult issues for persons with disabilities in Uganda, and the delegation had been frank and genuine with answers that would hopefully translate into practical and meaningful actions to help persons with disabilities.  It was clear that the lack of consultation with persons with disabilities and their representing organizations was a real concern.  It was also clear that resources allocated were grossly inadequate to fund the many projects that would advance persons with disabilities.  It was only a matter of prioritization, he said, encouraging the Government to develop disability-sensitive budgets that would take into account the concerns of the population in matters such as education, healthcare and training.  Not enough had been done to sensitize all levels of Government, the private sector and the general public to comprehend disability issues.  He then expressed concern at the delay in the passage of the Persons with Disabilities Bill in order to end abuses by witch doctors in psychiatric hospitals, family members and police officers against persons with mental issues. 
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