Activists continue to advise Government on right to

Activists continue to advise Government on right to Privacy and SIM Card registration.

By Solomon Lubambula

Even with a few days left for the SIM card registration deadline, Human Rights Activists in Uganda insist that there is need for the defense of people’s right to privacy that is threatened by the seemly innocent program.

The civil society groups say that the 31st May 2013 SIM Card registration comes with threats of de-activating SIM Cards, and other frustrations of Human Rights. Human Rights Defenders, The Unwanted Witness talked to; continue to criticize what should have been a vital exercise, saying it threatens the fundamental Right to Privacy.

The registration of SIM cards started in March 2012 after the passing of the Interception of Communications Act 2010 which required compulsory registration of all cards. The exercise was expected to end on the 28th of February this year but an additional 90 days were provided as an extension to allow the 9.6 million mobile phone users that had been left out also comply with the regulation.

This extension came at a time when the Human Rights Network for Journalists had also filed a legal suit challenging the legality of the whole exercise.

In an interview with the Unwanted Witness, Human Rights Defender and lawyer Mohammed Ndifuna insist that the SIM Card Registration still threatens the fundamental Right to Privacy even when the communication regulators (UCC) extended the registration period for another 3 months.

Mohammed Ndifuna also the Executive Director Human Rights Network Uganda believes that whereas the intention of SIM Card Registration is good, there are no legal guarantees that the Information collected from the public will be solely used for purposes of identification.

Ndifuna says although the security reasons put forward by government for the process are valid, there is no clear safeguards for people’s data collected by the private Telecom companies.

His argument is based on the fact that lack of the Data Management law in a country where such sensitive information can be accessed at a small fee, poses  serious implications on human rights.

“We don’t have a collateral law that compels those who manage private information to handle it in such a manner to remain private, in other countries what exist is the Private Data Management Act now in our case we do not have that, so essentially it makes this area very open to possibilities of violations of the right to privacy”-Ndifuna.

The seemingly concerned human rights defender adds that personal information is very sensitive and if improperly used, it can put the lives and even the property of the subscribers at peril.

The Activists put it clear that they are not up in arms against this exercise but they strongly believe that alongside this requirement, there should be a law that compels the telecommunication companies or any other their agencies in possession to this information to ensure that the right to privacy is guaranteed as enshrined in the constitution.

Human Rights Defenders say that their borne of contention is that under the existing law there is no sufficient guarantees yet in this country.

“in this country, we have malicious individuals that use information of private nature to malign or even commit crimes so we are bothered by the lacuna that exists”-Ndifuna explains.

The right to privacy is a guaranteed protected right under the constitution and anything that is likely to undermine it should be watched very careful, and Ugandans citizens should demand for guarantees even as the country try to match the protection of the right to privacy and the security concerns, the two must be balanced.

To all intents and purposes government needs to take this as a very serious matter and expedite any interventions to ensure that the right to privacy is not undermined.

At the inception of the SIM Card registration, government has always given security concerns as the major reason behind the whole exercise.

Among the objectives of the Ministry of Security which designated UCC to oversee the implementation the requirement for SIM Card registration is to help law enforcement agencies to identify mobile phone owners and track criminals who use the phones for illegal activities.

The example of the Kyadondo and Kabalagala bombings in July 2011 is always given as a clear incident that was coordinated via mobile phone communications. Although the issue of protecting the populace would be convincing enough, still activists have reservations about this exercise.

Ndifuna notes that even as we talk about National Security, it should be a guarded terrain. It should not be an area where people violate rights. He stresses that the security concerns must be addressed within the law.

We are just blowing the whistle that there exists a lacuna and notwithstanding the good intentions to use SIM Card Registration to facilitate crime prevention and management, this arrangement is bound to be abused.

Ndifuna says that processes have been abused in this country; we know that in these private companies already they are potentially abusing this right to privacy.

He further points out that the ordinary information that is supposed to be accessed through court order is being accessed at payment of few coins.

He warns that in the absence of the law that is comprehensive enough to protect citizens it would not be wise for the country to simply walk into that terrain just on the basis of the fears that technology is going to be used to commit crimes.

