Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world


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COVID19 is a global emergency that has fast developed into a human rights crisis. How are human rights players in Uganda dealing with this situation?

To talk about the current state and solutions to the crisis, some members of the Digital Human Rights Lab (DHRLab) came together in a breakout session at the GDDF on May 6, 2020 which was moderated by  Oluwatobiloba Adeleke,  Project Manager at Future Challenges.


COVID-19 pushes digitalisation in HR work

Phillip Ayazika –  Engagement Lead at Pollicy – firstly introduced the DHRLab and our work in supporting local human rights organizations and defenders in Uganda to protect themselves as they deliver human rights services to their communities. 

Pointing out, that COVID-19 has posed serious problems in Uganda, he also highlighted the serious digital opportunities that can be harnessed: “This is a call for HR experts to digitize their processes”. Still, HR work has been crippled in many instances because the organizations rely a lot on physical interactions which now affects the effectiveness of their work. Therefore, COVID-19 has reaffirmed what we need to do and what the DHRLab has been pushing, i.e to digitize processes. 

He adds, that social media tax and low internet bandwidth has limited access to the internet (which is a human right in itself) including access to life saving information online. A section of human right champions (citizens, defenders, and organizations) are going offline completely.


Data collection and privacy during COVID-19

Bonnita Nyamwire – Research Manager at Pollicy – supports using technology and data to combat the COVID-19 outbreak without impacting people’s privacy. Because data technology is useful in tracking COVID-19 and information, suspected infections and contact tracing to combat the pandemic,  there is the need to maintain privacy, whenever personal data is being collected. 

Human right defenders and organizations must therefore ensure that international human right laws are respected, and that collected data is not used to stigmatize and discriminate against people, and only used for the purposes of combating the virus. Additionally, organizations and human rights defenders have to make sure that there are administrative procedures in place, that data obtained are protected and devices used to collect, and process are safe, properly passworded or encrypted. Consent from the individuals whose data is collected must be given and individuals privacy must not be interfered with, she added.


Importance of valid data through citizen feedback

Citizen feedback, data collection and accountability will help to fight against COVID-19 points out Nathalie Dijkman,  CEO at SEMA. 

She speaks about the thread of false information being spread on social media in Uganda: During the COVID-19 crisis, valid data is crucial because fake information could lead the government  to taking decisions based on data that is not really true. Thus, valid information from citizens must be gathered in order to show what is really happening on the ground and how the people perceive their government and its service delivery. SEMA therefore measures citizen satisfaction of services provided by public offices. Nathalie Dijkman admits, that there is no clear data on how citizens are accessing government services at the moment, e.g. data about the access of people with HIV/AIDS to essential medication during the lockdown.


Rising demand for online Legal Services 

 Director Programs and Impact at Barefoot Law, Timothy Kakuru, addressed the access to justice and implications on the laws of Uganda as well as the influence on human rights work post-COVID-19 in this talk.

According to him, there is a huge number of laws that have been created in Uganda that relate to online activities. But in the situation of access to justice, rule of law hasn’t moved so far as to getting the public access online, although some strides have been made. Some judges allowed written submissions and pleadings via email and online practice rules were also on ground before the COVID-19 crisis but it was used mainly for criminal proceedings and cases on mentions. Since the crisis started there is a push for legal practice to be allowed online. 

The industrial court is now allowing cause-listing online. This is very important because the court is the one which handles employer and employee issues. 

Unfortunately, a lot of people are left behind, a large sector of the population do not have internet access. Therefore, Barefoot Law focuses on increasing their capacities to receive calls and SMS, as lots of people have phones though not smartphones, he explains. Despite the changes in the judiciary, a lot of the many vulnerable people are left behind. Some of the new regulations have even introduced new difficulties, e.g only 30 attorneys can practice. Post COVID-19, he adds, things are not expected to go back to the way it was, so there may be a need to speed up and consolidate the strides made.