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Uganda Constitutional Court Issues Landmark Decision on Women’s Rights

September 3, 2020
addie myers and prof. novogrodsky in Uganda with partners

On August 19, 2020, the Constitutional Court of Uganda announced a major victory for Ugandan women, human rights, and the Kampala-based Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) in a case that University of Wyoming College of Law faculty and students have been involved in since 2012. The Constitutional Court ruled unanimously that the failure of the government to provide basic maternal health care services and emergency obstetric care in public health facilities is a violation of rights codified in the Ugandan Constitution and international human rights treaties.

The Court ordered the government to implement several immediate financial and structural remedies requested by the petitioners and to make periodic progress reports to the Court. The Court also awarded two individual petitioners (the families of women who lost their lives in childbirth) general and exemplary damages (totaling approximately $42,000 US each) to remedy “psychological torture, violation of the rights to life, health and cruel and degrading treatment of their loved ones.”

Barring appeal, the decision concludes nine years of litigation against the government. The College of Law’s Center for International Human Rights Law and Advocacy (CIHRLA), under the leadership of Professor Noah Benjamin Novogrodsky, assisted CEHURD with a successful appeal to the Supreme Court of Uganda, as well as proceedings before the Constitutional Court.

Over the years, Wyoming law students grappled with the intricacies and challenges of international human rights litigation traveled to Uganda to work directly with CEHURD and other stakeholders. The work of the students has inched the case forward, small victory after small victory as early as November 2015, and including most recently in November 2019

The work on the maternal mortality case benefitted from the efforts of more than a dozen Wyoming law students, Golten Fellows Tilman Jacobs, Adam Severson and Jamie Crawford, and the sustained assistance of the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.  CIHRLA is also grateful for the contributions of the Human Rights Center of UC Berkeley, HealthGap, Dr. Ndola Prata and Karen Weidert of the Bixby Center for Population, Health, and Sustainability, the law firm of Arnold & Porter, Dr. Peter Waiswa, and the many individual donors and supporters to the case.

Congratulations to CEHURD, Uganda’s women’s rights community, and the other African health rights advocates who have seen the case through to the Constitutional Court decision. 

The opinion is available here.  Coverage of the case is available at https://www.independent.co.ug/constitutional-court-orders-govt-to-compile-audit-on-maternal-health/

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