“Yes crimes should be fought, yes crimes should be prevented, yes crimes should be managed but any framework institutional or legal that we put in place , should balance the intentions that we have with reasons and also with caution”-said Ndifuna

Now as the second deadline for SIM Card registration draws closer, Telecommunication companies have revived efforts of encouraging their subscribers to comply with this government requirement. The Telecommunication operators say that even with no law on Data protection the public should stay rest assured that their information tendered in under this exercise will be protected.

Explaining the Cash reward for subscribers who register their SIM Card, the Uganda Telecom SIM card Project Manager Peter kakaire says that the telecommunication companies operate on strict confidentiality regulations which uphold the right to privacy.

Just like his colleague from UTL, the Airtel Head of compliance M-commerce Argwings Koyoson says that as a sector player, Airtel has a legal obligation to register its subscribers. But in the same vein, Airtel is mandated to protect the customers’ information especially at a time when it has introduced Mobile Banking services in partnership with Banks. He says that the internal guidelines on customers’ confidentiality are paramount for the company as to avoid infringement of people’s right to privacy.

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Uganda Parliament’s Intergrity at Stake

Uganda Parliament’s Intergrity at Stake
By Solomon Lubambula

Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze has threatened to drag parliament to courts of law in case the deputy speaker goes ahead with a debate on the report on the mismanagement of Kampala Capital City Authority. Referring to rule 193 (3) Nambooze raised a complaint by challenging the authenticity and credibility of the report by the Public service and local government saying its debate should be halted to allow investigations.

Nambooze alleges that the report on the Management of Kampala Capital City was forged by the committee chairperson and her deputy just to appease the central government.

TRK Nambooze-suing parliament

In addition to court action, Nambooze considers to seek the intervention of the Inspector General of Government to investigate the committee chairperson Florence Kintu who is accused of corruption.
TRK Nambooze-Investigate Kintu

It’s alleged that the NRM parliamentary Caucus attended by the Kampala Executive Director Jennifer Musisi at state house Entebbe yesterday resolved that the controversial report is adopted in its entirety.
Unconfirmed reports say that the adoption of the Parliamentary public service report would not only give away Kampala Capital City to President Yoweri Museveni but also overhaul the political leadership at the Authority.

