Strategic Litigation and Societal Engagement: A Creative Recipe for Pushing Forward Health and Human Rights Law in Uganda
Greetings! I report to you from Kampala, Uganda – a city unlike any I’ve ever encountered. While it took a few days to acclimatize to the hustle and bustle of boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), mutatus (mini buses) and the perpetual periods of sizzling heat, I’m happy to report that my bearings are now on straight. I’m in Kampala working with the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), an indigenous Ugandan NGO that addresses a wide array of issues pertaining to the enforcement of human rights and the jucticiability of the right to health.
My first two weeks at CEHURD have been nothing short of fantastic. I’ve had the unique opportunity to go to the Ugandan High Court to report on a trial (more on this later), met with a member of the East African Legislative Assembly at the Ugandan Parliament for a briefing on recent changes to TRIPS agreements (Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property rights), and partook in a meeting for the Coalition to Stop Maternal Mortality in Uganda which brought Ugandan NGOs together to discuss issues of access to safe and legal abortions, contraceptives, and Uganda’s progress on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
What is particularly intriguing about CEHURD is its creative approach to driving forward human rights law. Not only does it conduct policy research, but it also engages in strategic litigation – a concept that I am only recently familiarizing myself with. Strategic litigation entails the careful selection of cases to bring before the court in order to utilize the judiciary to push forward changes in the law. Important factors that serve as an impetus for strategic litigation success include opportunistic timing (i.e. is the issue politically relevant? Can courts handle the issue?), suitable and compelling facts, and appropriate legal resources to actually carry out the case.
Civil Suit No. 111 is one such example of strategic litigation being carried out by CEHURD. Proceedings for this case began on May 17, 2013. The case was brought before the Ugandan High Court by CEHURD on behalf of the family of Nanteza Irene who died in labour at Nakaseke Hospital as a result of being allegedly deprived of medical attention for almost 10 hours.
CEHURD has taken on this case in order to trigger Constitutional issues of rights to life, health, freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment, and equality. While the case is currently ongoing, the legal community eagerly awaits this ruling as it can have a great deal of implications for health policy, resource distribution, and accountability in healthcare settings.
CEHURD also pushes forward issues of human rights and the justiciability of the right to health through policy and advocacy – a route that is many of us are more familiar with. The combination, however, of strategic litigation, research, and advocacy creates a powerful arsenal in identifying and addressing human rights issues in a way that taps into legislative, judicial, and broader societal spheres. At any given moment, CEHURD is conducting a number of activities ranging from engaging members of civil society, working on pro bono cases, organizing rallies and demonstrations, or petitioning the government on contentious bills. Engaging diverse elements of society has proven to be quite successful in a host of other settings that have sought to push forward the rights of women, children, and LGBTI communities, and thus, the replication of the model here in Uganda with respect to health issues is already demonstrating exciting promise.
While the nexus between health and law may not necessarily be intuitive, I’d like to devote my summer to exploring, articulating, and emphasizing that an important overlap does, in fact, exist between these two spheres. In light of this overlap, the right to health should be justiciable just like any other right; this is a sentiment echoed by the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan who said, “…health will finally be seen not as a blessing to be wished for, but as a human right to be fought for.” The combination of diverse activities that combine strategic litigation, research, advocacy, and civic engagement is a recipe that I believe will strongly equip change-makers in this fight.
To find out more about CEHURD, visit their website: http://www.cehurd.org/