The Inaugural National conference on Economic, social and Cultural Rights

On the 17th and 18th of September 2014 the Public Interest Law Clinic (PILAC), the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) as well as The Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD)  where proud organizers of the well-attended National Conference on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which was held at Makerere  University Main Hall the following is what transpired;
 
Day One:
 
Key Speakers: Assoc.Prof. Christopher Mbazira School of Law Director PILAC, Dr. DamalieNaggita Dean School of Law , John Mary Odoi Director HURINET-U, Prof. Nawangwe Deputy Dean F&A Makerere University, Hon Justice Joel M.Ngugi Judge of the High Court of Kenya, Prof. John Jean Barya School of Law , Ms.SalimaNamusobya  Executive director ISER, Hon Justice Kiryabwire Geoffrey judge of the Court of Appeal, and many others.
 
Dr. Christopher Mbazirathe PILACcoordinator  welcomed the participants to the inaugural National Conference on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.
He emphasized thatthe subject to be discussed was very pertinent explaining that when we talk about economic, social and cultural rights they are usually contrasted with civil and political rights he further alluded to the fact that for a very long time economic, social and political rights have been marginalized in favor of civil and political rights with perceptions in some circles that civil and political rights are the only rights passé.
 
However he pointed out that over the last ten years within the U.N and at various levels and within mechanisms that are charged with protection and promotion of human rights these perceptions have been changed to emphasize that all rights are universal, interdependent, indivisible and interrelated and that economic, social and cultural rights are as important as civil and political rights.
 
He expressed his dismay that in practice things are different in many countries economic, social and cultural rights are marginalized in terms of protection in the national laws, and that they are also marginalized in terms of judicial enforcement, as well as marginalization in terms of actual realization.
 
In the case of Uganda he divulged that we have what is considered to be progressive constitution that is the 1995 Constitutionwhich has what is considered to be a comprehensive bill of rights but at the same time a critical look at the bill of rights indicates that it is lacking in a number of respects, not enough emphasis is put on  protection of economic, social and cultural rights save for the right of education which is expressly protected leaving out such rights as health, housing, water and social, security are not expressly protected but only appear as part of the national objectives and directive principles of state policy.
 
He also highlighted that even in the courts performance as far as protecting the rights was still wanting, citing that the constitutional court a few years ago declined to adjudicate over a case concerning maternal health on grounds that the case is barred by the political question for adjudicating such rights.
 
Given the above reasons and more, this warranted the organization of such a forum to devise means of addressing such crucial matters of social, economic, and cultural importance.
 
In the Keynote address entitled “the moral, Legal, and Political Imperative for the Protection of Economic, social and cultural rights as justiciable”, The Honorable Justice M.Ngugi- Judge of the High Court of Kenya made mention of the following;
 
The Honorable Justice kick started his speech by stating some legal propositions namely; 
 
1. Law and legal rules can be both a tool of oppression as well as a tool of emancipation. 
 
2. It is not always self-evident when laws or legal rules are doing one thing or the other.
 
3. In most areas but specifically in the economic sphere law is definitionally distributive I.e., by definition law distributes goods and services to certain individuals.
 
He then emphasized proposition number three as the most crucial point to remember over the rest of the propositions on quote, ”The law is definitionally distributive”.
Among the examples he cited to elucidate that the law is definitionally distributive was that economic history of the United States between 1850-1937 notoriously known as the economic period of the robber barons also called the period of classical legal thought in the United States, he stipulated that in this period that’s where they believed in a root canal market economy such that everything had to be distributed through the market, and that the State should not protect any individuals but to ensure that the individuals follow the rules of the game hoping to unleash exponential economic growth. Unfortunately around 1930 the great depression was precipitated as a result of the economic theory.
 
However it tooklaws that directly intervened in the market place on behalf of the savings of some individuals that they found directly disadvantaged for the economy of the United States to start rising again, it included bringing back many of the protections to workers, protection for the environment, protection of the women and the children through the new key legislations that came in after 1937.
 
He further cited a truism that any society that functionally prevents a significant portion of its population from upward mobility or enables a significant segment of its population to continue leaving in abstract poverty is a society committing political suicide and is a society that won’t leave for long.
 
In conclusion he said all the arguments have powerful responses, which means social economic rights are the most effective way of ensuring social inclusion and social equity especially in a situation where you couple that with the judiciary that has the tools to develop sensible jurisprudence that are based on sensitive issues that are happening and urged the Country to involve social economic rights in its constitution.