2021 polls unfair, marred by gross abuses – Report

Tuesday February 02 2021
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People gather to take part in voting in Kawempe, Kampala on January 14, 2021. PHOTO/FILE.

By Ephraim Kasozi

The 2021 General Election was marred by gross human rights violations that denied people access to justice and law, a new report has said.

The report dubbed “Trends and impact of the 2021 elections on human rights, access to justice and rule of law” reveals that the January 14 polls fell short of the international standards of a free and fair election.

In the election week alone, the report states that 67 people were arrested and detained on allegations of disobeying lawful orders, inciting violence, and interfering with the electoral process.

“These episodes of violence have continued to generate contention among sections of the public concerning the fairness and credibility of the general elections,” reads the report.

Lawyers under their Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET) released the report yesterday which revealed that many Ugandans especially Opposition leaders, political supporters, and activists mainly the youth, human rights defenders, and other victims had their rights abused.

The report indicates that prior to elections especially during the campaign meetings and on the election day, there were deliberate attacks on the media by security agencies where journalists sustained injuries while executing their role.

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“Media and the right to freedom of expression was further curtailed ahead of the General Election with irrational government directives and decisions. These, among others, included stringent guidelines issued by the media council related to accreditation of media before covering elections, the shutdown of the Internet and all other communications channels before, during, and after elections,” the report reads in part.

Other violations include the right to protection from torture where several incidents were witnessed especially against presidential candidates running on Opposition ticket as well as journalists.

The report also states that right to life was violated when 54 people were killed during the spontaneous protests that broke out in Kampala and other districts in November 2020 following the arrest of then National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine.

While presenting the report yesterday at their headquarters in Kampala, Dr Sylvia Namubiru, the LASPNET chief executive officer, observed that a total of 511 cases of election offences and human rights violations were received and handled by a team of rapid response lawyers instructed by LASPNET.

“We contend that despite Uganda having a robust legal framework on elections, implementation of such laws by institutions responsible remains weak due to political interference and growing impunity amongst security forces,” reads the report.

Dr Namubiru explained that the report was a result of the organisation’s interest in election activities where they documented election related violence and its impact to inform advocacy for improved service delivery.

“The state has a duty to promote and protect human rights in all circumstances. We aver that the state and its actor undermined its responsibility such as what happened during the election period and the fact that we went into the elections without a substantive chairperson of the UHRC despite the calls to have one,” she added.

Govt reacts
The acting chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Dr Katebalirwe Amooti, could not comment on the report saying he had not seen a copy.

But the rights body has since said despite some glitches, the January 14 presidential and parliamentary elections were free and fair.

“Based on the extensive observation of the polling exercise that was done countrywide as well as verified reports that were received from the media, contacts from other observers both nationally and outside the country, the commission has concluded that the presidential and parliamentary polling exercise was carried out within a secure, peaceful and tranquil atmosphere which enabled a free and fair outcome,” Dr Katebalirwa said.

The deputy Inspector General of Police, Maj Gen Paul Lokech, dismissed the report at a news conference as uncalled for since there is nothing that is being done by the security forces.

“Those issues of violations, deployment and fear are not true and uncalled for. Our national security is entirely our obligation. It is up to us to protect our democracy and peace that we are enjoying,” said Maj Gen Lokech.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com / ekasozi@ug.nationmedia.com

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