Democratic process undermined by human rights violations as Ugandans prepare to vote

05/01/2021
Statement
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Adam Jones, Creative Commons license

(Nairobi, Kampala) – As elections approach in Uganda, human rights violations against civil society representatives and political opponents are on the rise, creating an environment that is not conducive to holding credible elections. FIDH and its member organisation in Uganda, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), condemn the shrinking of democratic space in the context of election campaigning and alert about risks of violence during and after elections.

While Uganda’s presidential and parliamentary elections are slated for next Thursday, 14 January 2021, restrictions on democratic space have multiplied since the start of the election campaign in November 2020, under the pretext of measures taken by the national authorities to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the country. [1]

The election campaign has been marred by the excessive use of force by law enforcement agents, resulting in the killing and wounding of civilians, and arbitrary arrests and detentions that call into question the holding of credible and peaceful elections.

Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana, FHRI’s Executive Director, declared that “the political opposition is regularly targeted by attacks, and the covid-19 health crisis is manipulated by the ruling regime for its own benefit and to counter any dissenting voices in the presidential election”.

Several incidents of harassment targeting human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents have occurred since the beginning of campaign season, undercutting any semblance of fairness between candidates and effectively giving an advantage to the candidate of the ruling party, incumbent president Yoweri Museveni.

Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, singer and opposition candidate, and his party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), have been particularly targeted. On 19 November 2020, several of his supporters were killed, injured and arbitrary arrested by Ugandan police while demonstrating in Kampala and surrounding areas against his arrest and detention. [2] On 26 December 2020, the Electoral Commission (EC) suspended campaign activities in various districts throughout the country, including opposition strongholds, categorised as covid-19 hotspots. [3] The following day, two local journalists [4] were injured by tear gas and Bobi Wine’s bodyguard, Francis Senteza, was run over and killed by security forces during a crackdown on his campaign in Kalangala, in Central Uganda, a district targeted by the restrictive measure. Bobi Wine was once again arrested by the police and military and airlifted to his residence. Several members of his team were arrested the same day, were allegedly tortured while in detention and are still detained. [5]

Other measures targeting political opponents and human rights defenders have also been taken by the authorities. Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer, arrested on 22 December along with other lawyers, was released on bail on 30 December 2020, but still faces charges of money laundering in connection with a sum of money acquired from his organisation, Chapter Four Uganda. [6]

“The subversion of democracy underway in Uganda ahead of elections confirms an unfortunate authoritarian trend which has been rampant in the region, and more broadly on the continent, since 2020”, declared Alice Mogwe, Director of DITSHWANELO - The Botswana Centre for Human Rights, and President of FIDH. [7]

Our organisations call upon the Ugandan authorities to put an end to the violent harassment of political activists and human rights defenders, investigate cases of violations and prosecute alleged perpetrators, and refrain from violence in the run-up to, during, and after elections.

Violence and other violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms have been condemned by the international community, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), [8] United Nations human rights experts, [9] the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network, [10] the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network, and the East Africa Law Society (EALS). [11]

Context

Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986 as President of the Republic of Uganda. After amending the Constitution twice, allowing him to stand for re-election, he is running in the presidential elections slated for 14 January 2021.

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