Uganda

 

  • ‘It is for civil society to step in and fill the void on human rights and good governance issues’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘reimagining democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic governance, and the challenges they encounter in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Dr Fred Sekindi, Director of Research, Advocacy and Lobbying at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) based in Kampala, Uganda. Established in 1991, FHRI isan independent, non-governmental, non-partisan and not-for-profit human rights organisation seeking to remove impediments to democratic development and the meaningful enjoyment of fundamental freedoms through research, monitoring, legislative advocacy, strategic partnerships and the dissemination of information and best practices through training and education.

    1. How would you describe the state of democracy in Uganda? Has the practice of democracy in the country changed over the past couple of years?

    In the past few years, the incumbent government has demonstrated its resolve to hold on to power at all cost. In this quest to hold to power, ideals of democracy have increasingly been under threat. President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for over 30 years and has been declared triumphant in the six presidential elections that have been conducted since the 1995 Constitution was promulgated, amidst widespread discontent with electoral laws. Elections by themselves are not a symbol of democracy, particularly if electoral laws are not able to translate the will of the people into true democratic choice. A recently introduced and very unpopular proposal to amend the 1995 Constitution to remove age restrictions on the presidency, and the brutal force employed by state security forces against dissenters, also illustrate the state of democratic decay of Uganda. Civil society organisations (CSOs) that have criticised the proposal to amend the Constitution have had their accounts frozen and some have been threatened with closure. The government has resorted to draconian laws such as the 2013 Public Management Order Act, which prohibits public gatherings without the approval of the Inspector General of Police, to prevent public gatherings and demonstrations against the proposed constitutional amendments. Over the past few years, Uganda has also witnessed an escalation in the harassment and unlawful detention of political opponents of the government and political and human rights activists.

    1. In this context, is civil society able to contribute to democratic governance in Uganda?

    CSOs working in the area of service delivery continue to operate without any notable hindrances from the government, while those working on land rights, democracy, governance, anti-corruption and transparency continue to face an uphill task.

    The controversial Non-Government Organisations Act, enacted in 2016, has increased government supervision and control over CSOs. The Act creates an obligation for CSOs not to engage in any act that is prejudicial to the security and laws of Uganda and that is not in the interest of Ugandans. It further establishes an NGO Bureau with powers to revoke the licences of offending CSOs. Any CSO that engages in such loosely defined acts is liable to deregistration. Augmented by the Public Order Management Act, the Non-Government Organisation Act further restricts civic space - the space for civil society - for CSOs working in the areas of democracy, good governance, anti-corruption and transparency. This has come during a period of increasing impunity of state officials and when the government has embarked on unpopular constitutional amendments.

    CSOs, especially those engaged in the fields of democracy and governance, are perceived by the government as political and partisan, and as agents of western governments, since their roles include monitoring government policies and actions and holding government officials accountable to the public.

    In October 2017, the police raided a number of CSO offices and seized their computers and documents. The central bank froze these CSOs’ bank accounts, as well as the personal accounts of their directors. These raids were soon followed by orders from the NGO Bureau for CSOs to submit their bank account statements for the past 10 years. The police claimed that they were investigating allegations of money laundering.

    Thus CSOs in Uganda continue to struggle to contribute to democratic governance in a very hostile environment shaped by a draconian regulatory framework and systematic practices of intimidation and self-censorship.

    As a result of the government’s failure to ensure the fundamental rights of the people, CSOs have stepped in to fill this gap. The increasing popularity of CSOs among the populace, more so in a time of political upheaval when Ugandans need a sense of direction and strong leadership, lays a fertile ground for antagonism between the government on one hand, and CSOs and the citizenry on the other.

    1. What impact are the restrictions imposed on the exercise of fundamental freedoms having on civil society activities?

    A Private Members’ Bill introduced by a ruling party parliamentarian to remove age restrictions on the presidency was tabled in Parliament in September 2017. This bill seeks to allow the incumbent President Museveni to run for additional terms in office.

    Coincidentally, the police raided the offices of ActionAid and the Great Lakes Initiative for Strategic Studies in Kampala, and Solidarity Uganda in the Northern city of Lira, on 21 September 2017, as part of its campaign to clamp down on CSOs that, in their opinion, are working against the removal of the age limit.

    As a result of the recent wave of government intimidations and restrictive legal framework, CSOs are operating in a very uncertain environment. To continue working in this hostile environment, some CSOs have resorted to self-censorship, in order to avoid deregistration. This, however, poses the risk of these CSOs becoming irrelevant, as they are not engaging with the issues that concern the citizenry the most. The other challenge is that, in an environment in which the observance of fundamental freedoms is increasingly neglected by the government, restrictions imposed on the exercise of fundamental rights are likely to carry on unabated.

    The police raids have also had another two-pronged effect on CSOs: on one hand, the police seeks to deter the organisations from carrying out any activities that could prevent the incumbent president from achieving his ambition of a life presidency, by portraying them as working against the ‘public interest’ or the ‘security of the state’; on the other, it aims at tarnishing CSOs’ reputation and dissuading their donors from continuing to financially support their work.

    The police has continued to use the Police Act and the Public Order Management Order Act to stifle the freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression and association, and to arrest and detain persons unlawfully. The Police Act authorises the use of ‘preventive detention’ for the protection of the detainee and to starve off the spread of communicable disease. This power has been misused to arrest human rights activists and political opponents arbitrarily and to prevent political activities and demonstrations from taking place. In turn, the Public Order Management Act requires the organiser of a public procession to submit a ‘notice of intention to carry out a public meeting’ to the police. Spontaneous meetings are exempted from the notice. However, the police has repeatedly dispersed spontaneous meetings, prevented meetings arranged by opposition parties, CSOs and political activists, and arrested demonstrators.

    In sum, the government continues to employ bully tactics to harass dissenters. CSOs, opposition political activists and journalists are the main victims of these attacks.

    1. What support or solidarity can international civil society offer to you in these times?

    Uganda is at a crossroads. The quest by the incumbent to hold on to power poses a risk to the relative peace the country has witnessed over the past 30 years and renders the country vulnerable to a return to the old unviable struggles for political power. The determination to hold on to power at all costs has coincided with an increase in state abuses of fundamental rights. It is within this environment that CSOs in Uganda operate. To fill the void in the promotion and protection of human rights, and to provide a sense of direction and leadership to the populace, CSOs must situate their work within the current political and human rights context.

    Thus, technical and financial support from international civil society to CSOs in Uganda will be crucial in steering Uganda towards democratic governance. International partners may also lobby the Ugandan government on issues of good governance and human rights as another method of exerting influence. International CSOs could also create a fund for protecting and evacuating human rights defenders in emergency cases.

    Most importantly, international CSOs have a role in supporting local CSOs in their work to build civic competences among the citizenry as well as to safeguard fundamental rights.  In times when the government’s priority is the incumbent’s survival in power, issues of good governance and observance of fundamental rights have been neglected. It is for CSOs to step in and fill this void. This task would be impossible to achieve without the support of international partners.

