The UN human rights office in Uganda ceased operations on Sunday after the Government decided not to renew the host country agreement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday, affirming that he “remains committed” to working in the country, in line with his global mandate.
The closure of the office in Kampala follows the recent closure of sub-offices in Gulu and Moroto sub-offices.
In February, the Government decided to terminate the mandate of the High Commissioner’s Office, OHCHR, in Uganda. According to media reports, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights defenders denounced the move and called for its reversal.
The government explained that given its strong commitment to the promotion and protection of Human Rights, the prevailing peace throughout the country, coupled with strong National Human Rights Institutions and a vibrant Civil Society — with the capacity to monitor the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the country, it could no longer renew the mandate beyond the current term.
A letter dated February 3 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that the government of Uganda would continue its cooperation with the OHCHR Headquarters either directly or through its Permanent Mission in Geneva.
“The Ministry wishes to convey Government’s appreciation to the OHCHR Country Office for its contribution towards the promotion and protection of Human Rights in Uganda, and the enhancement of the capacity of National Human Rights Institutions and Civil Society Organizations in the country,” the statement read.
“I regret that our office in Uganda had to close after 18 years, during which we were able to work closely with civil society, people from various walks of life in Uganda, as well as engaging with State institutions for the promotion and protection of the human rights of all Ugandans,” Volker Türk said in a news release.
“On our part, the UN human rights office remains committed to working on human rights in Uganda, in line with my global mandate,” he added.
Progress, but challenges remain
High Commissioner Türk recalled the engagement with the Government and partners, including the integration of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in national planning, and the adoption of a national action plan on business and human rights.
“Much progress has been made in the country over the years, but serious human rights challenges remain in the path to the full enjoyment of human rights for all,” he said.
In particular, Mr Türk expressed concern about the period ahead of the 2026 elections, given an increasingly hostile environment in which human rights defenders, civil society actors and journalists are operating.
Earlier this year, other UN human rights mechanisms, such as the Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee, also expressed concerns, including over the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in May 2023 that criminalises consenting sexual relations between adults of the same sex and provides severe sanctions, including the death penalty.
‘Chronic’ underfunding of the national rights body
Mr. Türk called on the Government to ensure the Uganda Human Rights Commission can function effectively and independently, as the main body tasked with human rights oversight in the country.
“[The Commission], our long-standing partner in the protection and promotion of human rights in the country, is chronically under-funded and under-staffed, and reports of political interference in its mandate undermine its legitimacy, independence and impartiality,” he said.
“I urge the Ugandan government to provide the Commission with adequate human, technical and financial resources so that it may more effectively execute its important mandate.”
Established in 2005
OHCHR’s Uganda office was established in July 2005 with offices in Gulu, Kitgum, Kotido, Lira, Pader, Soroti, and the head office in Kampala.
Its initial mandate focused on the human rights situation in the conflict-affected areas of Northern and Northeastern Uganda. In 2009, the mandate was extended to cover the entire country and all human rights issues.
Uganda’s OHCHR office was among Africa’s most significant stand-alone UN human rights presences.