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Every 18th May is celebrated globally as the International Museums Day (IMD), a day to reflect on and celebrate the role of museums in serving society as educational and remembrance platforms for matters of direct concern to society. IMD 2019 was held under the global theme: “Museums as Cultural Hubs: The future of tradition”

According to the Statutes of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), adopted by the 22nd General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, on 24th August 2007, “a Museum is a ‘Non-Profit, Permanent Institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purpose of education, study and enjoyment.” 

Uganda as a country has close to twenty-five (25) private community museums spread across the country. These provide spaces for people to interact, network and learn from the curated objects/materials. Their foci vary and include themes such as war and peace, culture, and religion, among many others. Some of these museums include: The National Memory and Peace Documenter Center in Kitgum, Ker Kwaro Acoli Museum at the Royal Palace in Gulu, Igongo Cultural Center in Mbarara, Museum of the Missing Persons in Pader, Uganda Martyrs University Museum located near the equator, Koogere Community Museum in Fort Portal, Kiwa Heritage in Kasese, Karamoja Women’s Cultural Group in Moroto,  Batwa Cultural Experience, Mt Elgon Museum of History and Culture in Mbale, and a number of others across the country that should be invested in and supported.   

Museums in Uganda should play a big role in addressing socio-political and conflict-related issues in most conflict-affected communities, as their facilities offer platforms for communities to dialogue on matters of contention through documentation and research.
Museums in Uganda also benefit posterity by providing educational spaces that also promote remembrance of past events to ensure that they are not forgotten. Most museums in Uganda are working with schools to promote children’s interaction with Museums. Cultural museums, for example, are contributing to helping many young children have a better understanding of their culture and its diversity, thus helping them appreciate the role of culture in a dynamic world.


Caption:School children and members of the public view NMPDCs traveling exhibition at the Uganda Museum during the IMD 2019.

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How refugees as well as other suspects get stuck on remand in Uganda’s prisons

As in many similar jurisdictions, and in line with internationally ratified instruments,1 Chapter 4 of Uganda’s 1995 Constitution provides clear protections for the rights of pre-trial detainees. Firstly, it is the duty of the State to bring the suspect to justice without delay and to produce the suspect before a competent court within 48 hours.2 Secondly, Article 28 (3) (a) of Uganda’s 1995 Constitution provides for presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a competent court. Thirdly, Article 28 (1) provides an accused person the right to a fair and speedy trial. This is echoed in Article 126 (2) (b) which provides that justice shall not be delayed, though it is silent on what amounts to a ‘speedy trial’.

When I first started working at Refugee Law Project, an outreach project of the School of Law Makerere University, I perhaps naively assumed that these protections were not just present in law but also effective in practice. However, after more than a year as a legal assistant, working in support of RLP’s mission “to empower asylum seekers, refugees, deportees, IDPs and their host communities to enjoy their human rights and lead dignified lives”, I am no longer so sure. From what I have seen in the course of working with highly vulnerable and indigent refugees, these protections are not guaranteed, despite the best efforts of police, prisons and judiciary.

RLP routinely visits gazetted detention facilities in and around districts where we have presence, in order to identify both refugees and their hosts in need of legal aid/representation. What we find in many facilities is that more than half of the inmates are on remand. Refugees as well as their hosts are often detained beyond the 48-hour limit, their cases drag on for unduly long periods of time, and throughout the process the presumption of innocence seems to have fallen into abeyance.

The right to apply for bail under Article 23(6) (a) of the 1995 Constitution is premised on the presumption of innocence. The majority of detained persons, not least refugees, are vulnerable financially and psychologically, such that navigating through the legal system for most remains a daunting and confusing task. They often face particular challenges meeting bail requirements provided for under the Constitution, such as ready cash, a permanent place of abode, and substantial sureties. The lack of these requirements presents technical obstacles to possible enjoyment of the right to apply for bail. Furthermore, the actual grant of bail is dependent on the discretion of the judicial officer, some of whom show an inadequate appreciation of refugee dynamics, and this can easily be another factor that results in limited realization of a refugee’s right to apply for bail.

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In the spirit of promoting the ‘Truth’, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) nine years ago in 2010 proclaimed 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. This date was chosen because it was the day on which Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador, was assassinated in 1980 for his active engagement in denouncing violations of the human rights of highly vulnerable individuals. The purpose of the Day is to: Honour the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and promote the importance of the right to truth and justice; Pay tribute to those who have devoted their lives to, and lost their lives in, the struggle to promote and protect human rights for all; Recognize, in particular, the important work and values of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador, for defending the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence.

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Do you know about the National Memory & Peace Documentation Centre?

A collaborative initiative of the RLP and the Kitgum District Local Government. The NMPDC is located in Kitgum district town council - Northern Uganda an area ravaged by over two decades of armed conflict and is struggling to recover in the post-conflict era...
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