Two of us, living in Conservative constituencies in Lancashire and Leicestershire, have received emails from our MPs in response to the issues we raised about the apparent lack of concern and action by the British Government to the serious violations of human rights and the breakdown of democracy in Uganda.
I was disturbed not only by the apparent ignorance and disinterest, but the fact that the emails were identical (apart from a few personalised sentences) – in spite of one of the MPs having visited Uganda in his capacity as Minister for Africa in a previous parliament! The emails had obviously been written by someone in the office of the FCDO to send to troublesome constituents complaining about the UK’s response.
Here is the email, copied to both of us:
“I regret the violence and loss of life that occurred in Uganda in the run up to the recent presidential election. I know that the UK Government, in particular, the High Commission in Kampala, closely followed the situation as it developed, urging the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Uganda Constitution to be upheld and calm upon all sides. The UK reaffirmed this message at the UN Security Council on 13 October, as did Minister for Africa, James Duddridge MP, in his meetings with the Ugandan Minister for Foreign Affairs Hon. Sam Kutesa.
The UK notes the re-election of H.E. Yoweri Museveni as President of Uganda. That said, I know that many believe that the standards by which the election was carried out fell well short of those we would expect from a free and fair election. The UK’s own officials, for instance, were concerned by the national media shutdown during the election period, which clearly limited the transparency of the election, to the detriment of the Ugandan electorate and the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled.
It is important these concerns are raised, investigated and resolved in a peaceful, legal and constitutional manner. I am glad that the UK Government and High Commission, steadfast advocates of democracy in Uganda as they are, are continuing to engage with all parties concerned in order to facilitate such an outcome – and in doing so, champion the human right to freedom of speech, expression and media. I will be following matters closely.
Despite efforts to reduce poverty over the last decade, Uganda remains poor and inequality is growing. The UK provides aid in order to alleviate these problems, which have only been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, many in Uganda are facing famine at this time and in light of such circumstances – and given the UK regularly raises issues of human rights with the Government in Uganda, urging it to uphold its international commitments – I do not think the UK should suspend or alter its vital aid efforts in the country.”
Has anyone else received the same email?
HERE IS MY RESPONSE to the email:
I am disappointed that your email appears to contain a scripted reply, presumably drafted by someone in the FCDO. I am even more concerned that it refers only to events and statements leading up to the Presidential Election on 14th January. In fact, the implication is that you are actually only referring to events last year as you say that the UK “closely followed the situation as it developed, urging the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Uganda Constitution to be upheld and calm upon all sides [and that] the UK reaffirmed this message at the UN Security Council on 13 October [and by the] Minister for Africa, James Duddridge MP, in his meetings with the Ugandan Minister for Foreign Affairs Hon. Sam Kutesa” which I believe happened on 26th November 2020. You go on to say, “The UK notes the re-election of H.E. Yoweri Museveni as President of Uganda.” I find it deeply disturbing that you make no mention at all of the gross violations of human rights that have been going on ever since the election, which is what I wrote to you about. Is the FCDO unaware that since the election, the situation has got much worse?
Your response also indicates that the FCDO considers the situation in Uganda to be a minor issue, now in the past and of insufficient concern or significance to warrant any action in the present which would have an impact on Museveni. It confirms for me, and explains, the Government’s lack of any real knowledge or understanding of the serious situation in Uganda today and of the issues, especially in relation to the ongoing and widespread violation of human rights by the Uganda Government and its security forces.
There is increasing evidence of the election irregularities which suggest that Museveni did not, in fact, win the Presidential Election. Look, for example, at the image of a Declaration of Results (DR) form which the Uganda Electoral Commission has released as being genuine in an attempt to disprove accusations of irregularities. To their consternation, Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy and International Development at Birmingham University, has actually shown how it proves electoral fraud. Please read the explanation.
The abuse since the elections is more egregious even than the appalling abuses now current in Myanmar – and indeed in other countries that the Foreign Secretary mentioned in his recent statement to the UN Human Rights Council on 22nd February 2021. Surprisingly, he was silent on Uganda – which must be very reassuring for President Museveni. I believe that as long as thousands of Ugandans and others who have a long and deep understanding of Uganda are telling the world that there are serious abuses currently ongoing in Uganda, it is incumbent upon the FCDO to carry out, as a matter of urgency, a thorough and independent assessment of the evidence, reassess its disbursement of the UK’s generous aid budget of nearly £100m within Uganda and impose other sanctions.