    • Civic space in Uganda is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    • Get in touch with the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative through theirwebsite, or follow@FHRI2 on Twitter.

     

  • Addressing Civic Space Restrictions in Uganda: What Role for the UPR?

    This policy action brief, prepared by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), examines a range of restrictions on civil society’s fundamental rights recently experienced in Uganda. In particular, these have included a series of break-ins on the premises of civil society organisations (CSOs), in which CSO information has been stolen; attacks on the media, which have included physical attacks on journalists and the closure of private radio stations; the introduction of restrictive legislation, including on CSO operations, the media and the freedom of assembly; and increased restriction of peaceful assemblies, including through the use of excessive force to break up protests.

     

  • Alert: Is the Ugandan administration "doing an Ethiopia"? CIVICUS concerned as Uganda replicates Ethiopia's authoritarian approach in the run up to the elections

    Johannesburg. 12 May 2010. In the run up to the 2011 general elections, the legal and political environment for civil society in Uganda is rapidly deteriorating, and beginning to follow the trajectory of Ethiopia facing elections later this month.

    As the 23 May elections in Ethiopia near, the administration has virtually left no stone unturned to silence the local media and civil society groups. To curtail the ability of civil society to effectively monitor the present elections, the Ethiopian authorities have over the past two years introduced a raft of restrictive measures, many of which are being replicated by the Ugandan authorities.

     

  • Another puzzling break-in prompts Uganda CSO to move operations to police station

    CIVICUS speaks to Human Rights Awareness and Protection Forum (HRAPF) executive directorAdrian Jjuuko (pictured) after their offices were broken into recently. He also speaks on the situation of human rights defenders and civil society in general in Uganda.

     

  • As NGOs speak out, expect clampdowns to grow

    By David Kode

    Across the globe, from East Africa to eastern Europe, there is a trend of increasing attacks on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that support reforms governments are opposed to.

    Read on: Open Global Rights

     

     

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  • CIVICUS concerned as Uganda replicates Ethiopia's authoritarian approach in the run up to the elections

    Johannesburg. 12 May 2010. In the run up to the 2011 general elections, the legal and political environment for civil society in Uganda is rapidly deteriorating, and beginning to follow the trajectory of Ethiopia facing elections later this month.

     

     

    As the 23 May elections in Ethiopia near, the administration has virtually left no stone unturned to silence the local media and civil society groups. To curtail the ability of civil society to effectively monitor the present elections, the Ethiopian authorities have over the past two years introduced a raft of restrictive measures, many of which are being replicated by the Ugandan authorities.

     

  • CIVICUS condemns the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill

    17 November 2009. Johannesburg, South Africa. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation condemns the introduction of the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 in the Uganda Parliament on 14 October 2009. The Bill contains derogatory references to members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community as well as sexual rights activists -- whom it accuses of “seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Uganda.”

    “The Bill flagrantly violates personal freedom and the guarantee of non-discrimination enshrined under international human rights law,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “It is deeply disturbing that such a Bill that seeks to breach the country’s existing human rights commitments has been introduced in the Ugandan Parliament.”

     

  • Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report

    Read this press release in Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish

    Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.

     

  • Gay activist murder part of trend of deteriorating rights: CIVICUS

    Johannesburg. 28 January 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is greatly saddened by the news of the tragic murder of prominent gay rights activist David Kato in Uganda on 26 January 2011. CIVICUS calls upon the government of Uganda to carry out an immediate and independent investigation into the murder and bring the perpetrators to justice.

     

  • Joint Statement: Grave concern over recent raids on Ugandan civil society groups

    We, the undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs), strongly condemn the Ugandan authorities’ flagrant and repeated attempts to suppress the peaceful and legitimate activities of civil society organisations in Uganda through the recent unwarranted raids on the offices of four independent CSOs. We urge the Government of Uganda to end its campaign to silence independent civil society groups and publicly recognise the indispensable role that civil society plays in promoting and protecting fundamental human rights.

    In the last two weeks, the Ugandan Police and Security Services have raided and searched the offices and documentation of four prominent organisations, including ActionAid Uganda, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, Solidarity Uganda and the UHURU Institute.

    Initially on 20 September 2017, nearly two dozen police and state security officials cordoned off and entered the ActionAid Uganda offices in Kansanga, Kampala. Police served a warrant alleging that ActionAid is involved in unnamed illicit activities. Upwards of 25 staff members were held in the office for several hours, while police interrogated staff, searched the premises and confiscated organisational laptops, phones and documents. On the same day, the offices of the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies were raided and police prevented staff from leaving the premises.  On 21 September, the police raided the offices of Solidarity Uganda in Lira and detained a member of staff. 

    Most recently, on 2 October 2017, police raided the offices of the UHURU Institute. During the raid, they cordoned off the premises and confiscated computers and phones belonging to staff of the Institute. 

    The explicit reason for the raids has not been disclosed, and we remain deeply concerned that they are part of a wider crackdown to silence a civil society campaign which opposed a parliamentary proposal to remove presidential age limits. The organisations targeted in recent raids supported civil society in expressing concerns over the removal of age limits for the presidency and have called for the constitution to be respected. 

    The authorities’ attempts to suppress the work of Ugandan civil society through harassment and intimidation represent a clear violation of fundamental civic rights and casts severe doubt over the Government’s commitment to supporting civil society. As allies and supporters of Uganda human rights we urge the authorities to immediately end its campaign to persecute CSOs in the country and their staff. 

    • ARTICLE 19 – Eastern Africa
    • Afro Leadership – Cameroon
    • Brainforest Gabon
    • Campaign for Good Governance – Sierra Leone
    • CIVICUS
    • Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Malawi
    • DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    • Dynamique OSCAF Gabon
    • Frontline Defenders
    • Greenpeace Africa
    • Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
    • The International Civil Society Centre
    • JOINT - League of NGOs in Mozambique
    • KEPA – Finland
    • Mauritius Council for Social Services
    • Nigerian Network of NGOs
    • Orhionmwon Youth Forum Nigeria
    • Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humain
    • Solidarity Center
    • Zambian Council for Social Development

    David Kode

    Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS,

    Tel: + 27 (0)11 833 5959.

     

    Grant Clark

    CIVICUS Media Advisor

     

  • LGBTQI+ RIGHTS IN UGANDA: ‘Intolerance is fuelled by anti-rights groups and leaders’

    Following our 2019special report on anti-rights groups and civil society responses, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks with Pepe Julian Onziema, Programme Director at Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). Formed in 2004, SMUG is a civil society umbrella organisation focused on advancing LGBTQI+ rights and supporting and protecting LGBTQI+ people in Uganda. SMUG advocates for policy reform and helps to coordinate the efforts of 18 LGBTQI+ organisations in the country. These organisations provide a variety of services to the LGBTQI+ community, including medical attention, counselling, guidance and economic empowerment programmes. SMUG works closely with local, regional and international human rights organisations and activists to end discrimination and ensure equal treatment of and respect for all LGBTQI+ people in Uganda.

    pepe Onziema

    What is the situation of LGBTQI+ rights in Uganda?

