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Perceptions, Misconceptions, and Reverse Culture Shock

Ohayon Jillianby Jillian Ohayon

Perceptions & Misconceptions

Here are some of the things that were said to me in Canada when I told people I would be spending the summer in Uganda:

“What’d you do to piss your dad off?” – My father’s (very loud and rather obnoxious) acquaintance, whom I met in the Montreal airport on my way to Uganda

“Is it for a punishment?” – My Cameroonian Uber driver in downtown Montreal

“If you can’t afford to fund the difference on your own, maybe you should get a real job in the summer instead of doing an internship in Africa.” – McGill financial advisor

***

The first thing that I’ll say is that the general Canadian public’s perception of East Africa, and Uganda in particular, seems to me a little twisted. It’s true that Uganda is one of the least developed countries in the world. There is poverty. It is hot outside most of the time. Police officers regularly walk around carrying machine guns. Most living compounds are surrounded by high walls and barbed wire. That being said, there is not crime, violence, and savagery to be found around every corner like some of my friends and family were concerned there would be. Uganda is not a dry and deathly desert land; Uganda is vibrant, lush, and beautiful.

I have also noticed some western misconceptions with regards to East Africans themselves, in that I get the sense that some people assume laziness on their part. To be clear, very few Ugandans sit around pouting, complaining about living in poverty, and waiting for some wealthy person from some wealthy country to come and dump money into their laps. Everybody is doing something pretty much all the time. I always tell people that there exists a strong sense of vitality in Uganda that I have never quite felt before in any other place that I’ve visited. In fact, Uganda was recently named the most entrepreneurial country in the world. From what I have felt and observed, it is a sense of gratitude, pride, and resilience that fuels this spirit.

I worry that the negative stereotypes about danger and disease in East Africa keep people from visiting, even just for purposes of tourism. Uganda has a lot to see. Among others, I visited Jinja (the town on the source of the Nile), Sipi Falls, Murchison Falls waterfall, and went on a safari in Murchison Falls National Park.

Roasting coffee beans, Sipi Falls

Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls National Park

Sipi Falls

Cave by the shore of the Nile, Jinja

Sunset over the Nile, Jinja

Reverse Culture Shock

Everybody expected me to find myself in serious culture shock upon arriving in Uganda. That didn’t happen. This might have been because I had had a few long, in-depth conversations with two expats living in Kampala before leaving Canada. It may have been because I had prepared myself to expect the unexpected. For whatever reason, I arrived in East Africa, took in the warm, sweet air that filled my senses the moment I stepped off the plane, and hit the ground running. Kampala felt like home after only a few days.

My Canadian-Ugandan friends and I at the top of the Gadaffi Uganda National Mosque overlooking Kampala

This is not to say that there does not exist a multitude of significant dissimilarities between Canada and Uganda. There are certainly many cultural and ideological differences between Canada and Uganda that make being a young, white female more difficult in the latter country. I grew used to being incessantly catcalled on a daily basis on my ten-minute walk home from work. I grew used to having locals shout “Muzungu!” at me in their attempts to get my attention to buy their products (actually, sometimes, they didn’t even want to sell me anything – they just wanted the satisfaction of gaining my attention). I also quickly became used to walking around the city hyperaware of the fact that almost everybody assumed I was in possession of deep pockets filled with American dollars. I even learned the hard way not to travel alone after dark. However, just like Uganda’s shoddy internet and temperamental electricity, all of this just became a part of the experience – and because I loved the experience so deeply, I learned to love the bad with the good.

It was the reverse culture shock that hit me the hardest.

Coming home was not easy. My departure from the full and exciting new life that had so quickly materialized before my eyes throughout my three months in Kampala was cushioned slightly by travels to Kigali, Rwanda with my close friend and IHRIP intern, Julia, as well as a four-day stopover in London, England. Nonetheless, I arrived at home in Montreal, spent a few hours with my family, and proceeded to sleep for seventeen hours straight. I think that, combined with the intense jetlag through which I had put my body, this was my subconscious way of avoiding the feelings that I knew were creeping in ever too quickly as I tried to reintegrate into a society and a life that I now felt so far away from.

It wasn’t just that I missed the beautiful friends I had made over there, or the restaurants I had been to so many times that the waiters knew me by name and even brought me a cake with the words “We are going to miss you” written in chocolate on my last night in Kampala. That was undoubtedly a part of it; but there was something more.

I had never anticipated feeling so free. This feels like a somewhat ironic sentence to write. I can imagine that someone reading this may be thinking, “Free? Really? In a country where you were shouted at every time you walked outside in public and felt afraid to walk alone at night?” Yes. Kind of. I will try to explain it as best as I can, but please bear with me, as I’m still trying to figure it all out for myself.

