The European Union (EU) Parliament has recommended sanctions against Ugandan individuals and organisations they claim are responsible for human rights violations during the recent general election, which it said wasn’t democratic and transparent.
This is the latest in the fallout between the West and the government that has seen President Museveni and a number of his government officials castigating unnamed Western powers over what they call interference in the affairs of Uganda.
In a letter dated January 2, that was leaked recently, it emerged that President Museveni instructed the Ministry of Finance to suspend the activities of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), a basket fund of European countries that bankrolls most Ugandan civil society organisations that work on governance, rights and related themes.
The EU Parliament, in its statement issued on Thursday, resolved that “…sanctions against individuals and organisations responsible for human rights violations in Uganda must be adopted at EU level under the new EU (European Union) human rights sanction mechanism, the so-called EU Magnitsky Act”.
The resolution was endorsed by 632 votes, with only 15 against and 48 abstentions.
The resolution were based on human rights violations that happened during the recently concluded general elections.
The elections were characterised by a crackdown by security forces and government agencies against the Opposition and civil society organisations, with Opposition players, in particular the National Unity Platform (NUP), still crying foul.
More than 60 people were killed, with 54 killed in the melee that followed the arrest of NUP presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alis Bobi Wine, on November 18, according to the State. Hundreds more were injured and thousands arrested during the elections.
During the election campaigns, President Museveni consistently accused Western countries of working with the Oposition to remove him from power.
The imposition of sanctions would be a major blow to Uganda government operations since the EU is Uganda’s biggest development partner and gives more than Shs500b in aid annually. The EU individual members also give substantive funding to Uganda.
Early this week, the United Kingdom also cut funding to security forces and also promised to review aid to Uganda over what they called human rights abuses.
The EU Parliament instructed its president to forward their document to European bodies, the President of Uganda, the Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, and the African Union.
The EU Magnitsky Act, which was passed in December 2020, is used to freeze assets and also impose travel restrictions on individuals found to be involved in human rights abuses.
Under a similar arrangement, the United States government recently sanctioned a number of Ugandans that it accuses in engaging in a wide range of abuses. Those sanctioned include army generals and judges.
The European Parliament recommended that their member countries take tough action on funds they send to Uganda to ensure that they don’t end up in the hands of government authorities who “abet human rights abuses and target activists”.
The Parliament further recommends “increasing scrutiny of Uganda’s fiscal management and transparency; urges the (European) Commission and the European External Action Service to continue conducting systematic reviews of EU budget support programmes where there is a risk of funds being diverted for use by the Ugandan authorities in activities which may abet human rights abuses and target activists”.
Uganda’s security agencies were accused of illegal arrests, torture and detention of thousands of Ugandans, especially those of the Opposition on allegations that they are perpetrators of violence.
In the EU parliament resolution, they demanded the government of Uganda to drop all charges against people detained for participating in what they called peaceful political assemblies and exercising freedom of expression.
The EU Parliament said the human rights abuse in Uganda has a negative impact on the security of the region, especially the democratic processes in Somalia.
On Somalia, however, the Uganda government still got a pat on the back. The resolution states: “… remains concerned by the overall security situation in the region and underlines, in this regard, the important work of Amisom [African Union Mission in Somalia]; stresses that its long-term objectives will only be reached if all those involved lead by example when it comes to respecting the rule of law, fundamental rights and democratic principles.”
Uganda is a major troop contributor to the Amisom, which is largely funded by the EU.
By press time yesterday, the Minister of Information, Ms Judith Nabakooba, wasn’t able to give a detailed response, but she said the EU Parliament should have sought the government response on the allegation before making those resolutions.
Ms Nabakooba said yesterday the government would respond to the allegations later in the day.
CSOs speak out
Actionaid Country Director Xavier Ejoyi said Uganda is part of the global community and bound to different treaties, including human rights observance.
“The debate and deliberations by the EU Parliament are in line with that because their parliament represents European tax payers. It is the European tax payers who are committing funds to develop Uganda. No tax payers want to see their taxes go to places that are controversial,” Mr Ejoyi said.
Mr Ejoyi said it is high time we revisited those values and commitments that Uganda shares with the Europeans and see where we have gone amiss.
Mr Cripy Kaheru, an election observer, agrees with the resolution that human rights abuse during the elections must be investigated.
“It is important to investigate human rights abuses that came up during the elections. There is a need to be accountable,” he said.