Kampala, Uganda |THE INDEPENDENT & URN | The United States has warned Uganda to live up to its obligations to hold free and fair elections.
Opposition candidates have been involved in running battles with security forces across the country over elections rallies. Security say they are enforcing the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which require controlled crowds.
Recently, one of the candidates Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine was even arrested for defying the SOPs. This led to riots across the country, that ended with over 50 people dead – most of them shot.
“The United States is a longstanding partner of Uganda. We expect our partners to live up to their obligations to hold free and fair elections. We are paying close attention to the actions of individuals who seek to impede the ongoing democratic process,” said Mike Pompeo, the Secretary U.S. Department of State in a tweet Thursday evening.
The United States is a longstanding partner of Uganda. We expect our partners to live up to their obligations to hold free and fair elections. We are paying close attention to the actions of individuals who seek to impede the ongoing democratic process.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 10, 2020
The brief statement comes a day after Eliot Engel, the chairperson of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, demanded that several Ugandan security officials be sanctioned for human rights violations and brutalizing Ugandans.
They are Gen. Peter Elwelu, the Commander of Land Forces, Maj. Gen. James Birungi, Commander of the Special Forces Command, Maj. Gen. Don William Nabasa, former Commander of the Special Forces Command, Maj. Gen. Abel Kandiho, the commandant of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Steven Sabiiti Muzeyi, the Deputy Inspector of General of Police, Frank Mwesigwa, Commissioner of Police and Col. Chris Serunjogi Ddamulira, the Director of Crime Intelligence in the Uganda Police Force.
In his December 9th, 2020 letter to Pompeo and Steven T. Mnuchin, the Secretary U.S. Department of the Treasury, Engel expresses concern over president, Yoweri Museveni’s “long track record of repressive behavior”.
“More recently, this has included attacks on independent media, the banning of political rallies and concerts, the arrest, detention, and torture of individuals who dare to challenge the president or the ruling party, and a persistent lack of accountability for the arbitrary and extrajudicial killings and torture perpetrated by Ugandan security forces,” reads the letter.
He explains that for several years, the US has raised concern about the Uganda government’s lack of respect for civil liberties of its citizens and urged government to permit or conduct credible investigations into the human rights violations. “However, diplomatic rhetoric alone has had little impact on President Museveni’s behavior. Instead, he has further consolidated power while preventing the emergence of a viable democratic opposition,” the letter reads.
Engel, who is also the U.S. Representative for New York’s 16th congressional district, cites several incidents of rights violations and brutality in Uganda including the killing of least 45 people by security forces during last month’s protests against the arrest of the National Unity Platform-NUP presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu.
“In November 2016, Ugandan security forces massacred over 100 civilians in Kasese. In September 2017, Ugandan Special Forces forcibly entered parliament during a debate over whether to remove presidential age limits from the constitution, which now allows President Museveni to rule indefinitely. During the tumult, MP Betty Nambooze suffered serious spinal injuries from which she is still recovering. In July 2018, the government imposed a tax on citizens who wished to access social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter – a transparent ploy to discourage anti-government mobilization on the part of youths and dissidents,” he said.
Adding that, “These violent incidents reflect a highly disturbing trajectory for the country, thus ensuring that the environment for general elections in January 2021 has been fundamentally tilted in favor of an incumbent who has been in power since 1986.” Engel now wants specific officers in the Army and Police sanctioned for their specific roles in violence.
Engel has demanded a plan to intensify the U.S. response to human rights abuses beyond rhetorical condemnations. He also wants accountability for citizens who have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings. Engel has called for the State Department to commence a review of all non-humanitarian assistance to Uganda; commit to providing robust support to human rights defenders and independent journalists and to building the capacity of civil society organizations; and coordinate with like- minded allies to issue a joint condemnation of violent repression.
“Finally, I request that you provide the Committee with the following information in writing no later than January 9, 2021: An overview of the U.S. government’s engagement with the Government of Uganda, opposition political parties, and civil society organizations with respect to the 2021 elections, and how such engagement differs from previous elections; and An assessment of the impact that several years of violent repression and impunity for gross human rights abuses has had on the Ugandan political environment,” Engel asks.
He also wants an assessment of the risks to U.S. interests in East and Central Africa of continuing to work by, with, and through an increasingly authoritarian partner who has exhibited no indications of a succession plan, and a plan to mitigate said risks over the next five years. The Ugandan government is yet to comment on the letter.