We need a healthy, violence-free society

 The world would be better off with more women as leaders, entrepreneurs, and agents of change for development.

Ms fatia kiyange
We have made tremendous progress toward achieving women’s rights over the years. However, massive gender gaps persist. There are still increased cases of gender-based violence and women continue to provide the biggest percentage of unpaid, but essential care work.

Transformative change toward gender equality requires further investments, changes in law and policies, interventions to shift social and gender norms, and the audacity to change power relations. For example, we urgently need a witness protection law that ensures that witnesses and survivors of gender-based violence are protected.

We also need to invest in the establishment of gender-based violence shelters where survivors are able to access a full range of services including psychological support. Our public health system that serves most women is substantially under-resourced to guarantee the right to health for the most vulnerable women in our community. The world would be better off with more women as leaders, entrepreneurs, and agents of change for development.

Women and girls are still struggling to access health services and that women and girls are disproportionately affected by barriers to accessing and using health services. For example, women and girls experience structural barriers, including financial hardship, lack of transport (especially in rural areas) and lack of time because of a care burden or other unpaid labour. The existence of specialised sexual and reproductive services for women is essential in addressing the huge structural barriers that women and girls across the world experience in accessing health care. Much more must be done to communicate the importance of gender as a barrier to access health services.

Processes for achieving Universal Health Coverage are gender blind, and COVID-19 has shown that women and girls are still being left behind. Cases of Gender Based Violence, teenage and unplanned pregnancies skyrocketed during the pandemic. To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3 of health and wellbeing for all, it is imperative to transform health systems so they are intersectional- and gender-responsive.

The writer is the Executive Director for Center For Health Human Rights and Development.

A version of this article was published in the New Vision Newspaper page 40, on Wednesday March 8th 2023.

My Experience Litigating Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Related Cases

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

By Ruth Ajalo | Lawyer

Before joining the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), I had basic information
about the right to health. This basic information was gained while pursuing the health and the law course
unit in my fourth year at Makerere University Law School. Learning the right to health was exciting and it
set a spark within me that I desired to carry forward in my career. This did not materialise immediately after Law School but when I eventually joined CEHURD, I was excited and looked forward to learning more about the right to health and this unique area of legal practice.


At CEHURD, I have learnt, unlearnt and I continue to learn each day about the right to health and the
intersectionality of health and human rights. I can confirm that there is a lot of knowledge and exposure that the right to health brings to light. CEHURD, among other things, provides legal support to victims and survivors of sexual violence and health rights violations. It also litigates strategic cases aimed at addressing systemic gaps and bottlenecks within the provision of health services in the country. 


CEHURD prepares, nurtures, and gives you a platform to shine and build your career. As a legal
practitioner, last year, I had the unique opportunity of litigating a landmark Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights case before a bench of five justices of the Constitutional Court. This is a dream come true for any young lawyer.


My experience in handling and litigating SRHR cases has been an emotional rollercoaster; it has been easy, hard, tasking, draining both physically and emotionally at times but above all, fulfilling. It is exciting to secure a win for a client and a win for the transformation in the provision of health services in the country.
Litigating SRHR cases is unique because this is not something you do without learning, unlearning,
understanding and preparing. Your mind is trained to creatively pick out the rights issues in the case and
articulate them sufficiently in a manner that reflects preparation and in-depth knowledge of the issues at
hand. Furthermore, the external lawyers we work with on some of our cases have to be oriented on the
unique aspects of the right to health and why it matters before they delve into the gist of the cases. This
calls for thorough research, preparation which continuously builds one’s mastery in the area of Health and Sexual and Reproductive health.


When a person calls the CEHURD toll-free line or walks into the office seeking help, that person is either
seeking information or is seeking for support. They are usually hurting or have suffered some form of loss
and need redress and or some form of support. Regardless of the circumstances and the facts of the case,
as lawyers we are expected to be non-judgmental, good listeners and provide the most appropriate
professional support. During the client-advocate meeting, when the client breaks down and starts to cry, the counsel must wear another hat of a counsellor and have to exercise empathy towards them. This requires that the lawyer for a moment, abandons the legal path and the knowledge acquired in Law School to concentrate on helping a client recompose through provision of Psychological first aid. This requires that for a moment, you abandon the legal package and knowledge you walked into the meeting with, and take on a new mantle of a counsellor.

