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Bill on human rights passed by EALA / New law to see establishment of an EAC Human Rights Commission

By East African Legislative Assembly (EALA)
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NAIROBI, Kenya, April 26, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- EALA has today debated and passed the EAC Human Rights Bill, 2012 paving the way for a new law (Act of the Community) should the EAC Heads of State assent to the same.

The Bill whose prime mover is Hon Frederic Ngenzebuhoro, seeks to give effect to the provisions of the Treaty for EAC on human and peoples' rights. The Bill consolidates the various principles on human and people's rights found in the Charter on Human rights and various conventions and agreements including the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Right as well as the UN Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. The Bill further provides an institutional framework for research in the area of human rights and will lead to harmonization of applicable principles and rules across board.

During debate, Hon Gervase Akhaabi termed the Bill positive stating that it took into consideration the rights of all including that of the minority and marginalized groups. On his part, Hon Wilbert Kaahwa moved an amendment that the new law broadens the definition of the outlawed acts and forms of torture to include physical and psychological torture, the latter of which he said, went beyond the confines of mental torture aspects.

Hon Dora Byamukama noted that during the public hearings held in the Partner States, stakeholders had strongly supported the enactment of a Community law that recognizes, promotes and protects human rights.

“The enforcement of fundamental rights and freedoms is provided for in the constitutions and laws of Partner States and it is their (Partner States) duty to enforce the rights”, she said, adding that, with the entry of the Common Market Protocol, enjoyment of rights under the new Bill remained of absolute importance.

The debate was preceded by the tabling of a report of the Committee of on Legal Rules and Privileges on the recent public hearings and sittings in the Partner States.

The Bill further enables the formation of an East African Community Human Rights Commission. The Commission whose mandate is to ensure the protection of human and peoples' rights in the economic bloc shall consist of a membership of five persons (one per Partner State) appointed by the Summit of the EAC Heads of State upon recommendation of the Council of Ministers.

The Members are to be elected to serve a three year period renewable once. Its mandate includes inter alia co-operating with other regional and international institutions concerned with the promotion and protection of human and peoples' rights and the formulation of principles aimed at solving related legal problems.

The Assembly also posed questions to the Council of Ministers. Hon Jacqueline Muhongayire had sought to know progress with regards to the EAC Transport strategy. In response, Kenya's Assistant Minister for EAC, Hon Peter Munya, stated that the region had commissioned two studies under the East African Trade and Transport facilitation project.

The Minister noted that close to 4000 kilometres accounting for 25% of the network was constrained and that there was need to add more lanes and dual carriageways. A further 3000 kms of roads are currently operating under the warning or deteriorated state calling for immediate pavement, he added.

On ports, Hon Munya noted that the ports of Dar es Salaam and Mombasa were making good progress and that similar considerations were underway to develop ports in Lamu, Kenya and Mwambani, Zanzibar to reduce on the traffic.

Hon Munya brought to fore the fact that general rehabilitation of the ports were on-going and noted that the plans to establish the one stop border posts were on-track. In this regard, Hon Munya said a draft Bill on One Stop Border Posts (OSBP) was under consideration by the Council before it is tabled in EALA for debate.

Hon Dan Ogalo wondered about the progress of the Council of Ministers with regards to a directive issued by the Summit of Heads of State to come up with a law protecting the assets of the Community.

In response, the Council of Ministers through Hon Munya noted that the Bill was under draft with its objects being that of obliging Partner States to accord diplomatic status, privileges and immunities to the Community. The Minister insisted that the Bill shall also ensure the Community and its institutions enjoy legal immunity from every form of the legal process.

On Non-Tariff Barriers, the Minister placed on the table a Communique on NTBs following a series of meetings of the Council of Ministers.The Communique among other things lays bare the time-bound programme for elimination of NTBs.

The regional parliament is expected to end its two-week deliberations tomorrow.