Run up to Uganda’s Elections: The urgency to stop acts of political violence

Press release

(Kampala, Paris) Ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for February 18th 2016 in Uganda, FIDH and FHRI express serious concerns over the increasing number of acts and threats of political violence reported in various parts of the country. Both organisations call upon political actors to uphold their responsibility to safeguard citizens’ rights to vote in a secure environment, so as to avoid compromising further the credibility of the electoral process.

“Pre-electoral political violence has always precluded the holding of free, fair and credible polls, as illustrated in several recent examples in Africa. Ahead of the forthcoming Ugandan elections, voters’ ability to exercise their civil and political rights freely and without fear of intimidation and violence must not be seen as an option. Ugandan authorities and political actors must satisfy these rights unconditionally”

our organisations.

Throughout the electoral process in Uganda, widespread acts of physical and verbal violence and of electoral malpractices have been reported in various parts of the country. The Citizen Election Observers Network in Uganda (CEON-U), a coalition of 18 civil society organisations to which FHRI is a member, has documented cases of violence and intimidation during the NRM party primaries in 186 polling stations across 89 constituencies. Incidents of violence included fist fights between supporters of opposing candidates, use of machetes and other weapons by rival camps, destruction and burning of property. The Coalition has also reported cases of verbal violence in the form of hate speeches based on gender, ethnicity, or religion promoted by some candidates. Threats of violence and counter violence from various candidate camps have also been recorded.

FIDH and FHRI further urge Ugandan authorities to take appropriate measures to address reported cases of police brutality. Our organisations express concern over cases of excessive use of force by the Ugandan Police Force especially targeting opposition supporters. Police forces have been responsible for violently dispersing peaceful opposition supporters, for arbitrarily arresting political activists and for using preventive arrests to prevent opposition activists from assembling. On September 9th and 10th 2015, police forces violently dispersed peaceful supporters of opposition candidate, Hon. Amama Mbabazi. On October 10th, during the arrest of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential flag bearer Dr. Kizza Besigye, police forces have arbitrarily arrested and publicly stripped a woman political activist. Those actions are perceived as an attempt by the government to suppress freedom of association and assembly as well as to silence any form of political opposition. In addition, the Uganda Police has recruited a volunteer force of civilians called Crime Preventers who are supposed to report on and to prevent crime in cooperation with the police and communities. The legal mandate and practice of some crime preventers has come under intense scrutiny by human rights activists and legal analysts. Reports of assaults and extortions of citizens by some crime preventers without facing any form of accountability is a serious trend which has had a negative impact on the election environment.

“All candidates and parties must immediately desist from violence and malpractices that undermine democracy. To avoid posing anymore threat to the enjoyment of citizen’s rights and freedoms, they must publicly condemn the reported violations and ensure that those responsible face appropriate sanctions”

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

In a context where fundamental rights and freedoms have seriously been undermined in Uganda – including through the application of the contentious Public Order Management Act, 2013 – our organisations further recall to Ugandan authorities that the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, freedom to campaign and equal access to state-owned media, constitute imperatives to the holding of a regular process. Journalists and human rights defenders must be allowed to carry out their activities without fear of being arbitrarily arrested and detained, threatened or harassed.

Our organisations further call for the full independence, impartiality and efficiency of electoral oversight mechanisms, particularly the Independent Electoral Commission. In parallel, institutions in charge of hearing and determining electoral disputes, must equally carry out their mandate in a non-partisan way and with effectiveness.

“It is important that human rights are observed during election period as a way of guaranteeing the right environment, a pathway towards respecting the will of the people, for checking irresponsible acts and a measure for the citizens to make informed choices”

Livingstone Sewanyana, Executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI)

Between 2014 and 2016, 52 elections including 25 presidential elections have been scheduled in 27 African countries. To avoid manipulation, fraud, and violence resulting from shortened elections, FIDH gathered together dozens of African and international civil society organisations to create the coalition #MyVoteMustCount. Civil societies are demanding that their leaders respect the legitimate rights of the people to choose their representatives in fair, free and transparent elections through public awareness, field actions and political advocacy prior to each election between now and 2016. The coalition #MyVoteMustCount calls upon African Union member States, and especially Uganda, to ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

Read more