Implementing Human Rights in Ugandan Prisons


Start date: 30 December, 2008 End date: 30 December, 2012 Project type: Smaller projects: PhD Project code: 53-08-DIHR Countries: Uganda Thematic areas: Conflict, peace and security, Lead institution: Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), Denmark Policy Brief: Read Project coordinator: Tomas Max Martin Total grant: 2,724,247 DKK

Project summary

A key initiative to address the challenges currently facing the Ugandan Prisons Service - challenges it shares with many penal systems across post-colonial Africa - has been the development of a new prison act, passed in April 2006. The Prison Act represents a milestone in prison reform in Uganda. It offers a modernized legal framework for imprisonment, embeds human rights in penal policy, establishes prisoners' rights and strengthens the management Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) e.g. by providing it with the responsibility of former local administration prisons. The task now facing the UPS is to translate the law into practice. The study will analyze how the new, rights-based prison law is implemented as prison officials interpret and put the new Prison Act into practice with special focus on the reform of disciplinary measures. The study will offer an institutional and actor-oriented analysis of prison reform processes in Uganda and offer insights about the challenges and dynamics related to the implementation of a rights-based prison law. The study will be based on 10 month's fieldwork in Uganda. A state and a district prison in Central Region will be the main field sites. Mapping of the institutional structure with special focus on disciplinary measures, key informant interviews with prison managers in the translation of law into practice. The study will contribute to the growing empirical research into the under-studied field of prison reform and prison practice in the South and offer a research-based contribution to justice sector reform policies and strategies aimed to promote and protect human rights in prisons in Uganda and in post-colonial Africa in general.


Project Completion Report:

The research project examines how human rights are embraced by the powerful state institutions that they are supposed to regulate. This local appropriatioriof human rights is investigated in tlie particular context of a penal bureaucracy in Africa: the Uganda Prisons Service (UPS).

UPS faces the same difficulties as other African prison systems -overcrowding, health problems, violence, dilapidated structures and scant resources. In the late 1990s, UPS embarked on a much-lauded human rights-based reform process backed by donor funds and supported by local NGOs.
An ethnographic analysis of everyday practices of Ugandan prison staff shows how human rights reform is exported into Ugandan prisons. Yet, the powerful global discourse of human rights is significantly localised in the process as prison officers appropriate human rights talk and law and put them to local use. Thus, it is argued that human rights take effect in Ugandan prisons as a form of governance that quickens bureaucratic power and institutional reproduction. A local human rights culture is produced which devalues brutality and privileges law, while violence, paramilitary control, custodial imperatives and pragmatic rule-bending are updated in newfound forms.
The research thereby offers an in-depth understanding of how human rights are translated into local practices of security officials, which may inspire justice sector stakeholders in Africa to develop more sustainable and locaily owned reform agendas.

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