The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) was established in 1991 with the aim of overcoming the various obstacles to democratic development and to ensure the meaningful enjoyment of the fundamental freedoms enumerated in the 1995 Uganda Constitution and other internationally recognized human rights instruments to which Uganda has acceded. This is to be achieved through enhancement of knowledge, respect and observance of human rights, promotion of exchange of information and best practices through training, education, research, legislative advocacy, lobbying, and strategic partnerships.
FHRI's efforts to advance the Cause of Human Rights & Democracy in Uganda
During the nineteen years of human rights advocacy work, FHRI has grown from a small organisation with minimal capacity to one with great potential through a set of multi-faceted human rights programmes.
FHRI has effectively executed six strategic plans since its inception. Each of these programs is based on research, monitoring and documentation of human rights violations; human rights education; legislative advocacy and lobbying; and legal aid service delivery. FHRI has spearheaded the human rights movement in Uganda and beyond through capacity building programs for community based human rights associations; treaty reporting to regional and UN human rights bodies; campaigns against torture, the death penalty and impunity; advocacy for electoral reforms; law reform and provision of free legal aid services; and building strategic partnerships that underpin our future engagement. In addition, the organization has facilitated the formation of community based human rights groups, student human rights clubs, sponsored radio and TV talk shows and human rights centred music, dance and drama and established a Human Rights and Democracy Information Centre to support program implementation. As a strong proponent of increased public awareness of the rights guaranteed in the 1995 Ugandan constitution and the international human rights instruments to which Uganda has acceded, FHRI continues to avail human rights information to the public especially through publication of action oriented research reports in a bid to educate and inform the community and generate public debate on pertinent and current human rights issues.
FHRI’s programmes reaches out to a diverse constituency: universities, local government, community based groups, justice law and order sector institutions, media, civil society, private and public sector, parliament, constitutional bodies such as Law Reform Commission and Electoral Commission, upcoming human rights defenders, and regional bodies such as the East African Community.
Besides conducting human and legal rights awareness training and campaigns, FHRI engages in legislative analysis and law reform; and advocacy for institutional and practice reforms with the aim of influencing: a more human rights compliant legislative and policy environment; promotion of access to justice in Uganda; improvement in adherence to human rights standards in criminal justice delivery, domestication of the international laws; treaty reporting to Regional and UN human rights bodies; and a strong democratic and socially accountable culture in Uganda nurturing a vibrant social justice movement.
FHRI provides pro bono legal aid services to the rural and urban poor especially women and children in difficult situations and hard to reach areas across the country. Through the Paralegal Advisory Services Program that was commenced in 2005, FHRI has contributed to the decongestion of the prisons in 12 districts and has linked the demand and supply sides and advocates for practice change in the criminal justice system. More still FHRI advocates for judicial independence; and undertake campaigns for better administration of justice and respect for the rights of vulnerable groups of people such as the internally displaced people, children, minority, PWDs and women.
The organisation also engages in advocating for electoral democracy and take part in election monitoring and observation activities with an aim of ensuring a free and fair process; free from violence, intimidation and corruption. Since inception, FHRI has strived to engender tolerance across ethnic and regional cleavages and to promote the stability and efficacy of the Ugandan polity by mobilising citizens to become civically engaged to protect their individual freedoms and rights and those of others.
July 2013 was punctuated with the launch of the Civil Society Private Public Sector Forum. FHRI convened the first ever organized Civil Society-Private Sector Forum in 2012 to strengthen collaboration between the Private Sector and Civil Society while exploring possible opportunities to advance social justice in Uganda. Within the framework of the Forum, FHRI collaborates with a number of private and public sector institutions.
In its scope of work, FHRI covers the whole of Uganda and is also currently engaged in the promotion of the human rights agenda in the East African region, especially Kenya and Tanzania.The Foundation has registered considerable success in respect to ability to effect positive change in the human rights and democratisation arena through sharing of best practices and collective advocacy for the adherence to international human rights standards in the Great Lakes region. As part of the global campaign FHRI’s participation and contribution to the development of human rights standards is acknowledged.
