Sekaggya turned down a judicial appointment for human rights

Sekaggya turned down a judicial appointment for human rights
Margaret Sekaggya , the first Chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission and Founding Member of Human Rights Centre. She was also the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Courtesy Photo

Margret Sekaggya was one of the lucky Ugandan lawyers tipped for appointment as judge in 1996 but she surprised many when she opted to become the first chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission.

She was the Chairperson Uganda Human Rights Commission from 1996 to 2008 and doesn’t regret having turned down the judicial nomination.

Sekaggya, the founding member and current Executive Director of the Human Rights Centre had been nominated by the current Chief Justice, Bert Katurebe for the position of Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission.

Katurebe, then working as Attorney General and Minister of Constitutional Affairs, knew that Sekaggya had been appointed Acting Judge by President Museveni. Sekaggya had taken leave to serve one year at the interim Electoral Commission under Stephen Besweri Akabwayi when Katurebe approached her with the new offer.

Margret Sekaggya recently told the story of Uganda Human Rights Commission to this publication explaining why she turned down a judicial appointment to superintendent the birth of Uganda Human Rights Commission.

While many lawyers consider a judicial appointment as the pinnacle of a legal career, Margaret Sekaggya however opted to take the job at Uganda Human Rights Commission.

That decision marked the bath of Uganda Human Rights Commission, which arguably turned out to become one of the strongest national human rights bodies in Africa and the world.

She had already taken the decision against the majority view of her family members that she takes on the judicial appointment.

She was no stranger to human rights having participated in the drafting of the 1995 constitution. But the task ahead was enormous given the war in Northern Uganda, enormous human rights abuses in state security institutions including the Army, Intelligence Services, Police and Uganda prisons.

The human rights abuses apart, the new Commission had no office premises set aside for it as president, Museveni handed Sekaggya and her team instruments of appointment. Sekaggya recalls that her Commission nearly begun from the streets but only to be saved by office premises formerly occupied by the Justice Arthur Oder Commission of Inquiry into violation of human rights.

Uganda Human rights Commission would then get its first office at the premises then located near Arua Park in present day, Kampala Central Business district. The new Commission would begin with only two persons; the undersecretary, Mr. Okello and the driver joined by the six commissioners and Margret Sekaggya. The main issue at hand according to Margret Sekaggya was how to address expectations.

She recollects that the major issue to emerge from the courtesy calls was the war in Northern Uganda where the violations were mainly emanating from. The Commission would according to Sekaggya set up the first regional office in Gulu because it knew that it would be difficult to operate from Kampala.

The Commission was also faced with the problem of rampant torture, which prompted them to establish Departments, Complaints desks and the later the human rights tribunal that exists to date. At the time, a wave of insecurity hit Kampala with the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) petrol bombs.

Major complaints were against LRA, the army, torture by the police and prisons. The Uganda Human Rights Commission had eleven regional offices by 2008 when Margret Sekaggya and most her new members left the Commission.

The Commission would also mediate in the failed Juba peace talks between government and the LRA. Margaret Sekaggya thinks Uganda Human Rights Commission has done a good job twenty years down the road but cautions that the current and future Commissions need to develop harder skins to confront current and future challenges.

Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is a National Human Rights Institution established under Article 51 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda to promote and protect Human Rights.

The Commission is responsible for investigations and resolutions of Human Rights complaints as well as monitoring places of detention and the county’s compliance with Human Rights treaties and conventions as well as conducting Civic education and carrying out Research in Human Rights.