Ugandan Lawmakers to enact against Death Penalty By Solomon

Ugandan Lawmakers to enact against Death Penalty                                                             

By Solomon Lubambula  

31st March 2013              
Today there over 15 criminal cases that can earn an offender a death penalty according to the law of Uganda. This means depriving one’s life as they are supposed to be serving a punishment for committing offence. Human Rights defenders are against this form of sentence, saying it is inhumane and it must be put to an end.Now a section of Members of parliament have come up with efforts to gradually abolish the death penalty that is unbearable and inhumane treatment. Through a private members bill the legislators seek to amend some laws to remove all references to the mandatory death penalty as a measure of upholding the right to life.Interfacing with  a section of MPs, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative argue that despite the 2009 ruling of the constitutional court that outlawed the mandatory death sentences, the penal code act, the anti-terrorism Act among other laws still provide for death sentence as penalties for criminal matters.
Despite the Constitutional court ruling in a case filed by Susan Kigula and 416 other Inmates against the Attorney General, the parliament of Uganda has not since effected changes in the laws to stop application of mandatory death sentence.
After ruling that the Mandatory Death penalty is unconstitutional, the court asked parliament to reconsider the debate on the desirability of the death penalty in the Ugandan Constitution. This came from the background that for so many years no death sentences have been executed yet individuals concerned continued to be incarcerated on death row without knowing whether they were pardoned or are to be executed.
It is upon this background that some concerned lawmakers have proposed amendments in the several laws to progressively abolish the death penalty.
Serere Woman MP Alice Alaso explains that the object of the amendments in her Private Members bill to be presented before parliament soon seeks to remove the mandatory death sentence and leave it to the discretion of the judge.
Alaso explains three grounds why mandatory death Penalty must be withdrawn for the law.
First she stresses that the unconstitutionality of mandatory death sentence saying there several provisions in our laws that have the mandatory Death Penalty, this ties the hand of the judge yet judicial officers are meant to be independent.
“the judge cannot even examine the facts surrounding the commission of a particular offence all he has to do is to sentence someone to death since the law prescribes it for that particular offence. It doesn’t give room to examine these other circumstances”-said Alaso.
Alaso adds that there is need to shift from mandatory to discretionary sentencing because that is also in line with the constitution. According to the constitution that the officers in courts have to work without directives, but with the mandatory sentence in law means they are already directed and they must  give death sentences whether the circumstances demand for it or not.
Secondly Uganda is a signatory to the International covenant on civil and political rights, in that covenant explicit provisions have been made in handing down the death Penalty and they specifically talk about the most serious crime standard and so Uganda cannot continue handing in death penalty to all sorts of crimes.
For instance Uganda has over 28 provisions that hand the gruesome penalty to different crimes like rape, defilement, murder, treason among others. Alaso said that we would like the bill to subject the mandatory death sentence to serious crime as per the international standards.
 “And moreover we have signed into the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court does not hand in death sentences , so we find ourselves in a network of undertakings  with international community where we have to be held accountable by our word”-Alaso emphasizes
Thirdly nobody is executing the people given death penalty, there over 505 of them in our prisons now. And some of them have been there for 20 year so they are serving now almost 2 sentences, which to human rights defenders say it’s unfair.
Alaso said that such inmates on death row are serving a sentence of almost life imprisonment and a burden of being killed someday is hanging over their head.
“So given that we are not executing anybody why should we continue with this provision of mandatory death sentence in our books?” Alaso asked
However she quickly adds that the proposal is that the parliament makes death sentences discretionary so that the judge has room to examine the circumstance s and decide on what is very appropriate.
She says that parliament should also narrow death sentences to the most serious crimes such that the people prosecuting the offenders of the law do not abuse the provisions in the law.
The private member’s Bill currently being discussed by a select group of MPs before it surfaces on the floor of parliament is strongly supported by Human Rights Groups.
The executive director Foundation for Human Rights Initiative Livingstone Ssewanyana welcomed the move by the lawmakers saying that the death penalty is an outdated form of punishment which infringes on fundamental human rights that should be scrapped from Uganda’s statutory law books.
Ssewanyana says that the death penalty hinge on the right to fair trail, proper justice system, it has  a lot to don on how the nation treats its own and the whole value of life.
He also notes a country that works towards depending democracy it high time that we join the global campaign against death penalty.
As Human Rights defender Ssewanyana wants the proposed law also address the apparent conflict between the Prison’s Act section 86 sub section 3 and what prevails in the constitution and the supreme court ruling.
“Through this bill we need to harmonize what actually life imprisonment mean” –Ssewanyana
Ssewanyana is optimistic that the proposed be will be in position to tackle public outcries regarding the sort of sentences being awarded in cases that would otherwise merit the death penalty. Courts have sentenced some people to 30-50 years and even natural life of imprisonment which raises an issue for lawmakers to deliberate on.
“We hope that with the new sentencing guidelines that have been recently adopted by courts of Uganda we should be able to put this matter to rest”-Ssewanyana said.
Ssewanyana assured the general public that the campaign to gradually abolish the death penalty is not necessarily encouraging impunity and it is not in any way condoning crime.
Advocates for the abolition of the death penalty urge that the campaign is all about ensuring proper investments in the justice sector. For instance in areas like police investigations and guarantying that the offenders get proper punishment.
Whereas some people think that absence of death penalty in laws would lead to increased criminality, Ssewanyana assures them that the death penalty does not amount to effective punishment, stressing that when death penalty is abolished we do not get exactly an escalation of crimes in most countries.
He adds that for those who support the death penalty the argument is that death penalty is a deterrent to crime but on the contrarily those who commit the offences many times they are not even aware neither are they mindful of the existing penalty.
Meanwhile a member of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom where the Death Penalty has been abolished, Baroness Nuala O’Loan says Uganda being a signatory to international human rights instruments ought to start on the process of total abolition of the death penalty since it is not a deterrent to crime.
“Some of the countries that have maintained the death penalty still have some of the highest murder rates in the world, there is no evidence that death penalty is a crime deterrent  instead it undermines human dignity and the country’s justice system”-Baroness
What is important is proper investment in the justice systems to ensure that there is no crime that will go undetected and those who commit crime are properly punished.
Sixteen (16) African counties have abolished death penalty yet we do not see an increase in those countries so Uganda must join the rest of the world in abolishing death Penalty.
END