Kampala, with all of the shouting, traffic, pollution, and poverty that it has to offer, is imbued with a vibrant soul that is only felt by those who understand it. I know this to be true both because I have felt it firsthand and because I have spoken to many people who have enthusiastically agreed with this assertion. It probably isn’t the most beautiful city in the world. It’s not on the ocean, nor is it exactly wealthy. It is, however, a city of sunshine, red earth, many hills, and an abundance of palm trees. All of Uganda has a certain vitality to it. Whether it’s a woman braiding her daughter’s hair, a man selling fruit on the side of the road, or a child carrying water to their home in jerry cans, everybody always seems to be doing something. Rarely do they seem exhausted or miserable. In fact, to my mind, they generally seem to be much happier than the average person one might encounter in North America.

There is also a very different mentality in Uganda by contrast to Canada with regards to time. Scheduling and planning – which are essentially second nature in the western world – do not hold the same influence over Ugandans. One might often hear jokes about “Africa time.” Africa time is, for example, when you tell someone you will meet them at 10:00 AM and then only show up at noon, and nobody thinks anything of it. Rarely did a work meeting begin sooner than 45 minutes later than its set time. Again, nobody ever seemed to be particularly stressed over this. If I told a boda boda driver to pick me up in ten minutes, it was because I knew I was only going to be ready to leave in twenty. This was a significant aspect of Ugandan life that helped to feel liberated during my time there. It might have also been a part of why coming back to the western world felt like something akin to suffocation for a while.

There is also a feeling of liberation involved in being a white person in East Africa. As young females especially, whether or not we are always conscious of it, we live under the constant impression that we are being scrutinized. We aim to look a certain way, we dress in a certain way, and we even walk, sit, and stand in a certain way. Being in Uganda, I knew that I was going to be noticed and stared at no matter what I did. There was no way around that. It took me a while to get to this point, but eventually, I came to find this realization very liberating. It didn’t matter what I was wearing, how I looked, or how I walked, because people were going to stare at me either way. Since nobody there knew me previously, I was free to do and act as I pleased, and to let go of some of the unconscious stress and awareness of judgment that governs so much of my behaviour on a daily basis back home.

To be painfully honest, all of this, combined with the facts that I was on a different timezone from everybody who had ever known me and that I had limited internet connection, allowed me the space and freedom to discover parts of myself that I’m not sure I had known existed. It’s a very liberating feeling, to say the least.

***

Well, that’s about what I have to say on Uganda and its gift of reverse culture shock. Thanks for reading my blog! If you’re reading this because you’re considering visiting East Africa, I hope that my experience functions as a helpful push in that direction. Challenges will certainly present themselves from time to time, but I can guarantee that the positive aspects will far outweigh the negatives. You cannot put a price on the self growth from which you benefit when you succeed in making a home out of an unlikely and unfamiliar place. It wasn’t always easy, but it most definitely was worth it.

Access to Justice and Health Services for Women in Rural Uganda

by Jillian Ohayon

I came to Uganda this summer to work as an intern for the Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development in the city of Kampala. I want to use this post to focus mostly on one aspect if the work that I have done here, and will likely use the next to write more generally about life in Kampala (which, spoiler alert, has been pretty amazing and an incredible experience of self-growth).

The Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development is an organization comprising about thirty employees. Most of them are lawyers, although vital members of the organization also include administrators, research officers, communications officers, and accountants. CEHURD has three programs which generally function separately from one another, though they are intentionally and intrinsically interlinked. They are Community Empowerment; Research, Documentation, & Advocacy; and Strategic Litigation. In Ugandan NGO terms, I have come to understand that CEHURD is a rather well-known name, despite it being a young organization of only about seven years.

I began my time at CEHURD by attending a court session regarding Ugandan tobacco laws with the Strategic Litigation team, but was soon after incorporated into a project with the Community Empowerment program. This will be a two-year long project supported by The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). CEHURD’s project is under a PEPFAR partnership with the DREAMS project, which stands for “Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe Women.” The DREAMS goal is to create country-owned and country-driven sustainable programs to address the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa. The vision is to combine evidence-based approaches with regards to the structural drivers that directly affect adolescent girls and young women in their risk of contracting HIV. This is where CEHURD comes in. CEHURD’s fieldwork on the DREAMS project involves going into villages to interview adolescent girls and young women as well as a variety of stakeholders. The work is focused predominantly on access to HIV services and the legal and societal context surrounding sexual assault. Due to the societal framework and corresponding views prevalent in rural Uganda, young women who are village dwellers are heavily susceptible to sexual assault. This, in turn, drastically heightens their risk of contracting HIV.

My work on this project began in the Kampala office, where I wrote a literature review for the Community Empowerment team. I researched past work that had been done on this topic, and noted the successes, failures, and recommendations that came out of those studies. This helped to shape and inform the fieldwork. I was also involved in editing and writing many of the research tools for the interviews we conducted in the field. Once the surveys were completed and the stakeholders had been mobilized, I joined the team to spend a week in the district of Gomba, about three and a half hours outside of Kampala. We visited three villages where we interviewed adolescent girls and young women, as well as various stakeholders, including police officers, parole officers, healthcare providers, NGO officers, and various members of local government. I had the opportunity to engage both with the stakeholders and women alike.

