Museveni told us not to lecture him on rights, says HRW boss

The chief executive officer of Human Rights Watch, Mr Kenneth Roth speaks through the microphone as former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Winnie Kiiza looks on during the discussion on human rights at Makerere University on June 30, 2022. Photo / Isaac Kasamani

What you need to know:

  • During the meeting, Mr Roth handed to Mr Museveni a HRW report that showed impunity and rights abuses by Ugandan security agencies.

The chief executive officer of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Mr Kenneth Roth, has said President Museveni told him in their meeting that they shouldn’t lecture him about human rights.

“The President said Africa has lived through colonialism, it has lived through slavery, and it has lived through various exploitations by Europeans. He overthrew Idi Amin. Don’t talk to him about human rights,” Mr Roth said.

He said this was during their meeting at the President’s country home in Ntungamo District on Wednesday. 

During the meeting, Mr Roth handed to Mr Museveni a HRW report that showed impunity and rights abuses by Ugandan security agencies.

Mr Roth made the remarks yesterday during a symposium on barriers to accountability for unlawful detention organised by the School of Law, Makerere University, in partnership with HRW.

Mr Roth said the President’s remarks on human rights in Uganda is an argument that he can basically do what he wants.

“That because there was a terrible history in Africa, we shouldn’t really scrutinise today’s leaders and of course that argument is a recipe for disaster. It means that there is no accountability for today’s leaders. Despite the abuses of the past, human rights are a present concern. Ugandans want their human rights. They don’t want to hear their president saying, ‘don’t worry about your human rights because two centuries ago there was slavery,’” he said.  “Those are dangerous arguments and I don’t accept that. Human rights are something that everyone should respect today regardless of history,” he added.

Mr Roth said the security personnel behind the human rights abuses during the recent general elections in Uganda must be prosecuted.

Role of academia

The Makerere University deputy vice chancellor-in-charge of academic affairs, Prof Umar Kakumba, said the people in academia too have a role to play in the protection of human rights.

“As an academia like the university, we have a role to play in human rights protection and as a university we do this in major ways.  One of the ways is human rights education, which is done at School of Law, and also the other way when we do the teaching and education on issues of human rights,” Prof Kakumba said.

He said Makerere University supports human rights because it is a basis for the autonomy and development of “our institution and our country”. Makerere University students, who attended the symposium, accused the institution of collaborating with human rights abusers, especially the government, to suppress freedoms.

They cited three students Vice Chancellor Prof Barnabas Nawangwe suspended on allegations that they participated in a political gathering. The three are members of the National Unity Platform (NUP).

Dr Zahara Nampeewo, the director of Human Rights and Peace Centre, said Ugandans are suppressed from speaking out on issues that affect their lives.

“A few weeks ago, political leaders were arrested for putting up resistance and communicating about the high commodity prices. But as Ugandans, we have a tendency to normalise things,” she said.

“Now, diesel and petrol and prices of tomatoes and sugar, but I must say that these are all connected to the issue of unlawful detention. You dare and speak about something, within minutes you are going to be picked up,” Dr Nampeewo added.

Law professors Oloka-Onyango and Dr Busingye Kabumba took the audience through the importance of human rights to the country and why those freedoms should be safeguarded.

Recent cases

 Satirical writer Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who has since fled to Germany, has become the latest posterchild of torture in Uganda after he alleged that security forces, including elements of the Special Forces, brutalised him while in a month-long detention on allegations of insulting President Museveni and his son, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, also the commander of UPDF Land Forces, on Twitter. In August 2021, court ordered government to compensate MP Zaake Shs75m after he proved that he was tortured during a brutal arrest by security.