US Senator tables move for fair polls in Uganda

United States senator Bob Menendez at a Senate hearing on December 16.He has tabled a resolution aimed at compelling the Ugandan government to improve the election environment.   PHOTO/ AFP

A  United States Democratic Party senator Bob Menendez has tabled a resolution to compel the Ugandan government “to improve the election environment and create conditions for credible elections” in the run-up to the 2021 General Election.

The resolution introduced to Senate last week details that national elections in Uganda since 1996 “have not met internationally accepted standards for free and fair polls, as the ruling party has leveraged access to, and influence over state resources and institutions to tilt the electoral balance in its favour.”

Mr Menendez, a member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wants Senate to, among others, denounce President Museveni’s government’s assault on democratic freedoms, including attacks on Opposition politicians, media freedoms, and burdensome restrictions on nongovernmental organisations, and “immediately lift the uneven and partisan application of the Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Okello-Oryem, the State Minister for International Relations, yesterday, however described the move as a “regrettable desperation by some members seeking the presidency to overthrow the government by using foreign forces.”

“We know this for a fact; those individuals know very well they stand no chance at the presidency, so they are using some of those naïve senators but they will not succeed in their attempts,” Mr Oryem told this newspaper.

Mr Menendez also wants the US Secretary of State and heads of other departments and agencies to consider the imposition of targeted sanctions and visa restrictions on actors involved in perpetrating or abetting human rights abuses and undermining free and fair elections.
He also wants them to immediately conduct a review of assistance to Uganda should neutral observers determine that the January polls do not meet internationally accepted standards. 

The resolution, once adopted, demands for “full and public investigations that ensure accountability for acts of violence, harassment and intimidation perpetrated against political opposition, journalists, and members of civil society, especially before and after the elections.”

Mr Menendez’s resolution comes a fortnight after the lower House of Representatives chair of the Foreign Affairs committee, Eliot Engel wrote to the Secretary of State, Mr Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, calling for sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act against senior military and police commanders.

Singled out
Some of the sanctions under the act include freezing of assets or banning any official designated from travelling to or any territory controlled by the US.

Mr Engel singled out the commander of Land Forces, Lt Gen Peter Elwelu, Maj Gen James Birungi, who was replaced last week as Commander of the Special Forces Command (SFC), Maj Gen Don William Nabasa,  the former SFC commander and now commander of Ugandan troops in Somali, and Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, the Chief of Military Intelligence. Others are Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeyi, who was dropped last week as Deputy Inspector of General of Police, Commissioner of Police Frank Mwesigwa and the Director of Crime Intelligence, Col Chris Serunjogi Ddamulira.

In a December 10 tweet, Mr Pompeo said they were monitoring the situation in Uganda.
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