We walk the journey with our clients, we counsel them, we exercise empathy, we hand-hold, we manage expectations and above all, we keep an open mind as we handle these cases. It is important to note this process also takes on an emotional toll on the lawyer and calls for selfcare. The emotional toll is largely because lawyers by training are not counsellors but in country with limited professional counsellors, any lawyer will by default provide; counselling to their clients especially when engaged in SRHR.


This type of work is not void of challenges such as the heart-breaking experiences of the clients, and being misunderstood by the public because of the nature of the work done, among others. Sexual and
Reproductive Health is a largely contested arena. Listening to clients’ experiences can get emotionally
draining because their experiences are in most cases very painful and nobody deserves to go through such grueling experiences. Furthermore, the clients are not conversant with the litigation progress and despite an effort to explain to them and manage expectations, they get burnt out and experience litigation fatigue.


Litigating human rights will certainly be difficult for any client especially if they are facing stigma,
discrimination, abuse, and isolation among others because of the delay in the disposal of their cases. 
To respond to these challenges, CEHURD has invested in the provision of psychosocial support to the
legal team that handles these cases, general staff wellness and welfare to enhance the continuity of
litigation. We also share and learn amongst ourselves in the Strategic Litigation Programme with the view
of bettering ourselves. We also hold annual clients’ meetings where clients are invited for interactions and
update meetings about their cases, clients share amongst themselves and learn from each other and we
also receive feedback which we find useful for improving our service delivery.


As mentioned, we are sometimes misunderstood by the public but choose top stick to our calling trudge on nonetheless, undeterred and ever so ready to defend and stand for our clients’ rights and for system
change. 
Justice for our clients comes in many forms; arrest of an accused person, sentencing (imprisonment) of an
accused person, an apology from the health worker, an explanation offered for what went wrong, an
admission of wrongdoing from the health facility or health worker among others. It is these small wins and seeing systemic changes in the provision of Health that is the power below my wings and that keeps me waking up every day to provide legal support.


Despite all the hurdles and challenges encountered, the work is fulfilling. Fulfilment is in the fact that you
helped a person and they didn’t pay you for that service; that you utilised your legal knowledge to address a human rights violation and get justice for your client. Fulfilment is the phone call from a grateful client highlighting his or her gratitude “mwebale nyo, tusimye byona bye mwakola” –” thank you very much, we appreciate everything you do for us”. Some clients call us to update us on the progress of their daughters who suffered violence to indicate that our interventions built the girl’s confidence, she returned to school and she passed her Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). 


To all human rights defenders, your work is not in vain; a step-by-step effort, a multi-sectoral approach, and perseverance will go a long way in realising a just society; a society in which people are free from sexual violence, free from health rights violations and all other violations around us. Let us persevere and keep the flame burning because society and the world at large still need us. 


Helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person” – Anonymous.

The writer is a Programme Officer in the Strategic Litigation Programme at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD).

Press Statement: Release Obiga Patrick from IHK jail today – #FreeObiga

FreeObiga

Download press statement here

Kampala –Uganda –Today the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and Ms.
Rose Obiga filed a case with Uganda’s High court in Kampala seeking for a court order for the release of
Mr. Patrick Obiga who has been illegally imprisoned and detained at International Hospital Kampala (IHK) in Namuwongo.

On the 4th day of August, 2016 Mr. Patrick Obiga –an assistant operations officer with Hash Security while on duty supervising his colleagues got an accident and while unconscious was rushed to IHK in
Namuwongo for emergency treatment. Mr. Obiga was given an emergency operation which successfully
brought him back to life. On the 22nd day of August, 2016, health workers recommended his discharge from hospital.

Mr. Obiga was charged a sum of over 38 million (Thirty eight million Uganda Shillings) as fees for his
treatment. His family has been able to pay over 20 million (Twenty million Uganda Shillings) in installments. Despite the partial payment and Mr. Obiga’s plea to be discharged to look for the outstanding balance, he
remains incarcerated at the Hospital.