    I would say it’s very unpredictable, but also not okay. At some level everything is mixed up; you can’t just look at one thing and say, okay, we are making this progress, because somehow when you make progress you also move backwards on another front. So generally speaking, I would say the situation is confusing and unpredictable. The only aspect in which we have made consistent progress is in the area of HIV/AIDS, working through the Ministry of Health.

    The situation of LGBTQI+ people is difficult, and I wouldn’t be able to say whether it’s because of social attitudes or discriminatory laws. People’s social attitudes towards LGBTQI+ people are affected by the law, but on the other hand the law is what it is because of people’s religious views and the influence of religion over politics. But if I had to say which the biggest problem is, I’d say it’s social attitudes and widespread lack of acceptance. If this changes, I am sure the law would follow.

    In Uganda, LGBTQI+ people experience all kinds of attacks and violence, but this depends much on where you live. In popular areas trans women and gay people, or people thought to be gay, both male and female, are attacked from motorbikes or taxis. In the suburbs and expensive urban areas there is a bit more safety. However, a lot of new apartments have been built and many people are moving in, and then if your neighbour finds out or suspects that you are an LGBTQI+ person, then they can go tell the landlord, who will usually feel the pressure to throw you out without even paying back your rent. Everything is based on suspicion, spying and resentment. There is no need for any evidence of someone being gay, so people panic. There is a lot of gay panic because if anyone just mentions that someone else is LGBTQI+, it is to be expected that action will be taken, including physical violence. They can beat up the accused person or use extortion and blackmail. This is especially common with trans people, who are accused of impersonating someone else, adopting a fake identity.

    We’ve worked a lot to raise awareness, informing people that even under our regressive laws, being gay is actually not a crime. It’s subtle, but the law talks about acts that are not permitted, rather than about identities that are not allowed to exist. There is more awareness of this now, but this awareness has made intolerant people more clever: they know they cannot denounce someone just for being gay, so they go on and invent stories. They tell the police false stories about things that gay people have done, so the police have to come and arrest them.

    Although the law does not ban the existence of gay people, there is certainly no law that protects the rights of gay people. While laws guarantee the right to life, to the freedom of association, and so on, when it comes to LGBTQI+ people those do not fully apply. We don't have access to all those rights as anyone else.

    Are LGBTQI+ civil society organisations allowed to function, or do you face restrictions? How do you manage to get your work done?

    LGBTQI+ organisations are not allowed to register. They are denied formal recognition as civil society organisations (CSOs). That is the case with my organisation, Sexual Minorities Uganda, which was founded in 2004, so it will soon be turning 16 years old, and is still unregistered. Our right to associate is limited in several ways, but we’ve been persistent and consistent in challenging the government. We take advantage of legal loopholes and organise ourselves as a loose group. We have sued the government on the basis that the constitution grants us the right to the freedom of association. We’ve found the court system is not terribly fair, but still, it does not always work against us, and we have won several cases.

    In the past few years, the High Court has issued several progressive rulings, stating that the fundamental rights recognised in the constitution, such as the right to personal liberty, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to privacy, apply to all citizens. As a result of a High Court ruling on discrimination, it is now possible for LGBTQI+ people to file cases against employers who have fired or harassed them, or landlords who have evicted them. So we’ve seen some progress within the justice system, and this has given us the courage to continue going to the courts to fight when the government wants to impose further restrictions.

    As well as the lack of legal recognition, we face restrictions in our daily work. For instance, when we hold a workshop or some formal function for the community, we are usually raided by the police. The Minister of Ethics and Integrity has been particularly notorious and shameless in shutting down our meetings. He has gone on radio and other media to say that he would never allow LGBTQI+ organisations. So we try to keep up our work by doing it through collaborations with other CSOs, but there’s only so much we can do, because when they learn that we are working with us then somehow they also become targets by association.

    Who is behind these restrictions? Is discrimination and violence against LGBTQI+ people fuelled by political or religious leaders?

    Absolutely. The intolerance enshrined in the law and expressed in social attitudes is fuelled by anti-rights groups and leaders. This backlash was particularly intense around 2009, when right-wing evangelical groups from the USA came to Uganda and helped our government draft a law, the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, that would have criminalised same-sex relationships and introduced the death penalty for serial offenders, HIV-positive people who engage in sexual activity with people of the same sex, and people who engage in same-sex sexual acts with minors. The law also sought to punish the promotion of LGBTQI+ rights with fines, imprisonment, or both.

    We fought this bill for years. The proponents of the law said that we are after children, that we were recruiting them and needed to be stopped. They wanted to turn people into spies – our own neighbours, our parents, teachers, doctors and priests. Anyone who knew a gay person had to report this fact to the authorities or they would also become a criminal.

    A modified version of the bill was passed in 2013, and it punished ‘aggravated homosexuality’ with life in prison instead of the death penalty. In reaction, the US State Department announced several sanctions against Uganda, and in 2014 the Constitutional Court annulled the law on a technicality. But its effects are still there, in the form of ingrained discrimination against LGBTQI+ people. And the root causes of such laws being proposed in the first place are also still there. It all comes down to the idea of turning people’s religious belief into law.

    So the most homophobic piece of legislation that Uganda has ever seen was actually a foreign import. Do you see an international anti-LGBTQI+ rights coalition at work here?

    Absolutely, and curiously enough – because anti-LGBTQI+ rights groups keep saying things like homosexuality is a foreign custom, and that it runs counter to national culture and morals, while in fact it is homophobia who is most foreign. Homosexuality was accepted and quite common in pre-colonial Ugandan society; we even had a king who was gay. Laws punishing homosexuality were first introduced in colonial times, under British rule, and they stayed in place after we gained independence. Something similar happened with Christianity, which was an import but took deep roots.

    And the churches that were brought from the USA and started proliferating are of the most intolerant kind. You can find these evangelical churches every 500 meters in Uganda, and people preaching all over the place, even outside the churches, on every street corner. The evangelical movement is huge and has spread fast across the country. In most cases, they focus their preaching on sexuality, abortion, how women dress, things like that. They deliberately use their Bible to discriminate against LGBTQI+ people and women.

    Have you seen any change, for better or worse, over the past year?

    It is difficult to tell. For instance, in 2018 we thought we were making a bit of progress, but then we started seeing more murders, at least three or four, so we felt in danger and we panicked because we thought, we’ve made progress in dialogue with governmental officials, we have done training the police, and it really shocked us – the idea that we were trying to educate people, we are trying to have a conversation, and this is the kind of response that we get. This cast doubt on the progress we were making.

    Still, I would say that the fact that we are able to have some form of dialogue with the government is a proof of progress. The fact that when people are arrested we are able to negotiate the release of some is something that we wouldn’t have seen even three or four years ago, so there is some progress.