Village of Kanoni, District of Gomba

sitions in local government. In relative terms, these interviews were relatively encouraging experiences. Most spoke English very well, and they were all quite highly educated. They were also all quite familiar with the prevalence of HIV among adolescent girls and young women in their district, and seemed to have been very aware the structural drivers that perpetuate the problem. They shared with me their plans and programs that are being developed to address the problem, and all of them seemed serious and committed to the work. I am confident that CEHURD will be able to work with them toward the implementation of programs that will improve upon this situation in a significant way.

Health Facility Assessment

On my last day, I conducted a facility assessment, which took the form of an interview with the in-charge at a health facility in the village of Mamba. Luckily, I had been given a detailed assessment tool, because if I had been told to assess this facility according to my own standards, I’m not sure how I would have proceeded. The health facility does not have a doctor. From what I understood, the in-charge is trained in nursing, and, occasionally, they have a midwife come by. The facility has no electricity, no bathrooms, no running water, and had run out of stock on about half of its medication. Unfortunately, CEHURD’s area of expertise does not lie directly in facility improvement. From what I understand, it is the government that is responsible for that.

Interviews with Adolescent Girls and Young Women

In total, I surveyed 17 girls. 15 of them were transactional sex workers, all of whom were in relationships, some of whom were married, and all of whom had been tested and were HIV negative. I asked them questions about their experiences with gender-based violence, ranging from verbal abuse to being violently forced into sex using a weapon. Only one of the 17 told me she had never experienced any abuse, and the translator seemed to think that she wasn’t telling the truth. One of the girls, after I asked her whether her husband insults her and humiliates her in public, looked deeply confused, and then replied, “Of course.” Others laughed when I asked whether or not their partners had ever slammed them against the wall as if to say, “What kind of a question is that? Doesn’t that happen to everyone?”
To say the least, it was a lot to process.

One main issue that revealed itself from the interview responses we received is the lack of access to justice and the necessary HIV services in cases of sexual assault. The problems that amount to this issue are extensive and interlinked. Girls are very often married off at a young age in order to bring money to their families. If a girl has been sexually assaulted, she may be considered impure and possibly not suitable for marriage. Therein lies the first problem. Next, there is a 72-hour window in which a person can visit a clinic after sex in order to get the medication that would prevent HIV had they contracted it. However, since many girls are too afraid to tell anybody when they have been assaulted, and are also unaware of the 72-hour window, many do not receive the proper preventative care. Furthermore, most of the women with whom I spoke told me that they were too afraid to tell police officers about their experiences with sexual assault. They fear not being believed, being stigmatized, and having to face the anger of their perpetrator and/or their families. Furthermore, often, private negotiations will take place between the victim’s family and the perpetrator, and so the perpetrator is rarely formally punished. Beyond this, even if a victim does go through with the process of successfully filing a police report, there are two related access to justice problems that lie beyond that. The first is that the only court that hears those cases is quite a significant distance away from the village, and transport is both inconvenient and costly. The second is that the law states that the health worker who examines the victim after the assault took place must testify at the hearing. However, there exists no means of compensation for the worker’s time or transportation. Therefore, the large majority of the time, the health worker simply does not show up. When this happens, the case is thrown out.

***

On a more personal note, I have to say that as emotionally challenging as it was, speaking with these girls and women was a humbling privilege. Despite the hardships they shared with me, I sensed nothing but kindness and positivity radiating from them.


I sincerely hope that the empowerment programs that CEHURD implements will effect real change in the lives of these girls and women. Given the passion, focus, and dedication of the Community Empowerment team, I have faith that they just might.

Sunset over Lake Walamo in the village of Mamba

Additional Hurdles in Accessing Justice

2016 Moreau AndreBy André Moreau

Over the course of my internship at the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) in Kampala, I’ve witnessed some challenges with some of the cases and petitions we brought forward to the courts.

In particular, one difficulty was caused by the influx of election petitions triggered by the recent Ugandan general election, which was held on February 18, 2016. This was the 6th general election since the Uganda Bush War (1979-1986) where the National Resistance Army, led by current president Yoweri Museveni, overthrew the autocratic and militaristic regime.

February’s election saw Museveni’s controversial re-election ­–his sixth consecutive term as the President of Uganda. The election results sparked protest, arrests and a series of formal election petitions. These election petitions have put much strain on the Ugandan judicial system, which has resulted in an even longer wait before Ugandans and Ugandan organizations can access justice before the court.

This is a photo of the Ugandan Constitutional Court's Registrars Office

This is a photo of the Ugandan Constitutional Court’s Registrars Office– files upon files

Last week, Justice David Batema came to speak to the CEHURD’s staff about his experience working as a judge at the High Court of Uganda. He spoke about the courts’ challenge to process cases in a timely manner, especially during the post-election period.

When I asked him how the High Court prepares for the flood of election petitions, Justice Batema explained that the High Court developed a new strategy to minimize backlog. The High Court’s new strategy consisted of selecting 26 judges (almost two thirds of the High Court Judges in Uganda) and training them on best practices when dealing with the petitions.

