Uganda court okays suit challenging govt failure to translate Constitution

Uganda court okays suit challenging govt failure to translate Constitution
Uganda's incumbent President Yoweri Museveni shows a copy of Uganda's Constitution after swearing in at Kololo Independence Grounds in Kampala, Uganda, May 12, 2021.

Kampala, Uganda | URN | The High Court in Kampala has okayed lawyers; Michael Aboneka and Martins Kirya to continue pursuing their suit against the Government of Uganda for alleged failure to translate the 1995 Constitution into 56 indigenous languages. 

Civil division High Court judge, Boniface Wamala made the ruling after rejecting the government’s prayers not to allow the matter to proceed to a full trial on grounds that the petitioners filed the case wrongly before the High court instead of taking it to the Constitutional court.

In 2019, Aboneka and Kirya dragged the Attorney General before the High Court over the alleged failure to translate the 1995 Constitution into indigenous languages, promote awareness and ensure that all training and military institutions review their curriculums to incorporate and teach the constitution as required. 

Article 4(a) stipulates that “The State shall promote public awareness of this Constitution by—translating it into Ugandan languages and disseminating it as widely as possible.”

According to the petition, the government committed itself in the third schedule of the Constitution to promote public awareness by translating and disseminating the Constitution in indigenous languages to enable all Ugandans to understand and appreciate their God-given rights.  

However, the petitioners argue that more than 20 years after the promulgation of the Constitution, the government has failed to fulfil its commitments, which is unconstitutional. The petitioners want court to issue an order to the government to cause the review of the curriculum of educational and training institutions to promote the full awareness and teaching of the constitution. 

They also want the same court to issue another order to the government to introduce regular programs on national media to disseminate the constitution. The two also asked the High court to order government to consider the visually impaired persons and the deaf through customizing the translated versions of the Constitution into usable formats. 

However, when the matter came up for hearing in 2021, state attorney Moses Mugisha from the Attorney General’s Chambers asked the court to dismiss the suit, saying it lacked merit because it had wrongly been fined in the High court as a notice of motion as opposed to filing it as an application for enforcement of fundamental rights and freedoms.

The government further argued that the lawyers didn’t have the right to sue the Attorney General, who is the official representative of the government in civil matters because they did not have instructions from the general public to sue on their behalf. 

However, in his ruling to the parties delivered via email, justice Wamala dismissed the Attorney General’s submissions with costs, saying that the case should go on and be heard and determined on its merits since the lawyers sued in their individual capacities.

“Their suit is brought in their capacity as individuals affected by the breach by the state of its constitutional duty…As such this matter was not brought in the public interest or as a public interest litigation”, said Wamala. 

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Adding that “in the circumstances, therefore, this matter was neither for alleged infringement of any fundamental or other human right or freedom under Chapter Four of the Constitution, therefore, nor in the public interest”.

According to the judge, the government’s lawyers appeared to give an impression that the only way of accessing the courts in the enforcement of rights and duties provided for under the constitution is through a filing under the Judicature Fundamental and Other Human Rights and Freedoms Enforcement Procedure of Rules of 2019 and through constitutional interpretation, which he said was very far away from the truth.

“In the instant case, despite the mixture of pleadings based on personal claims with those improperly based on public interest, I find that the plaintiffs/lawyers have established that they enjoyed a right to be taught the Constitution at all levels of education; and to access translated versions of the Constitution in their local languages,” added justice Wamala.

As such, the judge ruled that the objections previously raised by the Attorney General who is the only respondent in this matter have no merit. In 2015, Aaron Hayoda and Samuel Serunjogi, both concerned citizens petitioned the Constitutional court challenging the government’s failure to translate the Constitution into indigenous languages. 

They argued that failure to translate the Constitution into native languages is inconsistent with the Constitution and hinders peoples’ awareness of their rights, duties, and obligations.