    How do you account for the differences between Uganda and, say, Botswana, which is currently experiencing significant positive change?

    I think we are not experiencing the same kind of progress because religion is so deeply rooted in Uganda. If you speak to Ugandans, the first thing that they will tell you, even before introducing themselves, is that they are Christians. And our president has been able to turn religion into law. Ugandan politicians have manipulated religion to divert attention from corruption and mismanagement, so they focus on homosexuality instead. This political use of religion, and the fact that religious beliefs have been made into law, that’s what sets us apart from Botswana.

    What are LGBTQI+ organisations in general, and SMUG in particular, doing to change both legislation and public attitudes?

    SMUG focuses on four areas: advocacy for reform, capacity strengthening, research and safety and protection. The four areas are connected: in the area of safety and protection, for example, we take care of victims and survivors of violence, but we also document, collect and analyse data and use it as evidence in our advocacy work. We also make sure that police officers are trained so they know how to treat LGBTQI+ person in case they are arrested, so they change their attitudes and the ways they handle them. We work with magistrates and the judiciary services institute and try to educate them on LGBTQI+ issues, because otherwise when a gay person is arrested, most of the time cases are based on hearsay and they don’t even ask for evidence; they make decisions based on prejudice. We do a lot of campaigning and awareness-raising across Uganda. We have regional focus groups where we train people on how to deal with safety and security.

    We also do international work at the United Nations human rights bodies, in Geneva, as well as at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well: we have a document that came out of there, Resolution 275, that we did with activists and organisations from across Africa, which prohibits any country from violent attacks towards LGBTQI+ people. Of course we are trying to get that implemented in our own countries so our human rights bodies can take on that Resolution as guidance on the protection of LGBTQI+ people.

    Is there any evidence that people’s attitudes might be changing?

    We put most of our work on social media, and about 10 years ago, we would find out on Facebook that 98 or and 99 per cent of Ugandans were against homosexuality. Ninety-nine per cent – it’s crazy, because it would mean that even gay people – who are definitely more than one per cent of the population - rejected homosexuality.

    But now we’ve come to the point where both sides appear to be more balanced. We post something on our website or our social media platforms, and find reactions are split approximately in half. So I think there has been a change of attitudes, especially among young people, because there are a lot of young people on social media who really don’t care about this whole debate over sexuality. They are just trying to live their lives.

    To what extent is Ugandan civil society as a whole standing with LGBTQI+ civil society?

    There definitely are divisions within civil society. You have to remember that we all come from the same society and have the same background, which is religious, and we are talking about a society and a religion that consider homosexuality as an abomination. However, there are a few – fewer than 10 – CSOs that stand with us. Most of our allies are organisations working on health, and a couple of them do legal work. They have all come from a long way educating themselves about LGBTQI+ issues, and when they do not know something, they ask.

    You mentioned that anti-right groups have international connections and support. Do LGBTQI+ rights organisations enjoy similar connections? What kind of support would you need from international civil society?

    If you had asked me this question five years ago I would have told you to please give human rights organisations money because we are able to work with them. But now I would respond differently: what we need most urgently is to empower more LGBTQI+ people to occupy positions of influence. We’ve experienced violence and discrimination from within the movement, from our own allies, so we need to start having more honest conversations and better accountability for the work that human rights organisations do on LGBTQI+ issues, and see if they really understand what they are doing. To me, it’s about power coming back to the LGBTQI+ community, and the LGBTQI+ community being able to use those positions of power to speak up and negotiate for our own freedom. So my main advice would be, don’t fund other people to speak for us, because we can speak for ourselves.

    It is important that you consult us. There certainly are organisations that are good to us. So if you want to support us, talk to us and we’ll tell who work we best with us, and use this as guidance rather than deciding according to what works best for you as an international organisation.

    Civic space in Uganda is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Pepe throughFacebook,LinkedIn orInstagram, contact SMUG through itswebsite andFacebook page, and follow@Opimva and@SMUG2004 on Twitter.

     

  • UGANDA: ‘No candidate can possibly win the election without young people’s votes’

    CIVICUS speaks with Mohammed Ndifuna, Executive Director of Justice Access Point-Uganda (JAP). Established in 2018, JAP aims to kickstart, reignite and invigorate justice efforts in the context of Uganda’s stalled transitional justice process, its challenges implementing recommendations from its first and second United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Reviews and the backlash by African states against the International Criminal Court.

    Mohammed is an experienced and impassioned human rights defender and peacebuilder with over 15 years of activism in human rights and atrocity prevention at the grassroots, national and international levels. He was awarded the 2014 European Union Human Rights Award for Uganda, has served on the Steering Committee of The Coalition for the Criminal Court (2007-2018) and the Advisory Board of the Human Rights House Network in Oslo (2007-2012), and currently serves on the Management Committee of The Uganda National Committee of Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.

     Mohammed Ndifuna

    What is the state of civic space in Uganda ahead of the much-anticipated 2021 elections?

    Civic space in Uganda may be characterised as harassed, stifled and starved. It would seem like civil society has been on a slippery slope of sorts, with things turning from bad to worse. For instance, civil society organisations (CSOs) have witnessed a wave of brazen attacks against their physical space in the form of office break-ins and broad-daylight workplace raids. In the meantime, there seems to be no let-up in the waves of attacks against CSOs, and especially against those involved in human rights and accountability advocacy. Over the past few years, an array of legislation and administrative measures has been unleashed against CSOs and others, including the Public Order Management Act (2012) and the NGO Act (2016).

    Ahead of the general and presidential elections, which will be held on 14 January 2021, the Minister of Internal Affairs has ordered all CSOs to go through a mandatory validation and verification process before they are allowed to operate. Many CSOs have not been able to go through it: by 19 October 2020, only 2,257 CSOs had successfully completed the verification and validation exercise, including just a few that do mainstream advocacy work on governance.

    Ugandan CSOs are largely donor-dependent and had already been struggling with shrinking financial resources, severely affecting the scope of their work. This situation became compounded by the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown that was imposed in response, all of which impaired CSO efforts to mobilise resources. Therefore, these three forces – harassment, restrictions and limited access to funding – have combined to weaken CSOs, pushing most of them into self-preservation mode.

    The stakes for the 2021 elections seem to be higher than in previous years. What has changed?

    The situation started to change in July 2019, when Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name, Bobi Wine, announced his bid to run for president as the candidate of the opposition National Unity Platform. Bobi Wine is a singer and actor who is also an activist and a politician. As a leader of the People Power, Our Power movement, he was elected to parliament in 2017.

    Bobi’s appeal among young people is enormous, and let’s keep in mind that more than 75 per cent of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30. This makes young people a significant group to be wowed. No candidate can possibly win the Ugandan election without having the biggest chunk of young people’s votes. In the upcoming presidential race, it is Bobi Wine who appears most able to galvanise young people behind his candidature. Although not an experienced politician, Bobi is a charismatic firebrand who has been able to attract not just young people but also many politicians from traditional political parties into his mass movement.

