Experiencing human rights work from a regional perspective: An account of Uganda's UDHR70 Essay Competition Winners

Pearl Kyomuhendo and Ronald Okiring, from Makerere Business School and Makerere University Law Faculty respectively, won the essay competition organized by OHCHR Uganda, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, with the support from the Embassy of Norway, as part of commemorative activities marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Accompanied by OHCHR, the two winners visited the AU headquarters from 29 January to 2 February 2019 and shared with us their ‘life changing experience’ upon return to Uganda.

 Educative, exhilarating, exhaustive, exciting – it is hard to describe our trip to Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s capital Addis is loosely translated to mean “new flower” in Amharic language. The adrenaline rush as we set foot in Addis is impossible to re-create, one we shall always remember.

 Just like a new flower, full of youthfulness and strength, this trip has re-ignited our passion and improved our perception about human rights especially from an African perspective. The representative of the Embassy of Uganda, for example, shared thoughts about Uganda’s open border refugee policy that freely allows refugees from any part of the world to enter the country. This is seen as a beacon of hope for the rest of the continent especially in light of the 2019 AU theme on refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons. The Embassy representative however stressed the need for open dialogue with various stakeholders to solve some of the human rights issues that the continent is still grappling with. Interestingly, the same issue was raised in one of our many meetings at the AU secretariat by Mr. Olabisi Dare, Head of the Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees and Displaced Persons Division in the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission (AUC), who highlighted the Kampala Convention that called for permanent solutions to address the refugee crisis.

As young people, we were extremely pleased to hear that the AU is taking  steps  to involve  the youth through various  initiatives  like the  5 year-youth engagement strategy under the African Governance Architecture, not  to mention the  appointment  of  AU Youth Special Envoy Ms. Aya Chebbi.

Another important observation at the AU was the session about the electoral system and democracy in Africa, lessons to learn from the D.R Congo elections, emergence of technology and the move to convene a summit for all major political parties in Africa.

Our lunch with officials from the Norwegian embassy was filled with fun and knowledge. They notified us about Norway’s commitment to promoting human rights in Africa and the various partnerships with the AU.

A further highlight was our participation in the expert consultation on social inclusion of victims of human trafficking organized by Dr. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children. Our general observation from the presentations of all the widely acclaimed experts is the stigmatization victims continue to face in different parts of the world. The experts also emphasized that social inclusion of victims of trafficking is not an event but a process. In her concluding remarks, the UN Special Rapporteur mentioned that social inclusion of victims is a state obligation. She stressed the need for a victim based approach in order to increase their self-confidence.

As we continue to reflect on the 70 years of the UDHR, one thing we took home is that all human beings are born with dignity and have an inherent right to exercise all political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. Whilst at the Ethiopian National Museum we saw the skeletons of Selam and Lucy, the remains of the oldest known people. It is therefore safe to conclude that Ethiopia is the birthplace of all humanity. If Selam and Lucy lived freely, why should we live in bondage?

With our life changing experience in Addis, we hope to inspire many youths to stand up for human rights and also become agents of change in their communities. We shall live to share these memories! Amesenginalehu to all the people who made our trip possible: special thanks to OHCHR (country and regional), the Ugandan Human Rights Commission and the Norwegian Embassy.