To ensure nonpartisan decisions, the judges would then be relocated to a different district where they’d hear the petitions. This process, Batema explained, is designed to address all the submitted election petitions ­–hearing, trial, and judgement– within 60 days. This ambitious plan, however, is expected to exceed that timeframe. Further, if petitions are appealed, the process will take even longer.

Despite the Court’s effort to limit the backlog of cases, law firms, organizations such as CEHURD, and all the others parties involved are left with even more delays in their attempts to access justice.

Furthermore, Justice Batema has been vocal about the Courts being short-staffed: “we have very many cases, but we are few, we don’t want our people’s cases to delay here,” he said to one of the national newspapers, New Vision.

As CEHURD continues to fight for health and human rights in Uganda, this unfortunate influx of election petitions has created an additional hurdle in bringing forward cases and seeing them resolved.

Advocating Taboo Issues in Health and Human Rights

2016 Moreau Andre  By André Moreau

I’ve been in Uganda for a month now and I am really enjoying my experience thus far!

Kampala, Uganda’s capital, is a big bustling city laid out over a series of hills and valleys on the northern shore of Lake Victoria. Kampala appears to be continuously developing. The city is undergoing countless construction projects, which are improving the city’s infrastructure and the art/music/culinary scenes are becoming increasingly prominent.

My internship at the Center for Health, Human Rights & Development (CEHURD) is providing me with an opportunity to learn about some of the issues relating to health and human rights in Uganda in particular and East Africa as a whole. From visiting Uganda’s Constitutional Court, to drafting memos and conducting legal research, I have had the privilege of being exposed to some of the key initiatives of this dedicated organization.

A bird's eye view of Kampala

A view of Kampala taken from atop of the Uganda National Mosque

Recently, I was given the task of conducting research on some of the Sexual Offences Acts that have been implemented in various countries around the world. More specifically, I was asked to compare and contrast these pieces of legislation in order to find out whether the rights of sexual assault victims have been emphasized. Fortunately, of the seven pieces of legislation that I analyzed, only one jurisdiction did not make mention of the wellbeing and protection of victims within its Sexual Offences Act. The purpose of this research is clear: the Ugandan government is currently in the process of drafting its own Sexual Offences Bill and CEHURD is advocating for the inclusion of the rights of victims, notably when it comes to the issue of abortion.

The Ugandan Constitution states: “No person has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorised by law.” As it stands, abortion is only permitted in Uganda when the mother’s life is in danger. As CEHURD pushes to advocate for the rights of victims of sexual assault, the organization hopes to broaden the range of exceptions to include situations of rape, incest, and/or defilement.

This is no easy task. Abortion is a topic that carries a considerable amount of weight in Ugandan society, a taboo. Even lawyers who are advocating for these changes appear to be wary of having their names ascribed to the file.

The Ugandan government made its views regarding abortion heard when it nearly rejected the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (commonly known as the Maputo Protocol). The product of eight years in the making, the Maputo Protocol felt strong resistance from the greater Ugandan society, namely its religious groups.  The main point of contention was subsection (2)(c) of article 14, which seeks to protect the reproductive rights of women by permitting abortion in the cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. In the end, Uganda ratified the protocol but with a reservation to subsection (2)(c).

Despite the attached stigma and legal ramifications, Ugandan women still resort to clandestine abortions. Roughly a quarter of the maternal deaths in Uganda are from unsafe abortions where roughly four women in Uganda die each day as a result. The gravity of the issue is impossible to ignore. Seeking inspiration from nearby jurisdictions such as Rwanda and South Africa, CEHURD continues to put pressure on the government to draft victim-centric legislation.

Although post-abortion care in Uganda is decriminalized, the health workers who provide medical services to abortion survivors are often persecuted. To help assure the rights of health care workers, CEHURD has formed the Legal Support Network (LSN) ­–a coalition of lawyers throughout the country to provide pro-bono services to help health workers who require legal assistance.

In a society that still presents many barriers, this is one example of how the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development has embarked on the long struggle of protecting and advocating women’s health rights and the rights of health workers throughout the country.

A Light Comment on Small Change

2014-Heilke-MatthiasMatthias Heilke

The stuff I have been working on the last couple weeks is a bit intense. Also, I already wrote a blog post about it for CEHURD, which you can (and totally should!) read here. So let’s talk about currency instead.

Uganda has a fairly annoying system of money to handle. The smallest bill is worth 1000/= (“/=” means “shillings”), which is the equivalent of about forty cents. The bills go up to 50,000/= ($20); they are all different colours, but the actual colour of a given denomination might vary depending on age, the 1000/= and 2000/= bills are often too dirty to see well, and anyway I’m colour-blind. Coins run from the diminutive 50/= to the two-piece 1000/=, though the 1000/= coin is less common than the 1000/= bill. The 100/= and 200/= coin are most common, and annoying to distinguish from each other — they’re just very slightly different sizes.

All bills and coins, arranged small-to-large, left-to-right.

All bills and coins, arranged small-to-large, left-to-right.

