The case is Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) vs. Attorney General and The Commissioner General of Prisons, High Court Miscellaneous Cause No. 81 of 2020:
Today, Counsel Francis Tumwesige and I appeared before Justice Michael Elubu of the High Court of Uganda in an ex parte application for a certificate of urgency.Since courts can only hear urgent matters at the moment, such matters have to first be confirmed by a judge as urgent in order to be heard. We therefore prayed that our application for an order to enable HRAPF lawyers to access their clients should be certified as an urgent matter and heard during this period.The judge agreed and issued the Certificate of Urgency. He based this on the fact that the Accused Persons were due to appear in court and yet they had been denied access to their lawyers and thus had no way of preparing for their defence. He noted that the right to fair hearing was non derogable. The order is attached.Although the case was certified as urgent, we have to serve court documents on the other parties after the court has set a hearing date. So far no date has been set yet but we expect the matter to be heard during the course of the week.On the other end, the news was not so good as the hearing of the case against the COSF-19 did not happen as they were not brought from prison, and neither did the Magistrate or the Prosecutor come to Court. A clerk thus adjourned the matter to 12th May.We hope that by then their bail application should have been heard and our application for access finalised.
Further in this case this week we heard from The United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), together with other mandate holders.
The UN experts are alarmed that Uganda could be using COVID-19 emergency laws to target gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and urged the government to strictly limit the use of emergency power to public health issues. As supporters of the Shelter that was raided, where the COSIF-19 were beaten and detained, we at African HRC expressed our dismay when the raid first occurred: We believed that this was an attack attack by the Ugandan Government, a coordinated and hunt against Ugandan gays, using COVID-19 opportunistically as an excuse for the raid..
“We are deeply concerned about a raid on an LGBT shelter in Kyengera on 29 March and the arrest and detention of 19 people perceived to be LGBT persons,” the UN human rights experts said.
The group of experts said they had been told local authorities raided the shelter based on the perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the residents, who were then charged for allegedly disobeying coronavirus regulations on physical distancing. It is feared the authorities are not using COVID-19 measures solely for the protection of public health.
“Emergency powers to combat crises, such as COVID-19, derive their strength and legitimacy from strict adherence to their object and purpose,” said the experts. Any emergency response linked to COVID-19 must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory. “When authorities use emergency powers for different purposes, they are acting arbitrarily. In this case, we are concerned about a possible violation of the prohibition of arbitrary detention.”
Using COVID-19 emergency powers for other purposes, such as targeting particular groups under the guise of protecting health, jeopardises the whole response system. Abuses must be prevented, investigated and punished to safeguard the common good, they said.
The experts also highlighted concerns that the detainees in this case seemed to have no access to their lawyer due to the COVID-19 measures, and are being exposed to a greater risk of violence and discrimination because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The right to access to legal assistance is a fundamental human right afforded to everyone,” they stressed.
The UN experts called on Uganda to include the detainees in the planned release of about 2,000 inmates to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in prisons.
“We strongly urge the Ugandan authorities to respect people’s rights and dignity during the crisis and to strictly limit the exercise of emergency power to the protection of public health in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said.
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