    Bobi Wine, long known as the ‘Ghetto President’, has taken advantage of his appeal as a popular music star to belt out political songs to mobilise people, and his roots in the ghetto also guarantee him an appeal in urban areas. It is believed that he has motivated many young people to register to vote, so voter apathy among young people may turn out to be lower in comparison to past elections.

    Given the ongoing cut-throat fight for young people’s votes, it is no surprise that the security apparatus has been unleashed against young people in an apparent attempt to stem the pressure they are exerting. Political activists linked to People Power have been harassed and, in some instances, killed. People Power’s political leaders have been intermittently arrested and arraigned in courts or allegedly kidnapped and tortured in safe houses. In an apparent attempt to make in-roads into the ranks of urban young people, President Yoweri Museveni has appointed three senior presidential advisors from the ghetto. This raises the spectre of ghetto gangster groups and violence playing a role in the upcoming presidential elections.

    Restrictions on the freedom of expression and internet use have been reported in previous elections. Are we likely to see a similar trend now?

    We are already seeing it. Restrictions on the freedoms of expression and information are a valid concern not just because of hindsight, but also given recent developments. For instance, on 7 September 2020 the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued a public notice stating that anyone wishing to publish information online needs to apply for and obtain a licence from the UCC before 5 October 2020. This will mostly affect online users, such as bloggers, who are paid for published content. Obviously, this is meant to stifle young people’s political activities online. And it is also particularly concerning because, as public gatherings are restricted due to COVID-19 prevention measures, online media will be the only method of campaigning that is allowed ahead of the 2021 elections.

    There is also increasing electronic surveillance, and the possibility of a shutdown of social media platforms on the eve of the elections may not be too remote.

    How has the COVID-pandemic affected civil society and its ability to respond to civic space restrictions?

    The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken in response have exacerbated the already precarious state in which the CSOs find themselves. For instance, civil society capacity to organise public assemblies and peaceful demonstrations in support of fundamental rights and freedoms or to protest against their violation has been restricted by the manner in which COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been enforced. This has resulted in the commission of blatant violations and onslaughts against civic space. For instance, on 17 October 2020, the Uganda Police Force and the Local Defense Units jointly raided thanksgiving prayers being held in Mityana district and wantonly tear gassed the congregation, which included children, women, men, older people and religious leaders, for allegedly flouting COVID-19 SOPs.

    As the enforcement of COVID-19 SOPs gets intertwined with election pressure, it is feared that the clampdown on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association will be aggravated. Regrettably, CSOs already find themselves restricted.

    How can international civil society help Ugandan civil society?

    The situation in which Ugandan civil society finds itself is such that it requires the urgent support and response of the international community. There is a need to turn the eyes towards what is happening in Uganda and to speak up to amplify the voices of a local civil society that is increasingly being stifled. More specifically, Ugandan CSOs could be supported so they can better respond to blatant violations of freedoms, mitigate the risks that their work entails and enhance their resilience in the current context.

    Civic space inUganda is rated repressedby the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Justice Access Point through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@JusticessP on Twitter.

     

  • UGANDA: “Nadie puede ganar las elecciones sin los votos de los jóvenes”

    CIVICUS conversa con Mohammed Ndifuna, Director Ejecutivo de Justice Access Point-Uganda (Punto de Acceso a la Justicia-Uganda, JAP). Establecido en 2018, JAP busca impulsar, animar y fortalecer la lucha por la justicia en el contexto del estancado proceso de justicia transicional de Uganda, las dificultades del país para implementar las recomendaciones de su primer y segundo Exámenes Periódicos Universales en el Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas, y la reacción de algunos estados africanos contra la Corte Penal Internacional.

    Mohammed es un experimentado y apasionado defensor de los derechos humanos y trabajador por la paz, con más de 15 años de activismo en derechos humanos y prevención de atrocidades a nivel local, nacional e internacional. En 2014 recibió el Premio de Derechos Humanos de la Unión Europea para Uganda; ha integrado el Comité Directivo de la Coalición por la Corte Penal (2007-2018) y la Junta Asesora de la Human Rights House Network en Oslo (2007-2012), y actualmente integra el Comité de Gestión del Comité Nacional de Uganda para la Prevención del Genocidio y las Atrocidades Masivas. 

    Mohammed Ndifuna

    ¿Cuál es la situación del espacio cívico en Uganda de cara a las muy esperadas elecciones de 2021? 

    El espacio cívico en Uganda puede ser caracterizado como un espacio acosado, asfixiado y expoliado. La sociedad civil da la impresión de estar en una especie de pendiente resbaladiza mientras las cosas cambian de mal en peor. Por ejemplo, las organizaciones de la sociedad civil (OSC) han experimentado una ola de ataques descarados contra su espacio físico que han tomado la forma de intrusiones y allanamientos de sus oficinas a plena luz del día. Entretanto han continuado los ataques contra las OSC en general, y en particular contra las que hacen incidencia en derechos humanos y promueven la rendición de cuentas. En los últimos años se ha promulgado una cantidad de medidas legislativas y administrativas contra las OSC y otros sectores, tales como la Ley de Gestión del Orden Público (2012) y la Ley de ONG (2016).

    De cara a las elecciones generales y presidenciales, que se celebrarán el 14 de enero de 2021, el ministro del Interior estableció que todas las OSC deben pasar por un proceso obligatorio de validación y verificación para quedar habilitadas para operar. Muchas OSC no han podido completar el proceso. De hecho, hasta el 19 de octubre de 2020 solo 2.257 OSC habían completado con éxito el proceso de verificación y validación, y entre ellas se contaban solo unas pocas OSC que hacen incidencia en temas de gobernanza.

    Las OSC ugandesas son altamente dependientes de los donantes y ya estaban lidiando con la reducción de sus recursos financieros, que afectó fuertemente los alcances de su trabajo. Esta situación se vio agravada por el brote de COVID-19 y las medidas de confinamiento que se tomaron como respuesta, que perjudicaron los esfuerzos de movilización de recursos de las OSC. Así pues, la combinación de estas tres fuerzas - acoso, restricciones y acceso limitado al financiamiento - ha debilitado a las OSC, obligando a la mayoría a centrar sus esfuerzos en su propia supervivencia.

    Parecería que hay mucho más en juego en las elecciones de 2021 que en años anteriores. ¿Qué es lo que ha cambiado?

    La situación comenzó a cambiar en julio de 2019, cuando Robert Kyagulanyi, más conocido por su nombre artístico, Bobi Wine, anunció que competiría por la presidencia como candidato de la opositora Plataforma de Unidad Nacional. Bobi Wine es cantante, actor, activista y político. Como líder del movimiento Poder Popular, Nuestro Poder, fue elegido legislador en 2017.