This is not a wealthy country. If I am walking down the street with 100,000/= ($40) in my pocket, I’m pretty loaded by local standards. Breaking a 50,000/= note is a chore. Any time I have to use the equivalent of a two-dollar bill to pay a fruit vendor, I know she will probably have to run into the nearest shop for change. One of my friends once used a 2,000/= bill (80¢) to pay a fruit vendor, and the vendor commented on what a large bill that is.

I bring this up because of what you don’t see on the street: the 50/= coin. Nobody ever prices anything, down to the tiniest piece of fruit, to divisions smaller than 100/=. In a place where the boda-boda drivers (which is a comparatively well-paying profession) will haggle endlessly over a 2000/= fare, nobody would think to worry about 50/=.  And 50/= is worth twice as much as a penny.

I’m just saying, America.

An Introductory Post

2014-Heilke-MatthiasMatthias Heilke

Since this is my first post — the blog just started functioning a few minutes ago! — please allow me to introduce myself. I just finished my second year at McGill Law, and I am pleased to be spending my summer in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. I will mostly be working at the Centre for Health, Human Rights, and Development (CEHURD), a local health-law NGO that does everything from lobbying to community education to strategic litigation.

There are lots of blogs about what it is like to be a clueless muzungu (white person) making his first visit to a developing country, so do not expect too many words about it here. Just compose something in your head about gruelling poverty, getting lost for lack of road signs and addresses, and the dangers of riding a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi), and you will probably get the right idea. (And please try to make me look good in whatever you think up!)

~What I’m up to~

As of writing, I have spent exactly three weeks working at CEHURD — it would be a day more, except I couldn’t find the CEHURD office on my first day of work. Google Maps lied to me! I have done a whole bunch of things, so I’ll just list them:

• Intellectual property rights. Patents especially have an enormous and mostly negative effect on access to medicine in developing countries. I spent a couple days in meetings at the Ministry of Justice, going through their draft regulations on patents with the aim of promoting access to medicine. As of those meetings, I have influenced Ugandan government far more than Canadian government! Now we are meeting with some of the stakeholders, especially other health NGO’s and local generic pharmaceutical producers.

• Strategic litigation. CEHURD has a substantial strategic litigation department, and I have done [privileged] with them. We’re [privileged]ing. It’s really [privileged]!

• Also some strategic litigation that I can actually talk about, as we held a press conference about it this morning at our office. Long story short, there are two villages near Kampala whose source of drinking water is being contaminated by a Chinese quarrying company. They also are getting covered in stone dust and being subjected to the noise of explosions, all of which is leading to serious health problems. The local government and the responsible national governmental body refused to do anything about it. CEHURD is filing a suit against all three actors. I got to help edit the plaint.

CEHURD's press conference venue, a.k.a. the courtyard of our office.

CEHURD’s press conference venue, a.k.a. the courtyard of our office.

• Non-communicable diseases. CEHURD is following up on a study it did last year for the UNDP on NCD awareness and prevention at Kampalan universities, and I am helping coordinate ideas, prepare documents and so-on. It is an enormous challenge: I have no experience with this kind of work or programme, and I have literally never stepped foot on a Ugandan campus. On the other hand, it turns out students are pretty much the same everywhere (read: underslept, undernourished, and oversexed).

• Communicable diseases. I have listened rather than participated, per se, in various conversations about HIV advocacy. I also had a lively debate with one of my coworkers as to whether being HIV-positive increases one’s duty of care toward others to not get your blood on them. I said yes morally but was agnostic legally; my coworker said no to both. People suffering from HIV also suffer outrageous discrimination and ill will here, so there is a very emotional context.

 ~What I’m not up to~

There are a couple items currently in the news related to CEHURD’s work in which I have not in any sense participated:

• An HIV-positive nurse was convicted a few days ago of criminal negligence after she pricked herself with a needle and then, after going to clean up, allegedly accidentally used the needle on her infant patient. The hospital administered anti-retrovirals, and the child is HIV-free, but the nurse was nonetheless sentenced to three years imprisonment (prosecution requested six years). The case has turned into a public litmus test as to how one sees people with HIV. The nurse was represented by CEHURD’s very own Counsellor David (though, I should emphasize, I have not heard him talk about the case, and what I mention here is all public information.)

• A public interest lawyer has filed a suit against the government regarding this year’s budget, on the grounds that the budget provides so little funding to primary education that it violates the right to education. It will be a very interesting case, but sadly not one in which CEHURD is involved — the lady who filed the petition is not with our organization.

I’m afraid this blog post is less incisive than I might hope for. Such is the way of introductions. I promise the next post will be about just one topic!

~Weekly Miscellany~

• Many thanks to Prof. Richard Gold for teaching me intellectual property law. I had no trouble keeping up with the discussions at the Ministry, even though I had been in Uganda for less than a week. In a job where I know basically nothing about most of the topics I work on, that is a major victory.

• Currently trending in Kampala: “TGE”. It’s an acronym for a Lugundu phrase that means, “The government should intervene!” You say it if you cut your finger, for example.

