Prominent Ugandan activist Dr. Sarah Bireete has consistently defended human rights over the years. Apart from being a civil society leader, she is also the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), a constitutional watchdog in Uganda that she founded in 2011.
“All through my life I never wanted to see anybody’s rights being taken away. So as a child, I would fight people who were in the habit of beating their children. That element of standing up, I did not know that I would end up doing this work for almost the rest of my life,”- Sarah explains the foundation of her journey into activism.
She has enriched her knowledge and understanding of governance issues, especially in areas of constitutionalism, human rights, Civic Space, electoral democracy, land rights, research and advocacy, public interest litigation as well as conflict transformation.
Sarah Bireete was charged by the Anti-Corruption court with embezzlement and abuse of office in 2009 in her role as National Coordinator of the International Conference of the Great Lake Regions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The High court Judge sentenced her to ten years’ imprisonment. She appealed to the Court of Appeal.
In 2016, the Court of Appeal acquitted her on the charge of abuse of office but maintained the conviction for embezzlement. Sarah then appealed this decision to the Supreme Court where they unanimously acquitted her of the embezzlement charge.
She was convicted in 2019 even though her attorneys argued that the sentence was in spite of prosecution evidence from the police investigation that indicated that the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry and the cashier were at fault for the loss of the funds.
Bireete went through so many challenges and suffered for over 10 years. She was branded, shunned and ostracized by some during this difficult decade but she preserved as her urge for fighting back increased.
“We have terrible cyber and physical trail in Uganda but we believe that one day sentiments will return to our country and there will be justice for all,” Sarah believes as she points out there has been increased backsliding of democracy and good governance not only in Uganda but the whole of East Africa.
Bireete’s story is not a tale for the faint-hearted as she points out that activism is a lifelong battle. “In activism, there’s no point of return, no retreat, no surrender. You will always be there standing up for the vulnerable for the victims and for those who are suffering,” she says.
Watch Dr Sarah Bireete’s story: