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Chief Justice Questions Conduct of Security Forces in Enforcement COVID-19 Restrictions

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Giving a keynote address at the launch of the special issue journal on Covid-19 and freedom of expression, assembly and access to information by Human Rights and Peace Center (HURIPEC) in Kampala on Tuesday, Justice Owinyi- Dollo urged Ugandans to prioritise saving lives ahead of the rights to expression, assembly and accessing information.
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The Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has called for discussion on the ongoing enforces of the COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions by government agencies. According to Justice, Owinyi- Dollo, the freedom to enjoy life takes precedence over other freedoms and civil liberties.

Giving a keynote address at the launch of the special issue journal on Covid-19 and freedom of expression, assembly and access to information by Human Rights and Peace Center (HURIPEC) in Kampala on Tuesday, Justice Owiny- Dollo urged Ugandans to prioritise saving lives ahead of the rights to expression, assembly and accessing information.

The journal is a critical assessment of the state of freedom of expression, assembly and access to information in the East African region in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The chief Justice conceded that freedom of expression and assembly are fundamental human rights as stated in article 19 of the universal declaration of human rights and the constitution, adding that free speech is an enabler of the enjoyment of other rights such as the right to vote.

He observed that COVID-19 restrictions have however led to growing tension between the protection of public health and protection of civil liberties and broader access to justice and rule of law.  He however, noted that freedoms are not absolute and a pandemic like COVID-19 necessitates restrictions on rights.

“There comes a time when restrictions have to be imposed and I would argue that in this instance, we must place restrictions on the freedom of expression. It doesn’t matter if it is declared by one person as a decree or whether all the people of Uganda in one room and they agree on it in a referendum but our purpose is to save lives,” he said. 

The Chief Justice argued that the discussion must shift towards the manner, in which the states have imposed the restrictions, saying he takes exception on the use of unreasonable and disproportionate force by security forces in enforcing the restrictions.

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Justice Owiny- Dollo was responding to a presentation by Dr, Zahara Nampewo, the Director HURIPEC School of law Makerere University who noted that several countries in the region including Uganda are infringing on fundamental rights under the guise of enforcing Covid19 guidelines.

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