Article 2 of the Constitution of Uganda provides for supremacy the Constitution and nullifies any law or conduct that contravenes it. The Constitution in Chapter Four espouses basic rights for everyone and provides, through several other laws, avenues for redressing any violations/abuses of one’s rights.
Like they say, knowledge is power. Therefore, knowledge of ones rights and obligations is crucial. If one is ignorant of their rights, they deny themselves the right take actions to protect him/her. As a matter of fact, in Uganda, the State, under Article 4 is mandated to promote public awareness of the Constitution through inter alia, translating it to many languages, and providing for its inclusion in all educational institutions and programmes (it’s up to you, reader to asses if this is happening!). Similarly, an entire chapter, as stated above is dedicated to fundamental and other human rights and freedoms.
But what is the reality on the ground?
My experience in legal aid service provision and overall human rights work for the past five years shows that a large number of Ugandans cannot or do not have access to basic legal information. Most people are ignorant of their rights and obligations under the law. Even those who can read and write panic when there is an infringement of their rights. Therefore, people need information about laws and procedures; advice and assistance on how to apply them and/ or where to go; and counselling as to their available choices.
People need information from different aspects of the law to enable them fight for or defend their rights. Our society is filled with thousands of people whose rights are abused and violated on a daily basis but are unable to take any action because they are ignorant of their rights. In some extreme cases, they may not even be aware their rights have been trampled upon and that they have lawful options of remedying the injustice.
Legal information and awareness of human rights therefore empowers people to claim their rights and fulfill their obligations under the law. Thus, there’s an urgent need to institute or strengthen mechanisms to ensure that citizens appreciate their rights. The work of tmost NGOs and government agencies, though commendable, is still inadequate. We need programmes aimed at empowering people with knowledge particularly the poor and vulnerable groups in our society who in my opinion, are the primary target beneficiaries of these rights.
Remember, that the law is only powerful if it is understood well.