Expedite the Witness Protection Bill – UHRC. The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is calling for expeditious passing of the Witness Protection Bill, 2015. The bill which is still in draft form seeks to provide holistic protection of crucial witnesses in a case who might be facing a threat or risk.
The Chairperson of UHRC, Mariam Wangadya while appearing before the Committee on Human Rights has said that the tribunal is limited in carrying out its duties due to the absence of the law.
“Witnesses are the most important people in a case thus there is need for them to be protected. Eyewitnesses are hesitant to interface with the commission due to lack of a proper framework that will protect them after the interface,” she said.
Wangadya said that the commission receives a number of cases but face challenges of funding. “Investigations are critical for the tribunal. Funding was previously given to us by Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) whose operations in Uganda were suspended leaving the commission stranded,” she said.
According to Ruth Ssekindi the Director, Monitoring and Inspections at UHRC, they are working towards disbanding safe houses.
“We visited various safe houses in Kyengera, Zana, and one in Kalangala where they were illegally detaining suspects and ensured that they were disbanded. That said, a safe house can be a personal house, an office, or a small shop but we are on the lookout for these,” Ssekindi said.
UPDF Representative, Col Charity Bainababo, inquired from the commission if they were sensitizing the public about their rights during and after arrest. So that they know that before an arrest, the officer has to have some sort of identification.
The Director of Research, Education, and Documentation, Kamadi Byonabye informed the meeting that sensitization was being done although on a small scale due to the inadequacy in the availability to do the job.
“Sensitization is done but the resources are not enough. Nonetheless, we do tell them about their rights and talk about how to react while being arrested,” he said.
The Witness Protection Bill, 2015 seeks to establish a Witness Protection Agency and a national Witness Protection Program to provide protection and safety of a witness in proceedings, to facilitate witnesses in the witness protection program to testify and give evidence during proceedings.
The Witness Protection Agency is meant to provide the framework and procedures for giving special protection on behalf of the state to persons in possession of important information and who are facing potential risk or intimidation due to their cooperation with prosecution and other enforcement agencies.