I was dismayed when I read Dominic Raab’s first statement to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 22nd February 2021 – and have written to tell him so!
He made no mention of Uganda as being of concern to the UK!
Background to the UN Human Rights Council
The UNHRC was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 to provide an early warning of the risk factors that can lead to crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide. It consists of 47 states a third of whom are elected each year by the UN General Assembly for three year terms. Each region of the world is allocated a specific number of seats. The UK was one of fifteen countries elected last October for the next three years – hence Dominic Raab’s first statement to the Council.
States elected to the UNHRC are supposed to demonstrate their commitment to the highest standards of human rights, including their full cooperation with all UN mechanisms – conditions set forth by the UN General Assembly. The fact that alleged atrocities and violations of human rights are being perpetrated by a number of the current HRC member states is disturbing and raises questions about its efficacy and authority. But at least those of us who UK citizens can expect and demand that the UK Government upholds the criteria.
Dominic Raab’s statement to the UNHRC on 22nd February 2021
In his speech, Raab outlined the UK’s concerns about violations of human rights in certain countries. He raised concerns (quite rightly) about human rights issues in the following countries, detailing the action the UK is taking in: Myanmar, Belarus, Russia, China, Hong Kong and Tibet, Syria, South Sudan and Sri Lanka.
He ended by saying, “The UK wants the Council to succeed. And we will work with our international partners. We will continue to speak up in this Council for what is right. And we will continue to back up our words with actions….. We want to see an effective international human rights system that holds to account those who systematically violate human rights. The Human Rights Council must be ready to play its role in full, or I fear we will see its reputation sorely damaged.” Admirable words!
So how is it possible that Raab omitted to mention the serious violations of human rights in Uganda which have escalated since the Presidential Election on 14th January 2021?
Raab, representing the UK on the UNHRC, is failing, in the case of Uganda at least, to fulfill the expectations of the UN, that members should “provide an early warning of the risk factors that can lead to crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide”. He is also failing to enact his own commitment “to see an effective international human rights system that holds to account those who systematically violate human rights”.
How and why can Raab have ignored the serious situation in Uganda?
Is the UK Government really so unaware of what is going on? I don’t think so. After all, the UK has a High Commission in Kampala, activists have been trying to alert the Government and some MPs have been asking questions. The only explanation I can think of is that the UK Government simply doesn’t care – our Government is not at all concerned about the human rights violations and the serious election irregularities in Uganda which is why they have so far not taken any action that will have any impact on Museveni.
Yes, I know a few in Parliament are concerned enough to have asked questions – and answers have been given, but nothing the UK government is saying, let alone doing, has any strength or impact. Museveni is openly scoffing as he believes he has nothing to fear from the UK.
The UK Aid budget for Uganda is nearly £100m pa. Of this, £40,909 has been frozen “due to the disproportionate response by the Ugandan security services to political protests in November 2020”. The amount that has been frozen is about 0.04% of the total aid, which is laughable! And guess what that £40,909 (which has been withheld) was specifically allocated for? For three small projects delivering (wait for it!) human rights training to the Uganda Police Force and the Uganda Prisons Service and, thirdly, training materials for the Uganda People’s Defence Force to document and investigate conflict-related sexual violence – precisely the issues we are all protesting about in Uganda today! It beggars belief. No wonder Museveni is laughing. He is still going to get nearly £100m from the UK. What steps is the UK taking to investigate exactly how and where the rest of the aid budget is being used?
- Are you and/or the Ministry of Defence aware of the roles that those in the security forces who have been trained by the UK have fulfilled since training and what evidence do you have that they maintain the ethical standards expected of British military and police personnel in protecting human rights?
- That £40,909 allocated for training senior members of the Ugandan security forces in human rights issues has been withheld is ironical. It removes a channel for challenging abuse of power as well as access to senior officers within those institutions. It leaves unaddressed the UK’s overall development aid budget for Uganda, which for 2019/20, was £96m according to the FCDO September 2020 briefing. How much of the current £96million goes into Government of Uganda budgets (rather than directly to development and civil society NGOs) and is effectively fungible; and will the FCDO review the contribution each programme makes towards measurable poverty reduction and accountable governance?
- Why has the UK withdrawn from contributing to the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) in Uganda? I understand why we no longer contribute as members of the EU but why haven’t we continued to support it, independent of the EU? This lack of support for democratic governance institutions weakens the role of the UK making it more difficult for us to demand democratic accountability. It also undermines all other development programmes.
- What is your response to the four specific requests for action by the UK (see below) as outlined by Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine), the leader of the opposition NUP party in Uganda?
I attended an online seminar last week organised by the Institute for Commonwealth Studies. Bobi Wine attended for about half an hour from a vehicle that he was travelling in over very bumpy roads after dark! He was wearing the same shirt as in photos of him visiting a young man that evening who has been in hospital since November 2020 when he was shot in the face and chest at a campaign meeting. I also watched a live interview with him based in the US.
In the seminar, Bobi Wine said: “The people of Uganda are in a state of hopelessness”. He commented that it is “unfortunate that Museveni has successfully hoodwinked the West and made them believe that he is the anchor of stability in the Great Lakes Region”, an assessment many international observers would agree with.
Bobi Wine was asked what he wanted the world to do to help restore democracy in Uganda. He asked for these measures to be taken:
- The Commonwealth of Nations should suspend Uganda and insist on an audit into the electoral process and investigations into the allegations of human rights abuses.
- Impose targeted sanctions on Museveni and the most powerful abusers in his team. Although Museveni has scoffed at this suggestion, Bobi Wine is asking for it and there are many Ugandans who say it would have a significant impact.
- Governments (and he particularly focussed on the UK because of the historical links) “need to protest with strongly worded statements but follow these with strong actions and hold Museveni to account“.
- The UK (and any other donor country) should “review its cooperation with Uganda and make the respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law conditions for cooperation, then Museveni will be reminded he is accountable for all the statutes Uganda is a signatory to. This would be a positive step in the right direction.”
I find it very disturbing that not only is the crisis in Uganda being largely ignored by the UK Government, but it is also being ignored by the British media. This is something I want to tackle next. Is anyone else willing to contact our national media?
Dominic Raab’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. When writing to MPs, you must include your full name and address otherwise your letter/email will be discarded.
When/If you write to Dominic Raab, please also send copies to your own MP (you can find their email address HERE) and all of the following who have already asked questions – it would encourage their continued involvement and commitment:
- Mrs Pauline Latham (MP who is on the International Development Committee and also on the Human Rights Joint Committee): email@example.com
- Mr Stephen Doughty (MP, Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lord Boateng (House of Lords, International Relations and Defence Committee): email@example.com
- Mr Tom Tugendhat (MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Commitee): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ms Ruth Jones (MP Newport West, interested in human rights): email@example.com
This is how the Ugandan security forces treat people whom they suspect of supporting the opposition party. How would you feel if one of these young men was your son or brother or cousin or husband? And this is only the beginning of what happens to them. More goes on in the secret, un-gazetted places of detention they are taken to. Some of the photos I have seen and the accounts of the few who survive are too distressing to be shared here.
What better reason is needed to act without delay.
And please sign (if you haven’t already done so) the online Petition and keep sharing it by email and on all social media platforms. Sharing does work! (Make sure you sign on a computer or a compatible mobile device, preferably using Google, to ensure your signature is registered. Many signatures are missing, possibly because people have signed on “incompatible” mobile devices.)
On behalf of all my Ugandan friends, thank you so much for all your support.