Litigation through pro bono services has a vital role to play in addressing the gaps in the area of public health law in Uganda. Although litigation has not effectively been used to promote public health in the country, a number of opportunities exist, including article 50 (1) of the Constitution which allows any person who claims that his or her right has been violated to seek redress from court, including compensation.
In addition, article 52 of the Constitution empowers the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to ‘investigate, at its own initiative or on a complaint made by a person or group of persons against the violation of any human rights’. The HRC has established a tribunal which handles human rights complaints against both the state and individuals. However, according to the annual Report of the HRC for 2008 over 1000 complaints were handled in the tribunal but only three were relating to health rights. In an interview with the person in charge of the Health Rights Desk at the commission it was revealed that the right to health section in the commission is relatively new. Unlike cases of torture (which had majority of the cases handled in the tribunal) where the commission collaborates with Non-governmental Organizations to help in handling the technical issues of the complaints before they reach the commission, the commission has not established such a collaboration on handling health rights complaints. This means that the majority of health rights complaints do not reach the tribunal. This provides an opportunity for working with the commission to handle health rights related complaints in Uganda.
Although there are a number of organizations working on health rights in Uganda, there is no specific organization that is focusing on litigation as an advocacy strategy for health rights. Although there are also some opportunities for provision of legal aid in Uganda, the main focus of this legal aid is in other rights such as the right to property (mostly land) and not on health rights.
The Center for Health, Human Rights and Development is working on a program of work to offer pro bono services with a specific focus on the right to health. The focus of this program of work will be on exploring the possibilities of utilizing legal remedies available to redress the problems pertaining to health rights. The anticipated outcome is an increase in pro bono legal services to improve health rights and refinement of litigation strategies in those areas where precedents of legal action exist and in those where precedents have yet to be set in Uganda and the East African Region.
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Center for Health, Human Rights and Development