• One Ugandan beer company, Tusker’s, advertises itself as “authentically American”. I doubt whether its customers have caught on to the joke. I have not had the opportunity to try it for myself, yet, being preoccupied with waragi (the local millet gin), but I will get back to you with my thoughts when I do.

• Novida. It’s a non-alcoholic malt beverage that tastes like pineapples. Why Schweppes (the maker) doesn’t sell it worldwide is beyond me. So good.

• My coworkers are seriously nice. Not that amusing an observation or anything, but true and worth saying.

• Habs sweaters seen in Kampala: 1. [Update: 2. The latter was for sale in Owino Market starting at 10,000 shillings, rather stained, but with its Village des valeurs tag still attached.]

Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS): At the Intersection of Health and Human Rights

2013 Lipi Mishra 100x150The past few weeks have been busy for delegations from around the world preparing to attend the World Trade Organization (WTO) TRIPS Council Meeting (hosted in Geneva from June 11 to 12). It has been particularly frantic for member countries categorized as least developed countries (LDCs), a category to which Uganda belongs.

As a cursory background on the issue, the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement essentially stipulates that countries must implement certain standards of patent protection, copyrights, trademarks, and other forms of intellectual property. Thus, the agreement seeks to protect and enforce intellectual property rights on a global level. However, there is a provision for flexibilities in the TRIPS agreement for member countries that are LDCs. The flexibilities provide these countries with a renewable exemption from TRIPS obligations. With such exemptions, LDCs are given policy space to overcome capacity constraints in the hopes that they will be able to develop a viable technological and legal base and then start enforcing TRIPS when they have the resources to do so.

Where the problematic issue arises is that the period of the last extension granted to LDCs is set to expire on July 1st, 2013 and certain WTO members have expressed resistance at granting a further extension of anything longer than 5 to 7 years for LDCs. LDCs, with the support of other countries, have opposed this position and are lobbying for more time so that they can overcome the constraints that prevent them from creating a viable technological base and enforcing IP laws.

CEHURD’s role in this issue has been formative in spearheading a movement to lobby the appropriate actors on behalf of civil society to grant LDCs an extension. Last week, CEHURD celebrated a few successes in its fight for an extension on the TRIPS deadline. First, CEHURD along with the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) successfully petitioned the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) to pass a resolution urging WTO member countries to grant a TRIPS extension for LDCs. Then, before the TRIPS Council meeting even convened, the WTO announced that an 8 year extension for LDCs had been granted; a marginal victory for LDCs, but a victory nonetheless.

Press Conference held at the CEHURD Office on the LDC Request for an extension on TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) Obligations.

Press Conference held at the CEHURD Office on the LDC Request for an extension on TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) Obligations.

So, what are the implications of these issues on human rights? Well, intellectual property law, in general, is at an interesting juncture with respect to the right to health. Access to medicine issues are particularly pronounced in developing countries, like Uganda, where there is a high disease burden but limited financial resources to address that burden.

Many LDCs, including Uganda, where HIV and TB are rampant, rely on the importation of generic medicines to meet the health needs of their population. Intellectual property laws can end up acting as a regulator and restrict the importation of generic medicines into these countries, which is why Uganda and its fellow LDCs rely on TRIPS flexibilities. LDCs, the poorest countries in the world, are protected from opening their weak economies to monopoly protections for IP-based multinational corporations. Without those flexibilities, strict IP laws can inhibit the wide dissemination of generic medicines to populations that need them the most. Even more broadly, such IP laws may render many essential public goods including educational resources and green technologies unaffordable.

This whirlwind of issues has elucidated to me just how complex human rights issues can get, especially when issues of trade, intellectual property, and health are factored in. On the one hand, there are apparent human rights issues that need to be addressed if an individual cannot access potentially lifesaving antiretroviral therapies to manage their HIV as a result of overly stringent IP laws. On the other hand, the right of pharmaceutical companies to enforce their patents in order to thrive is also a concern that needs to be acknowledged.  Policy and advocacy work tends to recognize the range of these issues and address them by concurrently lobbying the government for policy reform and also eliciting support from other facets of civil society.

Despite the fact that the extension on TRIPS flexibilities has been granted, the battle is hardly over. Rather, the real heavy lifting is about to start revving up. Uganda, along with its LDC counterparts, must continue to create the necessary legal infrastructure around intellectual property law and accelerate the process of overcoming capacity constraints by establishing a sound and viable technological base.

There is never a dull day at CEHURD’s human rights advocacy department. With the conclusion of the TRIPS Council meeting, the CEHURD team is already wading through the field for its next hot-button issue.

Strategic Litigation and Societal Engagement: A Creative Recipe for Pushing Forward Health and Human Rights Law in Uganda

2013 Lipi Mishra 100x150Greetings! 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/

Rights, resources, and framing the issue of disability

By Miatta Gorvie

The term “persons with disabilities” is a capacious term indeed, intended to capture the realities of a huge array of people’s lives. Somehow, it refers to an amputee begging in downtown Kampala and a person with mental health challenges languishing in prison while awaiting bail in a prison up-country; a girl who was fortunate enough to have been sent to a school for the blind or deaf and another who was left at home because of the lack of access to schooling for children with developmental disabilities. Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities – Uganda (LAPD) provides free and sustainable legal aid and human rights protection to the members of any and all of these communities of persons with disabilities (PWDs).

