Duty of Government to Provide Decent Housing for Police Officers in Uganda

Steven Kalali v Attorney General, Miscellaneous Cause No. 88 of 2022


The High Court recently delivered a ground breaking judgment regarding the duty of government to provide decent shelter to police officers.


The applicant filed a motion against the attorney general (government) seeking human rights declarations and orders to realize, promote, and protect the right to access to decent shelter by police officers. The applicant contended that the dilapidated housing structures provided to junior police officers fail to meet basic standards of habitability and that such conditions compromise their well-being and morale and impede their ability to carry out their duties effectively. He asserted that the state has violated police officers’ rights to decent shelter and to stay in a clean and healthy environment and therefore called for decent accommodation to be provided to all serving officers as a matter of entitlement.

Court’s decision

On the question of whether the Uganda Police Force has a duty to provide decent shelter to serving police officers of and below the rank of Assistant Inspector of Police (AIP), and if so, whether government failed on its obligation, the court held that:

  1. Government obligations regarding the right to adequate housing encompasses respecting, protecting, promoting and fulfilling it. This means refraining from actions that violate housing rights, preventing violations from non-state actors, and addressing homelessness and housing needs progressively. Courts, like those in South Africa, use a reasonableness approach to asses if the state meets its obligations, focusing on the adequacy and effectiveness of measures taken rather than on ideal alternatives. These measures should be comprehensive, transparent, and context-sensitive, addressing short-, medium-, and long-term needs and involving public engagement. In the instant case, the government argued that its interventions were reasonable given the resource constraints and the need for gradual progress.
  2. Court dismissed the application for want of verifiable evidence showing that the government had unreasonably failed to fulfill its minimum core obligation to promote, protect and fulfill the right to adequate shelter for junior officers in police. The court found that the government’s actions such as constructing housing units in various locations including Naguru, encouraging external financing, disposing of prime land to fund housing initiatives, and promoting a mortgage scheme for individual home ownership, among others- were reasonable. The applicant evidence was deemed insufficient lacking concrete proof or budgetary information, leaving court with limited grounds to hold the government accountable for violating the right to decent shelter for police officers.
  1. Whereas both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of human Rights affirms the universality and interdependency of all human rights, the debate over enforcing social, economic, and cultural rights such as the right to shelter arises from their progressive realization framework under ICESCR, unlike ICCPR’s immediate obligations. Uganda, a signatory to the ICESCR faces challenges in enforcing these rights due vague obligations and resource dependency, whereby the later is mostly exploited by governments lacking political will to uphold human rights.
  1. Various approaches are employed in enforcing socio-economic rights, such as Minimum Core Content which suggests that when a country has many people lacking basic necessities like shelter, it should focus on providing at least the minimum essentials, considering its available resources. The key point to consider are whether the actions taken are necessary, aligned with available resources, utilize all resources and prioritize correctly. The state must secure the minimum existential conditions that make a dignified existence possible. This duty is grounded in the principle of human dignity in conjunction with the welfare state principle. In Ugandan this minimum core content is like the foundational assessment for meeting bare minimum obligations. Borrowing from South African jurisprudence particularly the Grootboom decision, the right to adequate shelter extends beyond mere physical structures to include land availability, appropriate services like provision of water and the removal of sewage and financing considerations. State housing policies must therefore take account of different economic levels in our society.
  1. In assessing whether government has complied with the right to access decent shelter, the court reviewed existing legislative and other measures. It noted the High Court’s authority to address human rights violations but acknowledged procedural hurdles due to the absence of specific provisions for this right. Within the scope of broader welfare aspirations, the Constitution merely promises ‘access to decent shelter’ as a minimum standard. Directive Principles mandate that all laws and policies must align with the constitutional aspiration. Parliament has also followed through on the commitment to access to decent shelter through enactments like Physical Planning Act 2010, Land Act 227, Condominium Property Act 2001, Kampala Capital City Act 2010, among others.
  1. The constitution allows courts to interpret the promise of access to decent shelter within the broader framework of rights such as the right to life, human dignity, privacy, and a clean environment. This expands the concept to include the right to live freely and peacefully, emphasizing that without decent shelter, life and dignity are compromised. Drawing from the SERAC case (Social and Economic Action Centre and the Centre for Economic and Social Rights v Nigeria Communication 155/96), courts recognize the implicit right to housing despite its absence in specific provisions. The combination of rights protecting health, property, and family life implies a right to shelter, as demonstrated in this case where Nigeria was found to have violated the right

Obiter dictum

The applicant had to present verifiable evidence around fiscal responsibility in order for court to make appropriate declarations in terms of priority- setting. His Lordship urged litigants in similar cases to enlist subject matter expertise perhaps in form of amicus curiae so as to place sufficient material before the Court and in turn enable the Court arrive at an appropriate decision.

Implications of the decision

  1. The decision sets the legal precedent affirming the government’s obligation to provide decent shelter to police officers and the population at large as a matter of entitlement. The case is set to influence future cases involving socio-economic rights enforcement.
  2. The decision expands the interpretation of social economic rights, such as the right to access to decent shelter, within the framework of human rights law both nationally and internationally. It also highlights the principle and importance of progressively realizing these rights and holding the government accountable for their fulfillment.
  3. The High court by adopting the reasonableness approach allows government leeway in making policy choices to meet its socio-economic rights obligations. This approach allows the comprehensive, coherent and inclusive interventions to address housing needs.
  4. Litigants have a role to present sufficient evidence and engaging subject matter expertise to enable court make informed decisions. This therefore underscores the importance of thorough preparation and presentation of cases involving human rights violations especially those rights that have no specific provisions under our law.

Prepared By

Nalwanga Resty

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