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UN High Commissioner for human rights condemns abuses in Uganda

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has voiced concern over what it calls “the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 14 January.

In a press briefing, Ravina Shamdasani, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out on Friday from Geneva, Switzerland that human rights situation in the country poses challenges not only for voting day itself, but also for the post-electoral period.

“In the run-up to the election, numerous human rights violations have been reported, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and participation, as well as arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture,” Ravina Shamdasani says.

The briefing notes that between 18 and 20 November 2020, at least 54 people were killed during riots and protests in at least 7 districts across the country over the arrest and detention of two opposition presidential candidates, Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine, and Patrick Oboi Amuriat and members of the political opposition.

“Indeed, the harassment, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention of opposition candidates and supporters have been a worrying development during the electoral campaign,” according to the briefing. “Kyagulanyi, the candidate of the National Unity Platform (NUP), has been blocked from holding campaign activities several times.”

Ravina also highlighted that among recent incidents, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the presidential candidate of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was arrested on 2nd January as he was campaigning in Nakasongola district and released on bail later the same afternoon. Journalists covering his campaign were reportedly beaten by security forces and ordered to delete videos and photos.

In light of the presidential directives on COVID-19 issued on 18 March 2020 and subsequent regulations by the Ministry of Heath, the Electoral Commission of Uganda on 16 June issued a new revised roadmap for the 2020/2021 general elections.

Ravina asserts that the revised roadmap provides for what are termed low-human contact elections or “scientific elections”, prohibiting mass rallies during the electoral campaigns and providing for digital electoral campaigns.

The brief goes on: “The rule was subsequently reviewed to allow campaign meetings with a maximum of 70 and later 200 people. In a further development on 26 December, the Electoral Commission suspended general election meetings in 16 districts that were categorized as ‘high, sustained and diffuse transmission districts/areas’. Human rights law under certain circumstances may allow for restrictions to mass gatherings and physical campaigning for public health reasons. However, we have increasingly observed that the COVID-19 restrictions have been enforced more strictly to curtail opposition electoral campaign activities in a discriminatory fashion. For example, on 30 December, 90 NUP supporters were arrested in Kalangala when security forces blocked a campaign event by Kyagulanyi for violating COVID-19 measures among other offences. At their court appearance, some presented injuries resulting according to them from torture during detention.”

Ravina also illustrated that in contrast, police have not enforced COVID-19 restrictions in such a strict manner for electoral campaign activities by the ruling National Resistance Movement – NRM party. She pointed out that such developments increase concern that the COVID-19 measures are being used as a ground to restrict public freedoms and political participation during the electoral process.

The High Commissioner is also concerned that the discriminatory enforcement of such restrictions has led to violence, arbitrary arrests and detention, and in some instances, reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces.

The world body called on the Ugandan authorities to protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to ensure a free and peaceful election process that guarantees the right of the people of Uganda to participate in their country’s public affairs, by taking measures to prevent instances of electoral violence.

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