    La atención que recibe Bobi por parte de los jóvenes es enorme, y hay que tener en cuenta que más del 75% de la población de Uganda tiene menos de 30 años. Esto hace que los jóvenes sean un grupo que es muy importante atraer. Ningún candidato puede ganar las elecciones de Uganda si no recibe la mayor parte de los votos de los jóvenes. En la próxima carrera presidencial, Bobi Wine parece ser el candidato más capaz de atraer estos votos. Aunque no tiene gran experiencia como político, Bobi es una personalidad muy carismática y ha logrado atraer a su movimiento de masas no solo a los jóvenes sino también a muchos políticos de los partidos tradicionales.

    Largamente conocido como el “presidente del gueto”, Bobi Wine ha aprovechado su atractivo como estrella de la música popular para producir canciones políticas y movilizar a la gente. Sus raíces en el gueto también lo han tornado más atractivo en las zonas urbanas. Se cree que ha motivado a muchos jóvenes a registrarse para votar, por lo es posible que la apatía entre los votantes jóvenes disminuya en comparación con elecciones pasadas.

    En vistas de la actual lucha sin cuartel por los votos de los jóvenes, no es de extrañar que el aparato de seguridad haya arremetido violentamente contra los jóvenes, en un intento evidente de contener la presión que están ejerciendo. Muchos activistas políticos vinculados a Poder Popular han sido acosados y, en algunos casos, asesinados. Varios líderes políticos de Poder Popular han sido intermitentemente detenidos y procesados en los tribunales o presuntamente secuestrados y torturados en sitios clandestinos. En un evidente intento de atraer a los jóvenes del gueto, el presidente Yoweri Museveni ha nombrado como asesores presidenciales a tres personas procedentes del gueto. Esto sugiere la posibilidad de que las bandas de gánsteres del gueto y la violencia desempeñen un rol en las próximas elecciones presidenciales.

    En elecciones anteriores hubo restricciones a la libertad de expresión y el uso de Internet. ¿Veremos tendencias similares en esta oportunidad?

    Ya las estamos viendo. La preocupación por la restricción de las libertades de expresión e información es válida no solamente en virtud de la mirada retrospectiva, sino también a causa de varios acontecimientos recientes. Por ejemplo, el 7 de septiembre de 2020 la Comisión de Comunicaciones de Uganda (CCU) emitió un aviso público indicando que toda persona que deseara publicar información en internet debía solicitar y obtener una licencia de la CCU antes del 5 de octubre de 2020. Esto afectará principalmente a los usuarios de internet, como blogueros, a quienes se les paga por el contenido que publican. Obviamente, esto intenta reprimir las actividades políticas de los jóvenes en la internet. Y también es particularmente preocupante porque, dado que las reuniones y asambleas públicas están restringidas a causa de las medidas de prevención del COVID-19, los medios de comunicación digitales serán el único método permitido para hacer campaña para las elecciones de 2021.

    También ha aumentado la vigilancia electrónica, y no es remota la posibilidad de un cierre de las plataformas de redes sociales en vísperas de las elecciones.

    ¿Cómo ha afectado la pandemia de COVID-19 a la sociedad civil y a su capacidad para responder a las restricciones del espacio cívico?

    La pandemia del COVID-19 y las medidas tomadas en respuesta han agravado el ya precario estado en que se encontraban las OSC. Por ejemplo, la capacidad de la sociedad civil para organizar reuniones públicas y manifestaciones pacíficas en apoyo de los derechos y libertades fundamentales, o para protestar contra su violación, se ha visto restringida por la forma en que se han aplicado los procedimientos operativos estándar (POE) para hacer frente al COVID-19. Esto ha resultado en violaciones y ataques contra el espacio cívico. Por ejemplo, el 17 de octubre de 2020 la Fuerza de Policía de Uganda y las Unidades de Defensa Local allanaron conjuntamente una reunión de oración de Acción de Gracias que se llevaba a cabo en el distrito de Mityana y gratuitamente lanzaron gases lacrimógenos contra la congregación, que incluía a niños, mujeres, hombres, personas mayores y líderes religiosos; la razón alegada fue que las personas reunidas habían desobedecido los POE para el COVID-19.

    En cuanto la implementación de los POE para el COVID-19 entre en contacto con la presión electoral, es posible que la represión de las libertades de reunión pacífica y asociación se agrave. Lamentablemente, las OSC ya se encuentran fuertemente restringidas.

    ¿De qué manera puede la sociedad civil internacional ayudar a la sociedad civil de Uganda?

    La situación en que se encuentra la sociedad civil de Uganda es tal que requiere del apoyo y la respuesta urgentes de la comunidad internacional. Es necesario prestar atención a lo que está sucediendo en Uganda y expresarse de modo tal de amplificar las voces de una sociedad civil local que está siendo cada vez más sofocada. Más específicamente, se debería apoyar a las OSC ugandesas para que puedan responder mejor a las violaciones flagrantes de las libertades, mitigar los riesgos que conlleva su trabajo y mejorar su resiliencia en el contexto actual.

    El espacio cívico enUganda es catalogado como “represivo” por el CIVICUS Monitor. 
    Contáctese con Justice Access Point a través de susitio web o su página deFacebook, y siga a@JusticessP en Twitter.

     

     

  • Uganda: CIVICUS condemns another break-in at the office of HRAPF  

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS condemns recent attacks on the premises of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) in Uganda which left security guards wounded and in need of urgent medical attention.  In the early hours of the morning of 9 February 2018, at least nine unidentified individuals broke into the offices of HRAPF and attacked two security guards with iron bars and batons.

     

  • Uganda: Democracy Dialogue Report: 7 August 2018

    Democracy Dialogue held by Action for Humanitarian Initiatives in Uganda, 7 August 2018

     

  • Uganda: Egregious measures threaten free and fair elections

    Urgent joint civil society letter on Ugandan Elections taking place on 14 January 2020

    To the: African Commission and United Nations Special Procedures
    ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders 
    ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
    UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
    UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
    UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions 
    UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention 

    cc: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Regional and International Heads of State and Government 

    Re: Egregious and widespread pre-electoral violence, intimidation and repressive measures threaten free and fair electoral process in Uganda

    Uganda is set to hold Presidential and Parliamentary general elections on January 14th, 2021. The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned with the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the country and submit this urgent appeal to your respective mandates under the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and United Nations (UN) to urge the Government of Uganda to adhere to its constitutional, regional and international obligations, particularly during this critical electoral period. 

    Over the last few months, we have noted an escalation of violations that has created a climate of unprecedented fear and intimidation by State security and other regulators, seemingly intended to silence dissent, undermine political opposition participation 1, and deprive Ugandans of their enjoyment of fundamental rights; in particular, the right to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Security forces have adopted the use of excessive and deadly force to quell public gatherings and intimidate the public, especially human rights defenders, journalists, opposition politicians and their supporters, and vulnerable groups such as women and youth.

