UN Human rights experts sound alarm over Uganda
| THE INDEPENDENT | Human rights experts appointed by the United Nations have called on the government of Uganda to immediately stop the brutal crackdown on its political opponents that begun in the lead-up to the disputed January general elections and continues to suppress opposition supporters.
“We are particularly alarmed by the reports of widespread and continued repression against opposition leaders and their supporters,” the experts said on April 12 in a statement.
While condemning what they called “brutal policing methods” employed by the government, they instead urged the authorities to immediately and thoroughly investigate and prosecute all human rights violations.
The experts were chaired by Prof. Tae-Ung Baik, a well-known former South Korean prisoner of conscience and Asia-Pacific Region representative on the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID).
The Vice chair is Henrikas Mickevičius from the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI); an NGO whose lawyers and social and political sciences experts carry out research and compile reports to international human rights bodies.
Others on the team were Aua Balde, Bernard Duhaime, Luciano Hazan from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Nils Melzer; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Morris Tidball-Binz; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Irene Khan; Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Clément Nyaletsossi Voule; Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. They investigate specific country situations in all parts of the world.
In a report on Uganda, they listed allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill treatment, deprivation of due process of law and assault on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Several thousand people have been arrested and while some have been released, others have allegedly been tortured before appearing in military courts, the experts said.
Relatives of others often do not know their fate or whereabouts, they added.
In an appeal to the authorities to end the ongoing suppression of political opposition – including the use of live ammunition without warning – the experts also called for the whereabouts of political opponents taken into detention.
“It is outrageous that those who are requesting information about their forcibly disappeared relatives are further subjected to reprisals and arrest,” the independent experts said.
“We are urging the Government of Uganda to take all necessary measures to immediately stop the concealing of information concerning individuals arrested in the context of the general elections, a practice amounting to enforced disappearance, and reveal their fate and whereabouts,” they said.
Highlighting the case of the prominent opposition leader and presidential candidate, 39-year-old musician Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine, the experts said that placing him under “arbitrary house arrest” at the start of the year was symptomatic of “flagrant suppression tactics…and the absence of due process of law”.
“The arbitrary house arrest between 14 and 25 January 2021 of the prominent opposition leader known as Bobi Wine (Mr. Kyagulanyi), which a High Court ruled to be unconstitutional, is symptomatic of the flagrant suppression tactics of the opposition and the absence of due process of law,” the experts said.
“More than 50 people have been killed as a result of the brutal policing methods, including the use of live ammunition fired without warning, and at least 20 others have lost their lives in incidents linked to the electoral context.
The general elections were held on Jan. 14 and incumbent President Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner by the national Election Commission.
Ahead of the vote, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, reported numerous rights violations, including cases of arbitrary arrest, detention and torture. Military police on Feb.17 pounced on journalists covering Bobi Wine as he delivered a petition to the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Kampala. The military police beat up the journalists and at least 10 of them ended up in hospital with deep wounds, cuts and bruises, and broken bones. Bobi Wine’s petition was a protest against human rights abuses and abductions of his supporters in the run up to and after the election.
During the election period opposition leaders and their supporters protested against alleged electoral irregularities and the prohibition of gatherings under the guise of preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The massive deployment of armed forces in cities, as well as the intimidation and attacks of opposition observers at polling stations, reportedly affected voter turnout; while the interruption of internet services slowed the voting process and affected counting.
“The curtailing of freedom of press and media, the intimidation, ill-treatment and assaults of journalists covering the elections and especially the opposition is simply unacceptable. The Government must provide immediate remedies and reparation to all the victims,” the experts said.