The High Court in Kampala has ordered the government and the Electoral Commission to allow Ugandans in Diaspora and those in prison to participate in elections because they have a right to vote under Article 59 of the Constitution.
The order was issued on Thursday morning by Justice Lydia Mugambe, following a 2018 suit by lawyer and human rights activist Steven Kalali against the Attorney General and the Electoral Commission for orders compelling government to immediately register jailed Ugandans and those in the diaspora as voters and to facilitate their voting in subsequent elections since their exclusion from the voting process amounts to discrimination.
In her ruling, Mugambe stated that she finds no justification of the Electoral Commission’s continued violation of the named Ugandans constitutional rights.
The Electoral Commission’s lawyer Hamidu Lugolobi had argued that the two categories of Ugandan citizens in issue cannot vote because the current legal framework does not cater for intricacies connected with voting in incarceration or the diaspora.
But Mugambe disagreed with him stating that Article 59(1) and (2) of the Constitution gives all Ugandans aged 18 years and above the right to be registered as voters and to vote.
“Being a prisoner or in the diaspora does not take away one’s citizenship. It follows therefore that these statuses also do not take away the rights, like the right to vote, that results from one’s citizenship under the constitution,” Justice Mugambe said.
Mugambe also explained that she had conducted research and found that prisoners were allowed to vote in countries like South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia which subscribe to several international human rights laws, to which Uganda is a signatory. She ordered the government and the Electoral Commission to put in place all mechanisms to make sure that the said adult categories of people participate in all future elections.
The right to vote, according to the constitution, is accorded to all nationals aged 18 and above. Similarly, the right to vote without discrimination is set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides that everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Although the declaration is not a treaty in itself, it is generally considered customary international law and therefore has binding status
Justice Lydia Mugambe accordingly directed the Electoral Commission to comply with its obligation under Article 59(3) and take all necessary steps to ensure that as Citizens, they are registered and exercise their right to vote in the coming 2021 General Elections.