Workshop report: Realising the Right to Education in Uganda
LRC and ISER create a space for learning and collaboration in Uganda
The Legal Resources Centre (LRC), in collaboration with the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), hosted a two day workshop on 18-19 March 2015 in Kampala, which focussed on using strategic litigation to realise the right to education in Uganda.
A range of local organisations attended the event; including the Legal Brains Trust, the Ugandan Human Rights Commission, Centre for Public Interest Litigation, as well as Women for Uganda and Girls’ Education Movement. Over 40 participants attended over the two days.
ISER, an independent human rights organisation responsible for promoting the effective understanding, monitoring, implementation and realisation of economic and social rights in Uganda, has recently embarked on litigation in respect of education, and welcomed the opportunity to receive advice and guidance from the LRC.
The workshop was officially opened by Justice Lydia Mugambe, a Ugandan High Court Judge, who encouraged advocates to “think outside the box” and employ innovative methods when litigating socio-economic rights cases. She explained that the time is right to launch socio-economic litigation, and that courts are ready to hear these cases.
Salima Namusobya, executive director of ISER, gave a presentation on the current education system in Uganda, and outlined the major concerns. She described the fact that there is declining investment in public education, while there is an increase in investment in private education. Many classrooms in public schools have no furniture or sanitation, and children are forced to share textbooks and other equipment. Children of different ages and in different classes are forced to sit in the same cramped classrooms. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of low-fee private schools with the support of the state. The concern is that these schools are unregulated and enable the state to relinquish their obligation to provide a good quality education in state schools.
Ms Namusobya explained that ISER launched a case in respect of the right to education last year, in an attempt to prevent the state cutting school capitulation grants from Shs 7,000 to Shs 4,000 per pupil per annum. The registrar who initially heard the case denied the order, with the State arguing that it would stop the reading of the budget taking place, and thus financially affecting the whole country. Therefore, the case is still before the court. The case did, however, highlight the issue, and the Minister of Education confirmed in parliament that the grant would be maintained this year and, perhaps, even increased next year.
Sarah Sephton, an attorney with the LRC, presented on the education system in South Africa and the successful litigation which has been undertaken there. It became clear that many of the problems in Ugandan public schools were very similar to those addressed in the LRC’s cases. Sephton explained that cases had dealt with “mud schools,” whereby the state had been ordered to rebuild schools made of mud and makeshift material. Other successful cases had seen the state ordered to provide furniture in schools, provide school infrastructure and to appoint and pay teachers.
Sephton explained that the cases had not been straightforward and that, although eventually successful, the LRC had to repeatedly return to court when the state defied court orders, and that there are on-going problems with implementation. However, she explained that litigation had now become a successful and important tool in forcing the government to fulfil its obligation to provide each child with a decent education. The LRC also distributed “Ready to Learn…. a legal resource for realising the right to education,” a publication which sets out each of these cases in detail and provides examples of court documents.
The workshop was also an opportunity to consider the role of litigation in relation to other advocacy methods. Shona Gazidis of the LRC prompted a discussion regarding other strategies, such as providing public information, social mobilisation and establishing community advice centres, and how litigation can be used in conjunction with these strategies to produce the best results.
Although the workshop was an opportunity to discuss issues in an African context, the right to education is a global issue and therefore the workshop also considered the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the proposed post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, with a particular focus on the role of education in the global development agenda. Litigating the right to education not only improves conditions for children in the respective countries, but contributes to the achievement of the wider global development goals.
Finally, a discussion was led by Isaac Kimaze of the Legal Brains Trust with regard to what possible cases could be litigated in Uganda. It is anticipated that this discussion will continue, with the guidance and advice of the LRC.
The workshop was an opportunity to increase collaboration between African organisations, thus strengthening the African human rights network and contributing more generally to the global human rights agenda. It is hoped that the success of the workshop will result in successful litigation in respect of education and other socio economic rights in Uganda, and lead to improving the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society.
– Shona Gazidis
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