Opposition tasks govt on four human rights abuse demands

Mr Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, responds to government’s statement at Parliament on December 5, 2023. Photo/David Lubowa

What you need to know:

  • The Opposition wants unconditional release of all political prisoners and proper investigation into all human rights violations. 

The Opposition has listed four demands in a rejoinder to the government’s statement made last week at Parliament in response to their concerns on human rights abuses and missing persons in the country. 

Led by the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP), Mr Mathias Mpuuga, the legislators yesterday during a plenary sitting, first asked for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners rotting in numerous jails and illegal detention facilities without trial.  

What next for Uganda’s human rights sector?
“Non-trial of these cases is a clear indication of lack of evidence on the side of the government and a red flag that these persecutions are intended to shrink the civil space further and criminalise association with the Opposition in our country,” Mr Mpuuga said. 

The second demand to the government was formation of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations.
“We propose that the said Commission of Inquiry be chaired by a judge of the High Court,” Mr Mpuuga said, adding, “We believe that the Commission will be endowed with the authority, independence, and resources necessary to uncover the truth, to hold those responsible accountable, and to ensure justice prevails.”

The third demand was the establishment of a Select Committee to investigate cases of rape, defilement, destruction of property, murders, and unjustified arrests, among other crimes.  

Finally, that persons not subjected to military law and are currently being tried before any military court be transferred to civil courts under the direction of Director of Public Prosecutions as directed by the Constitutional Court in the Constitution Petition No.44 of 2015 between Capt (rtd) Amon Byarugaba and others versus Attorney General, decided on December 15, 2022 and was neither appealed nor stayed. 

The rejoinder was a response to the November 29 statement from the Executive, reacting to concerns over human rights abuses raised by the Opposition.  The responses followed the Opposition’s over one-month demand for answers on missing Ugandans and other human rights violations across the country.

As the Opposition demanded answers from the government, they also proceeded to stage a boycott of House plenary sitting until the Executive accounts for citizens whose whereabouts the relatives and respective political parties know nothing about.

Addressing Members of Parliament on November 29, Gen David Muhoozi, the State minister for Internal Affairs, in a statement signed by the Internal Affairs senior minister, Maj Gen (rtd) Kahinda Otafiire, said the Uganda Police Force conducted investigations into the matters of alleged missing persons but was confronted with several challenges and constraints which compromised the integrity of the findings from the people given as next of kin.
Following the rejoinder yesterday, Gen Muhoozi told legislators they were sticking to their [earlier] response, which they said was honest, elaborate, and detailed. 

“LoP, at that time, asked whether we feel pain and are alive, and if we feel for others and are human. I want to reinstate here that we are both and even more. We even do have the obligation as the government to protect and preserve human rights,” he said while pledging to fulfil the government’s obligation to continue addressing misconduct within law enforcement and security agencies. 

Speaker Anita Among, who was determined to conclude on the matter, said since the legislators already know what was happening in relation to human rights violations, it was better that the debate proceeded on the stand-point of advising the government on the way forward on the matter. 
Mr Abdu Katuntu, the Bugweri County MP, advised that the raised concerns be handled by their own Parliament’s Human Rights Committee rather than establishing a Select Committee to handle them. 

Mr Medard Sseggona, the Busiro County East MP, said it was hurtful that in the year 2023, “when we are losing people to Covid-19, HIV/Aids, we can still lose people to our negative interventions.” 
Members ruled over the Opposition’s suggestion on the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry by the Judiciary. 

This followed guidance from Ms Among that the House’s presiding officers were scheduled to have a meeting with a team from Uganda Human Rights Commission, together with Mr Mpuuga over some of the raised concerns on human rights violations next week on Monday. 
Ms Among, also in part, promised the legislators to raise some of the concerns with the head of the Executive before giving a response, at an unspecified date.