    Credible human rights organisations and media institutions have documented numerous cases of mass arrests and abductions of civilians, which are becoming more of a daily occurrence 2. In addition, COVID-19 related prevention measures have been exploited to unduly restrict civil and political rights and other fundamental freedoms. In the months leading to the election, authorities arrested opposition party leaders, journalists, and dispersed opposition campaign rallies with teargas for allegedly violating COVID-19 guidelines 3. On the other hand, authorities in a partisan manner, allowed certain rallies organised by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) to continue unhindered 4.

     Covering the political opposition has become an unacceptably dangerous job for journalists, who have been assaulted numerous times by security personnel. For example, on December 27 at least three journalists -- Daniel Lutaaya, Ashraf Kasirye, and Ali Mivuli-- were injured by projectiles fired by police 5. Kasirye remained hospitalized at the time of publication. In early December, police beat at least six journalists who were covering opposition candidate Robert Kyagulanyi in Lira 6 and fired a rubber bullet at another journalist in Jinja 7. In a December 27 statement 8, police said they would investigate attacks on journalists, a commitment that was deeply undermined on January 8, when the Inspector General of Police, Martin Okoth Ochola, told journalists that police were beating them for their own safety 9.

    Regulators have sought to further restrict media access and coverage during the electoral period. In December, the Media Council of Uganda issued guidelines, requiring all foreign journalists in Uganda to reapply for accreditation; introducing a more stringent regime for accreditation of journalists seeking entry into Uganda; and barring all local journalists from covering political events without credentials 10. The Uganda Communications Commission in December wrote to Google, asking for the take-down of opposition aligned YouTube pages 11. On January 12 Reuters 12 and AFP 13 news agencies reported that the regulator ordered Internet Service Providers to block access to social media platforms. In a speech 14, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni claimed the shutdown of social media platforms was retaliatory to an earlier measure by Facebook, which took down government-linked accounts for allegedly manipulating public debate 15.

    Human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play an important role in promoting an enabling environment for the respect and protection of human rights. In relation to elections, they support institutional processes in areas such as voter education, independent election monitoring and helping to reduce election-related conflict. Despite this critical role, organisations such as the Uganda National NGO Forum and Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) that were engaging in election-related activities such as polling have had their bank accounts arbitrarily frozen following allegations of money-laundering 16. Prominent human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo along with four others were arrested last month on similar money-laundering allegations 17. Another striking example is the suspension of the National Election Watch-Uganda (NEW-U), a loose coalition of largely formal NGOs engaged in election monitoring, by the National Bureau of NGOs, allegedly for non-registration 18.

    In light of the numerous and widespread violations that have been observed, particularly over the past several weeks, there is a strong justification to be concerned over the fairness and integrity of the upcoming elections. 

    This appeal calls on the UN and African Commission special procedures to exercise their mandates to urge the government of Uganda to adopt all reasonable safeguards to enable Ugandans to participate in the election free of violence and intimidation, and to abandon all efforts to restrict the media from freely reporting on the electoral process. Ugandan security forces must refrain from the excessive use of force against civilians and refrain from arbitrary arrests and detention as a means to silence persons critical of the State. Anyone arrested must be afforded the full due process of the law, including a prompt, free and fair trial. Perpetrators of election related violations that have occurred in recent months must be held accountable and effective remedies afforded to the victims.

    We further call on you to strongly urge the government of Uganda to embrace the fundamental right to political participation and to observe the cardinal principles of transparency, accountability, fairness and non-discrimination in collecting, processing, registering and reporting of the votes. In addition, the Ugandan government must allow independent organisations to freely and safely conduct election monitoring to help safeguard the general election process from electoral misconduct and instill public confidence in the integrity of the process.

    Finally, we call on you to remind member States of the African Union and United Nations and other multinational organisations to uphold their treaty obligations and hold Uganda accountable to its own constitution, regional and international obligations, ensuring adherence to the principles of a free and just democratic society. 

    We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues that carry with them serious implications for the rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms in Uganda, as well as the East African sub-region more generally, and stand ready to provide any further information.

    Sincerely, 

    Access Now
    African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
    African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
    ARTICLE 19 - Eastern Africa 
    Association Nigérienne des Scouts de l'Environnement (ANSEN)
    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) 
    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance
    Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJNet)
    Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center (EHRDC)
    MARUAH, Singapore
    Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
    Network of Estonian Non-profit Organizations
    Network of Public Interest Lawyers, Uganda  
    Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    ROSE (Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour l'Observation et le Suivi des Élections en Guinée), Guinea
    Odhikar, Bangladesh
    Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS)
    Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
    Spaces for Change, Nigeria
    Uganda National NGO Forum
    Vijana Corps, Uganda
    Womankind Worldwide 
    Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD)


    1. The Independent, NUP accuses security of targeting their supporters during night operations, November 24, 2020, available at https://www.independent.co.ug/nup-accuses-security-of-targeting-their-supporters-during-night-operations/.

    2.  Id.See also NTV Youtube broadcaST, Mukono residents cry out, some now sleep in the bush in fear of arrest, January 6, 2021, available at  https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=mukono+residents+cry+out. Relatedly see Daily Monitor, Two NUP candidates, four supporters go missing in Mpigi District, available at https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/two-nup-candidates-four-supporters-go-missing-in-mpigi-district-3251388.

    3. Human Rights Watch, Uganda: Authorities weaponize covid-19 for repression, November 20, 2020, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/20/uganda-authorities-weaponize-covid-19-repression.

     4. Id.

    5. Committee to Protect Journalists, Police beat, detain journalists covering opposition candidates ahead of Uganda elections, January 7, 2021, available at https://cpj.org/2021/01/police-beat-detain-journalists-covering-opposition-candidates-ahead-of-uganda-elections/.

    6. Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda, Journalists covering presidential candidate Kyagulanyi brutally attacked by security forces, December 12, 2020, available at https://www.hrnjuganda.org/journalists-covering-presidential-candidate-kyagulanyi-brutally-attacked-by-security-forces/.

    7. Foreign Correspondents Association Uganda, Tweet, December 2, 2020, available at https://twitter.com/fcauganda/status/1334184041722093568?lang=en.

    8. Uganda Police Force, Statement on violent fracas at Kyabakuza, December 27, 2020, available at https://www.upf.go.ug/statement-on-violent-fracas-at-kyabakuza/.

    9. Daily Monitor, Police will beat you for own safety, ICP Ochola tells journalists, January 8, 2021, available at https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/police-will-beat-you-for-own-safety-igp-ochola-tells-journalists-3251102.

    10. International Press Institute, Uganda orders journalists to seek fresh accreditation, December 11, 2020, https://ipi.media/uganda-orders-journalists-to-seek-fresh-accreditation/.

    11. Accessnow, KeepItOn: Uganda must #KeepITOn during the upcoming general election, January 11, 2021, available at, https://www.accessnow.org/cms/assets/uploads/2021/01/KeepItOn-open-letter-uganda-general-election.pdf.