Access to justice for Uganda’s disabled is hindered at many turns. First and foremost is the fact that they are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty, as a result of systemic barriers to education and employment. There is no government assistance available for the disabled and so those who cannot work are dependent on family to fulfil their needs; the least fortunate are those that you see dotting the streets, begging for the goodwill of strangers. Even those who do have the resources to bring their cases to court will often be confronted by justice sector officials who do not understand the particularities of the lives of PWDs.

Uganda has a relatively robust disabilities rights regime, in terms of legislation. Not only has Uganda signed on to the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, it has also domesticated it’s commitment with provisions in its 1995 Constitution and the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2006, among other acts and policies. However, while the legal instruments are in place, in substance they are often minimalist and incomprehensive.

This legislation is a great achievement for a poor country with an unconsolidated democracy, but laws are only part of the question of achieving dignity for PWDs. Disability rights, perhaps more than many others, is a fertile testing ground for the balancing of rights and other priorities. Indeed, the term “reasonable accommodation,” which has recently been extended to the question of multiculturalism in Quebec, finds its origins in the disability literature. Reasonable accommodation is the idea that “necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case” should be made to ensure that PWDs enjoy their rights and freedoms on an equal basis with others.[1] For example in employment, should an employee with a physical disability need a different chair from the model used in the office, it would be considered unreasonable for the person to lose their job over the purchase of a chair and the employer is legally required to make the adjustment.

Disability rights are constantly framed as being in competition with resources. In a developing economy like Uganda, what can it mean for children with disabilities to have the right to public education, the same public education system that can barely pay its teachers or supply learning materials? While the problems are much more visible here, this is hardly a problem reserved to poor countries.

This spring, I travelled to Ottawa with a group of McGill students to hear the opening arguments for the Moore case. As a boy, Jeffrey Moore suffered from severe dyslexia but was able to participate in the public school system because the division had a program for students with his particular needs. When this program was cut for budgetary reasons, his father was forced to place him in a private school, at great cost, and he sued the BC government for what he perceives as an undue hardship. In the opening arguments, the province submitted that Jeffrey should not be compared to other students in the public school system but other special needs students in the system. Framed that way, Jeffrey and all other students with intellectual disabilities were given an equal opportunity to access a “general education.” Moore was seeking an accommodation to access the mainstream service whereas the government defined his request as a specialized education service. Embarrassingly, the province also claimed that there is no right for a student to learn how to read, because even public school students without disabilities have difficulty reading.

When a G-8 country shrugs at disability rights under the guise of “budgetary constraints,” the prospects for PWDs in the developing world seem dire. The dominant discourse reflects the way in which disability rights are still seen as second-tier rights or aspirations that will come to fruition at some uncertain point in the future when scarce resources are no longer an issue. McGill’s Frédéric Mégret has considered whether the CRPD simply affirms the idea that existing human rights apply to PWDs and reformulates existing human rights to acknowledge the particularities of PWDs’ experiences, or whether it actually goes as far as to extend existing rights and innovate so far as to create new rights with the realities of the disabled at their core. He finds the Convention to be a “very subtle mix of the old and the new, which confirms existing rights, even as it amplified upon, evolves from and departs from them in the sort of creative ways required by the issue of disability.”

I agree with Professor Mégret’s proposition, that the CRPD was an opportunity to make a statement about difference and pluralism, often thought of as running contrary to the universalism and equality inherent in the human rights project. However, I took on this internship partly as a challenge, to step out of the safe spaces of seminar courses and panel discussions and consider what “human rights” can possibly mean in the field. Therefore, as a result of my experiences doing legal aid for PWDs with LAPD this summer, I must reluctantly endorse the pedantic view of the Convention that the professor rejects, the one that considers the document to be an affirmation of restatement of the applicability of existing human rights to PWDs.

When faced with politicians and judges who already see rights for PWDs as “other” and as something to be addressed only after rights for the majority have been dealt with, it is not helpful for an advocate to make an argument about newness and plurality. It is likely preferable to submit that PWDs have the same general human right to education and that their requests for inclusion are only accommodations and not brand new rights. Would this framing not make it much easier to refute the “budgetary constraints” argument? It seems to me that when dealing with few resources and little audience time with decision-makers, the pragmatic route might be the most effective.

 


[1] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 2, http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=262.

The Myth of a Durable Solution

By Molly Joeck

Refugee Law Project is spread across three rectangular-looking buildings on a short red dirt road in Old Kampala, across from a primary school with a sign affixed to its fence that reads, “Virginity is good.”

