Decentralization without human rights?: local governance and access to justice in post-movement Uganda
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Uganda’s actions in the arena of decentralization have received critical acclaim for introducing a number of important changes to the practice of local government. Needless to say, after more than 20 years in place, the system is confronted by a number of serious challenges, none more significant than the promotion and protection of human rights, and improving access to justice at the local level. There are three main levels at which the challenges must be tackled, namely: (i) Policy, concept and legislation; (ii) Implementation and action, and (iii) Support, monitoring and evaluation. This working paper conducts a critical audit of the extent to which the process of decentralization has taken on board the issue of human rights – civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural. The main conclusions of the study are that a great deal remains to be done in order to make local governments more sensitive to the human rights of the populations they are supposed to service. At the same time, important stakeholders in the state and civil society outside it are yet to design appropriate strategies to comprehensively address the issue. In particular, the paper makes the following observations and conclusions: (A). Reassessing national policy: Decentralization is under pressure from several threats, not least of which the phenomenon of recentralization, which has witnessed marked reversals in the policy of devolution and has left local governments with fewer resources and more dependent on the largess of central government. These policy reversals must be critically interrogated and corrected in relation to both the wider goals of decentralization (devolution) and the more specific improvement of the local context for human rights protection. (B). Buttressing local capacities on rights and justice. The biggest impediment to the elaboration of a concrete program at the local level is the low-level of capacities for officials to do either human rights monitoring, or for them to ensure implementation of the Human Rights Based Approach to Development (HRBAD). (C). Improving access to information. Local government officials suffer from a dearth of information on human rights. More importantly, there is a general lack of a culture of publicizing the information which is in the possession of officials and which may be relevant to persons seeking to assert their rights. Despite the recent passing of the Access of Information Act, there is an absence of guidelines from the Ministry of Information on the obligations of public servants (including local government officials) in relation to the provision of information to the general public. (D). Processing information tool-kits on human rights. The simplification of documents on the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, and other relevant information on rights and duties needs support and duplication. (E). Improving CSO engagement. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and community based organizations have several obligations with respect to local government.