This act of detaining and imprisoning patients in health facilities is unconstitutional and violates
fundamental human rights guaranteed in the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. In this instance, IHK is in continuous violation of Mr. Patrick Obiga’s right to liberty, right to be free from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. These violations are also in breach of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, that Parliament passed recently!

IHK can recover its out standing balances following due process of law rather than abusing rights of
patients.

WE DEMAND THE RELEASE OF OBIGA PATRICK FROM IHK JAIL TODAY!

We appeal to the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioner’s Council to:

  • Urgently make a communication on how to regulate practices of private health service providers in
    recovering their costs without subjecting patients to incarceration
  • Review files of all patients detained illegally by IHK and other private health facilities and make
    arrangements for their immediate discharge

JUDGEMENT: Supreme Court orders the Constitutional Court to hear Maternal Health Cases

The judgment struck down a 2012 ruling by the Constitutional Court that it had no mandate to hear a case regarding the alleged violation of health rights and the rights of women.

The case had been filed by families of two pregnant women who died in childbirth and the Center for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) against the Attorney General in 2011 (Constitutional Petition No. 16 of 2011), arguing that non-provision of maternal health services in Uganda violated the Constitution.

The Attorney General argued on preliminary objection that issues relating to health rights were “political questions”—matter that the Judiciary had no authority to address. Constitutional Court agreed with the State’s objection and dismissed the case.

The Supreme Court’s ruling struck down the Constitutional Court’s judgment, and means the original case can now be heard on its merits.

“With great respect to the Constitutional Court, I think they misunderstood what was required of the court. I do not think the court was required to determine, formulate or implement the health policies of government. In my view, the court is required to determine whether the government has provided or taken all practical measures to ensure the basic medical services to the population. In this case it is maternal services in issue” Bart M Katureebe, Chief Justice

 

 

Supreme Court to deliver Judgment on Maternal Health Rights in Uganda

The Supreme Court of the Republic of Uganda is on Friday 30th October, 2015 at 9.30a.m expected to deliver Judgment on whether maternal health rights are justifiable in Uganda.

In a case filed by the Center for health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Mr. Inziku Valenti, and Ms. Rhoda Kukiriza against the government of Uganda, the petitioners sought remedies for non-provision of basic maternal health commodities in public health facilities in Uganda that led to death of their loved ones.

CEHURD and its co-petitioners argued that the public are affected by the non-provision of basic maternal health commodities in government health facilities, and that the imprudent and unethical behavior of health workers towards expectant mothers was unconstitutional and an abuse of poor women’s rights to access health services.

The petitioners relied on evidence that;

  1. The death of a one Sylvia Nalubowa (daughter of Ms. Rhoda Kukiriza) in Mityana hospital due to non-availability of the basic maternal health kits in the district hospital and the unethical behavior of the health workers towards her violated her constitutional right to life and health.
  2. The death of Anguko Jennifer (wife to Mr. Inziku Valente) in a regional referral hospital in Arua also due to non-provision of the basic maternal health commodities and the reluctance of the health workers towards this expectant mother leading to her death was an infringement of her rights to life and health guaranteed under the constitution of Uganda.
  3. Non provision of the basic maternal health commodities to expectant mothers (evidence gathered from community health facilities) and the failure on the part of health workers to exercise the requisite health care leads to death of children hence an infringement of their rights guaranteed under the Articles 22, 33 and 34 of the constitution.

The constitutional Court absconded from hearing the merits of the case on a preliminary objection raised by the attorney General’s Lawyer that the Court did not have the authority to handle matters of that gravity. The court was of the opinion that the issues the petitioners had put to court were of a political nature that necessitated the intervention of the Executive to allocate resources to the health sector and none of courts business to intervene.

As a matter of fact and law, CEHURD, Ms. Rhoda Kukiriza and Mr. Izinku proceeded to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court on the basis that the Constitutional Court erred in law in refusing to listen to the merits of the case. It is this decision that Court will be making Judgment on Friday 30th October, 2015 at the Supreme Court of Uganda.

The Judgment is particularly important because the Ugandan Constitution does not provide for a right to health and in addition makes no commitments or priorities for health financing for primary health care for Ugandans from a legal perspective.

High-Court

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