In 2012, FHRI sponsored the human rights song “Dembe Lyange” translated as “Our Rights” that hit the top ten music charts in 2013 and was also nominated as one of the best songs of the year because of its constructive and meaningful message. FHRI also sponsored a music festival on torture called “Don’t Torture!” (Tomutulugunya!); and a weekly human rights televised drama series known as “The Police Sergeant” (Kigenya Agenya) which exclusively focused on challenges of promoting human rights.
Until 2009 the organisation also engaged in a media messaging campaign through its sponsored weekly radio programme on human rights on Radio Uganda as well as a weekly phone in talk show programme called “Know your rights” (Manya Eddembe Lyo) on CBS 89.2 FM radio station that engaged listeners and created space for possible policy proposals for the larger public on pertinent human rights issues.In addition, FHRI undertook steps towards improvement of the human rights situation in the war-torn regions of the country and the Great Lakes Region through open denunciation of human rights abuses and calling for dialogue.
In 1994 FHRI accomplished a Constitutional Rights Project with the objectives of formulating a clear, well researched plan for inclusion of human rights in the 1995 Ugandan Constitution as well as encouraging an informed discussion on human rights within the Constituent Assembly.
Empowerment of people to demand their rights was made possible through the Paralegal Training program that was launched in 1993. A pool of informed people at the grassroots knowledgeable about human rights and the law was created to offer first legal aid in an already inefficient justice system.
Whereas the first FHRI Three Year Programme (1992-1994) marked the pioneer phase of the promotion and protection of human rights, the second programme (1995-1997) underscored consolidation of FHRI activities.The third phase (1998 - 2000) ushered FHRI into the new millennium emphasizing innovation, advancement and sustainability. While the fourth plan (2001-2005) focused on strengthening human rights activism for genuine democracy and sustainable development in Uganda, the fifth plan (2006-2008) codenamed ‘High Performance Phase’ (HPP) titled “From Theory to Practice: Advancing the human rights agenda in Uganda” sought to deepen engagement of the “supply and demand” side of rights, to ensure that state practice is in tandem with the internationally accepted human rights standards. The sixth strategic plan (2009-2011) titled ‘Put Our World to Rights: Deepening Democratic Practices in Uganda’ strengthened the achievements registered. In 2012 FHRI embarked on the implementation of its current and seventh Strategic Plan (2012 – 2016) titled, ‘Bridging Rights and Values: Strengthening the Civic and Democratic Culture in Uganda (2012-2016)’. This five year program which complements the 6th Strategic Plan, seeks to address the democracy and human rights deficit in Uganda at the policy, legislative and practice levels.
The program goes beyond the human rights discourse and interrogates the question of values and links both rights and civic values. The program prioritizes the use of ICTs in human rights advocacy. Uniquely, the program also establishes and spearheads a collaborative framework between civil society and the private sector in order to maximise growth. It has three broad focus themes: social accountability, equality and democratic governance. The strategic plan ending in 2016 is built around research and documentation, legal assistance, policy analysis and review, training, campaigns and partnerships.
These are realised under five actions namely: research, advocacy and lobbying that seeks to influence policy and practice change through human rights research, advocacy and lobbying; legal services that seeks to promote access to justice for the poor and vulnerable groups in Uganda; civic education that seeks to enhance human rights and civic awareness in order to increase demand for political and social accountability; external services that seeks to improve information sharing and management, promote collective advocacy, maximise participation and build consensus on democracy and human rights issues in Uganda; special projects that seeks to improve the understanding of principles and procedures of the formal criminal justice system by both users and criminal justice agencies in Uganda and to advocate and promote integrity, transparency and active citizens’ participation in Uganda’s electoral process. However like in previous programs, issues of gender equality, women and children, HIV and Aids, the elderly, minority rights, internally displaced persons and refugee conditions are cross cutting considerations in all its projects. With a professional and result orientated approach, FHRI has since taken both a proactive and an activist approach to rights advocacy by engaging in well-focused and issue-oriented discussions on pressing national concerns to emphasize accountability, transparency and social justice as core values for growth of a vibrant and functioning democracy. FHRI also takes advantage of the strategic partnerships formed to effectively and further advance the human rights agenda within and outside the boarders of Uganda.