Uganda Day 31: Visiting the UHRC

Today got off to a very, very slow start. The morning was horrendously boring at work. I was also exhausted, but that's my own fault. Just as I was getting into bed last night Osgoode sent an email saying the courses for next year had been released, so I proceeded to spend an hour looking at those. My short list currently has more credits than I'll need to take in my entire time at Osgoode...I've got some decision-making to do!

Thankfully, the afternoon offered some reprieve. Like I said yesterday, we were allowed to tag along to the presentation about the Sexual Offences Bill. And unlike our experience at court a few weeks ago, this one actually happened! Though as it turns out, I jumped the gun a bit and overestimated the stage this Bill is at. I had assumed the presentation was to be made in front of a Parliamentary Committee, or something like it, but it's not quite there yet. Instead, we were attending a session hosted by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, where various NGOs and other representatives of civil society gathered to present to each other on the Bill and engage in discussion and debate. The UHRC will then use the input from the session to inform their own draft submissions to Parliament, which they'll be presenting down the road.

So it wasn't what I had anticipated, but it was still a great experience. Basically, we were sat around a table, and one by one a representative from each organization would present their position on the Bill, interspersed with group discussion and debate. Think of it like one big brainstorming session.

Waiting for everyone to arrive.

It was an enlightening experience, in some ways. We had already gone through the Bill quite thoroughly and come to our own conclusions, but of course we were only three people when we did so. There were some things we had overlooked, issues we hadn't thought of. But even more interesting to me was the diversity of perspectives put forward in that room today. Most or all were progressive and left-leaning—this being civil society and all—but there was still plenty on which to disagree.

That said, some of the arguments I just couldn't buy into. For example, several people were basing certain arguments on what you might call defeatism. To generalize, the logic was this: a particular provision wouldn't be enforced in practice, so it shouldn't be included in the Bill. They were certainly correct that some provisions and offences may not, practically speaking, be enforced by police or the judiciary, but that doesn't seem to me like a justification (in most circumstances) for excluding something. If you exclude it, then it definitely won't be put into practice; and later on, whenever the broader society and culture here catch up with the progressive law in question, you'll just be stuck having to legislate it then. Isn't it better to make the right laws and fix the system, then resign yourself to bad laws because the system is currently flawed? That's my thought on the matter, anyway.

Some of the comments also took me by surprise—from a handful of the men, specifically. I suppose I'm coming from a very different and somewhat biased perspective, and I think because of that I'd assumed implicitly that a room full of NGOs in Uganda would have the same or similar kinds of views as a room full of NGOs would in Canada. Don't get me wrong, it was a very progressive group of people, and everyone in there seemed to be striving toward the same goals and vision for Uganda. But I didn't expect quite so much resistance to the concept of spousal rape, for example. Nor did I expect to hear the phrase "the husband's conjugal rights", which actually came out of someone's mouth, I kid you not. Again—he was, for the most part, on the right (left?) side of the issues, but you could see those other influences at sneaking in.

Also, let me just be clear here: Canada, like anywhere else, still has its fair share of historical biases and inequalities; and it wasn't so long ago that Canada had plenty of blatantly discriminatory legislation on the books. It was just surprising to hear "conjugal rights" being raised in the context of a serious argument, even in passing.

Anyway, the whole thing was a fascinating experience, and I'm glad I had the chance to go. I hope I haven't given a bad impression of the place—it really was a productive and even inspiring discussion. I hope all of this input is taken seriously by Parliament, and I hope the Bill gets passed (with the necessary amendments).

After the session I came home on a boda and here I am. I think I might go read, or maybe try to figure out what I feel like learning in school next year. Thanks for reading!