minority rights

Minority Vis-À-Vis Majority Rights

The status quo

The human rights situation in Africa is diverse, complex and it varies from country to country and from one community to another. Whereas some states and communities have improved their human rights situation, others have, unfortunately, not. There have been a plethora of both conflicts – with the protectors and/or guarantors of human rights and the people that they are meant to protect, and violations of both innate and legislated rights – by the supposed protectors and/or guarantors. Conflicts, it should be noted, do not arise because people demand their rights, but because their rights are violated.

Although the African continent as such is struggling with massive human rights problems, it is a reality that some marginalized and vulnerable groups are suffering even more. They are not accommodated, by dominant development paradigms, and in many cases they are even being victimized by mainstream development policies and thinking. Some of these marginalized, minorities are as diverse as the indigenous peoples and those of alternative sexual orientations.

What is being done?

  1. The upside

Just like most things in Africa, and the rest of the world, most things, including human rights – their recognition, enforcement, and violation, human rights are, indeed, a mysterious, would be forgotten if it was not for setting up of various infrastructure (re: commissions) and groups which are dedicated to providing visibility for both recognition and violation of both minority and human rights.

In Uganda, for example, the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda and several individuals – such as Kiiza Besigye, a former presidential candidate, who describes himself as a human rights activist and Nicholas Opio, a lawyer who has recently won the Vera Chirwa Human Rights Award and the Human Rights Watch Alison Des Forges Award for extra ordinary activism – dedicated to the cause are good examples.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission has, for example set up human rights desks and regional offices to be used for the protection of rights. However, the Chairperson of the Commission has confessed that the job can be traumatizing. That could be because of the numerous cases of violations – both documented and not, and, worse, killings like those of Willie Kimani, a Kenyan human rights lawyer, and the recent Kasese Killings. As such, the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission has recommended the invitation of special rapporteurs to enable human rights reviews because, it has been argued and recommended, human rights defenders need continuous support.

  1. The downside

However, even with all these positive efforts being made, there is, admittedly, no progress towards respect of human rights in Uganda – specifically, and in Africa – in general. Legislators have slammed the army’s – Uganda People’s Defence Forces – and the Uganda Police’s interaction and/or involvement and/or engagement with human rights. The Uganda Human Rights Commission has condemned the Kasese Killings of 2016, which it said was an illustration of the beating that Uganda’s human rights have taken. Also, violations of freedom of expression and use of excessive force by security officials continue in Uganda.


Lately, some of the most notorious legislations and violations have pertained to the rights of especially sexual minorities, or rather LGBTI rights. Some people have tweeted that minority rights supersede majority rights while others have used the same platform to argue that they do not believe in gay or any form of minority rights but that they believe in human (re: majority) rights.

Previously, in 2016, the Uganda Police shut down an LGBTI event in Kampala and arrested participants and minority rights activists who happened to be there. Probably, in the Police’s judgment, an effect of the High Court’s nullification of the Anti-Homosexuality law – one of anti-LGBTI legislations enacted in Uganda, Nigeria, and The Gambia – which targeted capping LGBTI rights. Even when Uganda Kuchus Acquatic Team has been celebrated for providing visibility of LGBTI rights in Uganda through sport, human rights advocates believe that Uganda’s anti-gay stance amounts to human rights abuse.

There have been other not so visible violations of minority people’s rights, such as those of indigenous people and of ethnic people’s, which some commentators have found to be ignored by the Uganda Human Rights Commission.

What human rights issues should be of concern?

Without a doubt, certain and several groups are victims of particular forms of human rights abuses. However, we, human rights defenders or otherwise should not be selfish or selective in our recognition and defence of some rights in comparison of others.

The main human rights issues at stake for all groups have a collective nature. These rights have been detailed in the African Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights and most of our African Constitutions and other legislations. They include but are not limited to the following; rights to land and productive resources, rights to political recognition, representation and participation, the right to health and medical attention, the right to education, the right to existence and to their own development, the right to constitutional and legislative recognition, no marginalization from social services, no violation of cultural rights, no denial of justice, and, most importantly, no discrimination.

Violation of any of the above rights should, and inevitably, lead to conflicts because all people, and not some of them, collectively agree that these named rights have been breached. When it comes to defence of human rights, we should be careful enough to never concentrate on classifying some of affected groups or communities as any better or more important than any others.


The elaboration of modalities to protect the human rights of particularly discriminated groups should not be seen as a disruption of the status quo. On the contrary, it should be welcomed as an interesting and much needed opportunity in the African human rights arena to discuss ways of developing African multicultural democracies based on the respect and contribution of all groups. We should all, minorities or otherwise, always aim for inclusion and/or coexistence with one another.


This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 1, Issue 3 of January 20th, 2017 under the title, “Minority Vis-À-Vis Majority Rights: The Politics of Human Rights”

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