Govt trashes US report critical on rights abuses

Monday April 19 2021

Soldiers supervise the clearance of a road in Kampala following protests against the arrest of then presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, in November last year. PHOTO/FILE

By Frederic Musisi

The government yesterday dismissed findings of a United States State Department report pinning it on gross rights violations “as derived from misinformation, falsehoods and an inadequate understanding of the political reality on the ground.”

In a 17-page letter response to the report released last month, the government also implored Washington to stop interfering in the country’s internal affairs, respect its sovereignty and transact diplomatic business on the basis of mutual respect.

“The report raises a number of concerns and allegations that are of concern to the government. This is because it contains several distortions, a lot of hearsay and generalisations and, at the very least, it is a blatant display of limited knowledge about the reality on the ground,” the letter reads in part.

The government responded to all issues raised, notably on suppressing freedoms of expression and assembly in the run-up to the elections, conduct of security forces, and crackdown of NGO activities.

The 2020 annual State Department report on human right practices in Uganda painted a grim picture, pointing fingers at security agencies especially the police, UPDF, and Local Defence Unit personnel for engaging in human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, torture and extra judicial killings, particularly in the run-up to the elections.

“The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem,” the report reads in part. 


It adds that there were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including torture.
Such was the case  between November 18 and 20, 2020 that not a single soldier or police personnel has been arrested or prosecuted over the death of at least 54 Ugandans in protests over the incarceration of then Opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine.

The government described as not only false, but an unfortunate attempt, intended or not, to denigrate, delegitimise and undermine them” that state institutions, including courts, the Electoral Commission, and Uganda Human Rights Commission are dysfunctional, politically compromised and ineffective.
“This stance is clearly informed by a biased approach to, or view of, politics in Uganda which prevents an objective take on it. All state institutions are a creature of the law and are accountable to Ugandans,” the government states.

“The government has already rejected, and will continue, to reject the allegation, for example, that the Electoral Commission did not conduct a free and fair election. The only arbiter of electoral disputes is the court of Uganda and it is important that this is respected by all actors, including our international partners.”

The Justice Simon Byabakama-led Electoral Commission declared the incumbent President Museveni winner of the January 14th presidential polls with 58 per cent while former National Unity Platform party flag bearer Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine,  polled 35 per cent of the total votes cast.
Bobi Wine subsequently challenged the election results in the Supreme Court but later withdrew the petition, citing biasness of the judges, including the Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo.

In February, the European Parliament adopteda resolution against Uganda, including recommendations to invoke the Magnitsky Act to sanction individuals and organisations responsible for egregious human rights violations during last month’s poll.

On elections 

Last week, the Secretary of State, Mr Anthony Blinken, in a statement announcing visa restrictions on Ugandan government officials engaged in human rights violations during and after the campaign elections and other activities undermining democracy, said the January 14 polls were “neither free nor fair.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week held meeting with the Heads of Missions of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (US, UK, France, China and Russia over the same.