Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Government of Uganda has responded to allegations of United States Congressman Eliot Engel on human rights violations and attack on the independence of the media, denying them and offering explanations that may help understand what the accusers might have got wrong.
On 9th December 2020, Congressman Engel, the chairperson of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs wrote to the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin regarding human rights violations like freedom of speech and expression, freedom from torture and right to movement among others against the opposition, human rights defenders and journalists in Uganda.
He made reference to the November 2020 arrest of National Unity Platform presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi that gave birth to protests in which over 50 people were killed. He also referred to the 2016 killings in Kasese, the 2017 incident when security forces invaded parliament and arrested legislators during a heated debate of removing the presidential age limit. He also referred to the introduction of Over the Top Tax in 2018 which he said had affected negatively on access to social media.
Engel hence demanded a plan to intensify the U.S. response to human rights abuses beyond rhetorical condemnations and also called for accountability for Ugandan citizens subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings.
Engel has called the State Department to Commence to review all non-humanitarian assistance to Uganda, commit to providing robust support to human rights defenders and independent journalists and to build the capacity of civil society organizations and coordinate with like-minded allies to issue a joint condemnation of violent repression.
Now in a letter dated 21st December, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa has responded saying, the concerns and allegations as well as the request for action and other issues contained in the letter are of utmost surprise and of grave concern to government.
Regarding allegations of attack on the Independence of media and freedom of expression, he referred to article 43(1) of the constitution of Uganda which limits the enjoyment of rights and freedoms. The article states that in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed by the Constitution, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.
Kutesa also spoke of the September 7th notice issued by the Uganda Communications Commission-UCC asking all online content providers to obtain authorization from them before they can operate.
He says the Commission was in exercise of its mandate provided for under the UCC Act 2013 and that it was simply an administrative reminder to all broadcasters to comply with the requirements of an existing law.
He further referred to the Computer Misuse Act which makes it an offense for any person to willfully and repeatedly use electronic communication to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace quiet or right of privacy or another person with no purpose of legitimate communication.
It should be remembered that Dr. Stella Nyanzi, an activist was charged under this Act when she posted on her Facebook page a poem about the late mother of President Yoweri Museveni.
“Therefore it is erroneous to suggest that any actions that have been taken by concerned authorities in Uganda pursuant to this provision are illegal or politically motivated. This is simply a matter of law enforcement and the guilt or innocence of a suspect can only be declared by Ugandan Courts of law in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda” he added.
About banning of political rallies, the Minister said government instituted a number of public health measures to protect the public against COVID-19 and that is what is being implemented. Also, that the Electoral Commission upon consulting with political parties and all presidential candidates issued and published guidelines to be followed by all actors during the electoral campaign period.
“The measures are not unique to Uganda and therefore it is erroneous to suggest that they have been put in place to target particular political players in Uganda” said Kutesa.
Kutesa also addressed himself to the allegations of illegal arrests, detention and torture of individuals from the opposition saying that Uganda operates on democratic principles that empower and encourage the active participation of all citizens at all levels.
He says “All presidential candidates are carrying out their campaigns without any hindrance except those who have deliberately violated the law and the standard operating procedures and have openly declared their refusal to abide by the law.”
Kutesa further addressed himself to the November killings following the arrest of National Unity Platform-NUP presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi. He says the deaths happened in the context of extreme lawlessness and criminality characterized by attacks on both civilians and security personnel with lethal weapons by protesters who demanded for Kyagulanyi’s release.
Kyagulanyi was arrested during a campaign trail in Luuka district for flouting Electoral Commission guidelines on crowds.
Kutesa who says Kyagulanyi’s arrest was based on facts and the conduct of Kyagulanyi and his supporters before and after his nomination, characterized by flouting COVID-19 rules, defying of the Electoral Commission campaign guidelines and programmers, defying lawful orders, confrontation with the police and other security agencies and inciting the public through propaganda.
He further accused them of sectarian hate speech, incitement to genocide against a particular section of Uganda population, rejecting scheduled venues earlier agreed, holding illegal processions and committing criminal offences such as robberies.
“Nobody is above the law in Uganda whether they are a presidential candidate or not. And therefore the arrest of Kyagulanyi which any other Ugandan would be subjected to must not be attributed to his candidature” said Kutesa.
Regarding the introduction of Over the Top tax, Kutesa said it applies to all despite political affiliations and that there is no evidence that its introduction has negatively affected the use or consumption of social media or the internet generally in Uganda.
He concluded by committing Uganda to continued good governance based on the constitution. He also committed to strategic partnership with the US.