    12. Reuters, Uganda orders all social media to be blocked -letter, January 12, 2021, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-election-social-media/uganda-orders-all-social-media-to-be-blocked-letter-idUSKBN29H1E7

    13. Rfi, Uganda bans social media ahead of election, Bobi Wine says home raided, January 12 2021, available at https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20210112-uganda-bans-social-media-ahead-of-election-bobi-wine-says-home-raided-yoweri-museveni.

    14. NTV Uganda, Facebook, January 12, 2021, available at https://web.facebook.com/169252986456497/videos/401297207829849.

    15. DW, Uganda elections: Facebook shuts down government-linked accounts, January 11, 2021, available at https://www.dw.com/en/uganda-elections-facebook-shuts-down-government-linked-accounts/a-56195067.

    16. Daily Monitor, Govt freezes accounts of 4 NGOs doing poll work, December 2, 2020, available at https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/special-reports/elections/govt-freezes-accounts-of-4-ngos-doing-poll-work-3216360.

    17. The Guardian, Uganda charges leading lawyer for LGBT rights with money laundering, December 24, 2020, available at, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/24/uganda-charges-leading-lawyer-for-lgbt-rights-with-money-laundering-nicholas-opiyo

    18. URN, Government suspends operations of national Election Watch Uganda, October 29, 2020, available at https://ugandaradionetwork.net/story/government-suspends-operations-of-national-election-watch-uganda.

     

  • Uganda: shocking violence against protesters requires urgent attention

    JOHANNESBURG: Shocking scenes have emerged from Uganda where police and the military have used live ammunition and extreme violence to disperse protestors demanding the release of detained members of parliament and activists following days of political unrest in further signs of growing political intolerance against dissenting voices.

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, condemns this use of lethal violence used by security forces and calls on the East African Community to urgently meet and send communication to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to immediately ensure the release of arrested political and human rights activists.   

    Said Teldah Mawarire, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy Officer: “The use of live ammunition to disperse protests is unacceptable under any circumstances and must be condemned by regional leaders. Security forces must cease this action immediately.”

    “It goes against the tenets of open and free political participation which Uganda subscribes to as a democracy,”’ said Mawarire.

    Following a by-election in Arua Municipality on 15 August 2018, violence erupted resulting in the police shooting and killing Yasin Kawuma, the driver of popular member of parliament Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine. Kyagulanyi and other activists have been held incommunicado and not allowed access to legal representation or visits from family members. Other reports suggest the detainees have been severely tortured and denied access to medical treatment. Another detained member of parliament Francis Zaake was dumped in Rubaga hospital in an unconscious state.

    Days after the poll, there were also several arrests of protestors in different parts of the country including Kamwokya and the capital Kampala. Protestors also gathered at the Kenya border in Busia registering displeasure at the recent detentions and demanding the release of Kyagulanyi and other activists. In all cases, the authorities responded either with live ammunition, teargas and assaults on protestors.

    Journalists have also not been spared by police brutality. In Arua, journalists Hebert Zziwa and Ronald Muwanga were arrested while reporting live on the unrest. Both were assaulted and detained overnight before being charged with inciting violence and malicious damage to property. They have been released on bail. Journalists were also viciously assaulted by members of the uniformed forces during protests in Kampala on 20 August 2018.

    “Impunity remains a cause for concern where perpetrators of incidents of political violence are rarely held to account. An immediate enquiry made up of eminent and independent individuals from the continent, must be established to investigate the torture and loss of life with a view of bringing those responsible to justice,” said Mawarire.

    CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, rates the space for civil society in Uganda as “repressed”. Under this rating, civil society and citizens do not fully enjoy their freedoms and those engaging in protest are targeted by the state authorities through arrests, use of live ammunition and arrests.

    CIVICUS expresses solidarity with Ugandans demanding the respect of fundamental freedoms and calls on the East African Community and the African Union to urge President Museveni to immediately stop using violence against his citizens, release all those in detention and respect the rule of law.

    ENDS.

    For more information, please contact:

    Teldah Mawarire

    David Kode

     

     

  • Uganda: Stop arrests, detention, and targeting of opposition leaders and activists ahead of inauguration

    Ugandan authorities must stop targeting opposition leaders and arresting and detaining political and civil activists ahead of the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni on 12 May 2021, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS.

    Violence and arbitrary detentions have been unleashed on members of the opposition, and the homes of Bobi Wine, Leader of the National Unity Platform, and Dr Kizza Besugye, four-times presidential candidate, are currently under siege.

    Key political figures and activists have had their fundamental freedoms violated in the run-up to the swearing-in of President Museveni, who starts his sixth term in office following much-disputed elections. The arrest of over 40 activists ahead of the inauguration of Yoweri Museveni must be condemned.

    Background: Uganda went to the polls on 14 January 2021 for presidential, parliamentary and local government elections. The electoral process was marred by violence, intimidation, illegal detention, and killings. Opposition leaders were repeatedly hounded and arrested, and several activists and journalists were arrested and detained. In November 2020 over 70 activists were killed during a protest in Kampala while over 250 were kidnapped and others arrested. To date more than 60 activists remain in detention without charge.

    The presidential electoral outcomes have been denounced by many former presidential candidates, who have since rejected invitations to attend the swearing-in ceremony.

    Civic space in Uganda is rated asRepressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

     

     

  • Urgent call to release 19 detained members of the LGBTI community in Uganda

    CIVICUS calls on the Ugandan authorities to release 19 members of the LGBTI community who have been arrested on trumped up charges, under the pretext of curbing the spread of COVID-19.

    All 19 have been charged with, “committing a negligent act likely to spread the infection of disease,” and, “disobedience of lawful orders.” However, the Ugandan authorities have a history of targeting members of the LGBTI community:

    “The Ugandan authorities have a track record of targeting LGBTI activists and subjecting them to arbitrary arrest and detention. The arrests have nothing to do with violating COVID-19 social distancing rules, but are based on the state’s prejudice against the LGBTI community – this has been the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no justification for these arrests and the activists should be released immediately,” says Mawethu Nkosana, LGBTI Advocacy & Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS.

    “Detention centres and jails are congested places where the virus can easily spread. As we work together to curb the impact of COVID-19, we call for the immediate release of the 19 activists – they are at risk of contracting the virus and are not guilty of any crime.”

    Background

    On 29 March 2020, the Ugandan authorities raided the premises of Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF), an NGO in Kyengera, Wakiso district. This is a shelter for the LGBTI community. The authorities arrested 23 individuals and charged 19 for allegedly violating rules which prevent large gatherings to curb the spread of COVID-19.

    Four of those arrested, including a nurse at the shelter, were released on medical grounds. Restrictions on movement imposed by the Ugandan authorities on 30 March to curb the spread of the virus have hindered access to lawyers of the accused. Even when special permission was sought, on some occasions prison authorities prevented lawyers from accessing the detained activists.

    For more information on civic space violations, visit the Uganda country page on theCIVICUS Monitor.