These buildings are like labyrinths once you enter, with winding hallways and offices of every size and shape piled upon one another. After a month, I still don’t know my way around every corner of all three buildings. I’m only beginning to feel like I understand where all the doors and hallways in my building lead, and how I can use the back door to go print a document without making my way through the main hallway, where I am bound to encounter a client seeking a follow-up appointment, waylaying me and causing me to forget why I’d left my office in the first place.

At the beginning of the week, when new clients are received and assessed, the courtyard outside the main building, and even the street below (not the sidewalk, for there are no sidewalks), are bustling with refugees and asylum seekers. Winding my way through these crowds of people to my office in the mornings, I can hear old men and young women, toddlers and teenagers, families and friends, chatting to each other in French, Somali, Lingala, Kinyarwanda, English, Amharic, and any number of other languages. The liveliness of it is both inspiring and overwhelming. The diversity of RLP’s clients and their backgrounds means that I am never bored, but the daunting reality of how many people are in need of assistance weighs heavily on my untried shoulders.

My office is on the second floor of the main building. I am in a unit called Durable Solutions, which is just one piece of the puzzle that is the bigger department, Legal and Psychosocial Services. In my first week here, having read through some documents explaining the mandate of the Durable Solutions Unit (or DS), I felt like I would be right at home. DS provides client-based legal services that fall squarely within the domain of refugee law, which I have studied and worked in more than any other field of law in the past three years. Though the disparate nature of the problems asylum seekers face means that we address a myriad of problems, the main mandate of DS is, as its name indicates, to find, facilitate and implement durable solutions for refugees.

Durable solutions refers to the aspirational notion that a long-term solution should be sought for refugees, rather than the temporary, precarious reality that so many of them live. This seems particularly important in the Ugandan context, where, unlike in Canada, accepted refugees have no avenue towards any sort of permanent resident or citizen status in their country of asylum, short of marrying a Ugandan citizen.

What are these durable solutions for which my unit is named? There are, in theory, three: repatriation, local integration or resettlement.

Though I have only been in Uganda for one month, my skepticism for the first two of these solutions is already firmly established. The majority of the clients I see have fled the DRC, Somalia, or Rwanda. Without knowing a lot about the issues specific to each of those countries, it is not hard to guess that refugees from these source countries are not very warm to the idea of being repatriated, which means return to their countries of origin. I have not yet had one client ask about the option of repatriation, and a quick survey of my colleagues who have been here for much longer than me revealed that, though once in a blue moon a client might come along who is curious about repatriation, that is the exception rather than the rule.

The fear of return among many refugees, which makes them so hostile to the suggestion of repatriation, certainly seems to me to be well-founded. Life in Uganda is not easy for refugees- tens of thousands of them live in camps, a life I can hardly fathom, where the local dish posho (milled maize cooked into a rubbery cake) is the daily sustenance, and life is restricted to a tiny plot of land with very little freedom of movement. Those who live in Kampala struggle to scrape together enough shillings to rent some sort of abode and feed and clothe their families, making them very vulnerable to attack, theft, and other forms of urban violence. If the situation were more stable in these refugees’ home countries, they would be able to return to a place where they understood the language, where their culture is not the minority, where their families would be nearby. However, their resistance to repatriation is founded upon a deep-rooted fear of the violence and repression that these source countries are still mired in.

And local integration? I have trouble understanding how this can even be on the list of durable solutions in a country like Uganda where, by definition, refugees are in a temporary situation by virtue of their status. Should UNHCR decide that the danger that refugees fled in a certain source country is no longer present and invoke the cessation clause of the Refugee Convention (as it has in the case of Rwanda), refugees can be faced with the suspension of their status, and the possibility of powerful pressure to “voluntarily” repatriate. Not to mention the discrimination and exclusion refugees can face in Uganda for both practical reasons, such as language, as well as cultural reasons. Local integration is not a durable solution.

Which brings us to resettlement- the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for many refugees. While I would characterize my daily tasks at RLP as diverse, it is true that the vast majority of the clients who come to see me want only one thing: resettlement. I have spent hours and hours explaining that the criteria for resettlement are very rigourous, that many who apply are refused, that the process takes years, that a short-term solution should be thought of first…that, that….but all too often it feels like my explanations fall on deaf ears. For these refugees know that, in reality, resettlement is the only way to a truly durable solution. Defeated by the thought of eking out a meagre existence in Kampala or, worse, in a camp, and traumatized at the thought of returning to their country of origin, the only way out they see is resettlement to a third country.

This is the hardest part of my job- facing person after person, women, men, Rwandese, Somalians, and trying to explain gently that their dream of building a life in a country free of violence and persecution is, at least for the moment, unattainable. Or facing someone who has been through the gruelling process of resettlement- interview after interview, and years of waiting, only to be told they have been rejected because the date they gave for their brother’s death does not synch with the account given of that event by their sister, or cousin, or brother, and trying to explain that re-applying is not really an option, that there is no way to appeal, that there is really nothing to be done.

I can’t help but feel like there is no durable solution. The unit I work in should be renamed, perhaps. “Short-term solutions,” or “Long-term aspirations,” or “Unrealizable dreams.”

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