(5 April) It rained cats and dogs over night, maybe so we get used to leaving the equatorial temperatures – apparently it snowed in Britain…
After our boxes finally made it through customs on Tuesday, we could set up the PRI information stand. Most of the material has gone by today and we are pleased there seems to be some interest in our work.
On Tuesday afternoon, we met the newly appointed African Commission Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Places of Detention in Africa at the Ugandan Human Rights Commission. PRI has a long-standing history of working with the African Commission and its Special Rapporteurs, and the first exchange of views with Hon. Med Kaggwa was very fruitful.
Our side event in the evening attracted about 60 participants, raising issues of penal reform and launching PRI’s Briefing on “What parliamentarians can do to work on penal reform”. Although the focus was global, it had a local interest with Ugandan MPs, representatives of the Uganda Prison Service and local NGOs present. The side event got considerable media coverage, on TV as well as radio.
After the official launch of the Briefing, on Wednesday we distributed copies in the plenary to all delegations; some asked for French or Arabic versions – which we are going to produce in the near future. The copies of PRI’s comprehensive publication on issues of penal reform, “Making Law and Policy that Work” were also distributed in the plenary.
Making use of our visit, we also had a meeting with our local partner Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) who have supported our visit and side event. We discussed the possibility of submitting information for the next report of the Secretary General of the United Nations on the status of the death penalty and next steps.
In the afternoon, we attended the last session of the Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), with reports and the adoption of resolutions on the Committee sessions. While most of the resolutions are adopted without further debate, there was some dispute over the resolution on the emergency item, “IPU Initiative for an immediate halt to the bloodshed and human rights violations in Syria (…)”. In particular, disagreement was expressed by various delegations, amongst them South Africa, Syria, Venezuela, Chile, Cuba and North Korea, on para. 12 stating support for the “continuation of diplomatic and economic sanctions on the Syrian Government until such a time as the situation improves significantly.”
A Presidential Statement on Mali was unanimously adopted, demanding inter alia “that the military junta make a commitment to honour its solemn declaration of 1 April 2012 aimed at effectively restoring the Republic’s institutions, and to relinquish power”. Another resolution was adopted by acclamation on “promoting and practicing good governance as a means of advancing peace and security: drawing lessons from recent events in the Middle East and North Africa.”
The resolution on “Access to Health as a Basic Right” focusing on women and children disappointingly has not picked up healthcare needs of female prisoners. Apparently, no parliamentary delegation has taken up the issue raised by PRI during the Committee meeting. The lesson learned is that without advocacy prior to the IPU Assembly and a champion delegation, there is little chance for issues raised in Committee meetings to get “picked up” during the conference.
In conclusion, it has been a long and interesting week in Kampala, which brought what we were expecting it would. Delegates didn’t embrace penal reform right away as the issue of their most desperate concern, but we were able to set a few “markers” on penal reform, presented our organization and contributed a little bit to the visibility of NGOs in this forum. Most importantly, we now understand better how this institution functions and how to go about further advocacy within the IPU.
Unfortunately, we did not get to see anything of the country, except for a brief glimpse on our way to Entebbe airport where we will get before our long flight back to London tomorrow morning. On board with us are new ideas how to promote the penal reform agenda amongst parliamentarians and within the IPU.