My concern remains that Uganda is now a de facto military regime in which the Security Forces (the UPDF, the Special Force and the Police Force, which is now also under Military control) are no longer upholding democracy and the rule of law, but appear to be increasingly involved in extra-judicial activities on a large scale, including kidnapping, detaining in non-gazetted locations, beating, torturing and killing thousands. Occasionally, civilians (including Kyagulanyi’s campaign team) have been brought before military courts to consider bail, which has always been refused. They have been detained for three months now. Terrorizing the opposition is unacceptable in any democracy. The UK Government does need to rigorously put these concerns to the Government of Uganda who clearly have all the armed Security Forces at their behest.
The UK government should note that Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine, the leader of the NUP opposition party) consistently urges his supporters never to use violence and is pursuing only peaceful means which includes seeking international support for a return to democracy. The UK’s lack of concern and action is undermining the citizens of Uganda who are committed to reform and to improving governance and accountability through non-violent means. It is time for the UK Government to take significant action and not just exhort the Uganda Government to uphold internationally agreed human rights! It is not acceptable that the Uganda Government scapegoats an individual security officer identified on photos when much worse is apparently happening unrecorded, out of sight and on a large scale.
Serious questions also have to be asked why a country with such rich agricultural potential and natural resources is, as you rightly say, facing growing poverty and inequalities – and even famine. This is a disgrace to which we are proving to be party. Re-evaluation of the aid programme is in line with the current government policy to bring its aid programme back under the umbrella of the Foreign Office to ensure more joined-up government. The reduction in aid (through cutting a few small programmes which, ironically, were actually providing some human rights training to the security forces) involved only £40,909 (0.04%) out of the overall budget of nearly £100m!
There are tools available to the UK Government to influence President Museveni and his government. For example:
- reviewing the aid programme to ensure the non-fungible disbursement of funds, primarily through non-governmental channels focused on poverty reduction and humanitarian aid;
- supporting democratic states at the next CHOGM in Rwanda in suspending Uganda from the Commonwealth pending an independent audit of the election process and collecting evidence of human rights abuses;
- subject to that review, imposing targeted travel and financial sanctions against Museveni and the Commanders and Ministers identified as responsible for human rights abuses;
- reversing the post-Brexit decision to stop funding the Democratic Governance Facility in Uganda and challenging Museveni about its closure.
I apologise for writing at length, but it is clear that the FCDO is not taking this matter with the seriousness and urgency it deserves. I would ask you, please, to
- formally request the Foreign Office to gather information and evidence from reliable and knowledgeable sources both in Uganda and abroad (not just by the BHC in Kampala – I would be pleased to direct them towards a range of knowledgeable people and organisations of all perspectives who could offer independent and balanced assessments);
- review the UK’s policies regarding Uganda;
- take appropriate action both nationally and in international forums.
Finally, I want to share some comments and photos which I hope will emphasise and illustrate the urgency and seriousness of the ongoing violations of human rights and the breakdown of the democratic rule of law in Uganda which are worse than what is going on in Myanmar.
- This Tweet, posted by Joe WhalouXhaso on 5th March 2021, is typical of many: “The selective ineffectiveness of UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab to stand up to the totalitarian and despotic regime of Dictator Museveni of Uganda undermines Britain’s position as a global power and weakens Britain’s historical support for democratic values and rule of law.”
- I would like to share a message with you that I received very early in the morning a week ago from a young woman living in Kampala. She is a nurse whom I have known for 15 years. “I am truly sorry for disturbing you but the truth is I no longer sleep at night. I and the rest of Ugandans are living in fear. Yesterday our electricity was switched off all over Uganda and this is the second time it’s happening. And the worst part of it, my president HE. BOBI WINE is also not safe at all. I have a feeling that Museveni has bad intentions behind switching off the electricity and the armed man [placed] at my President’s home. CAN’T ANYTHING BE DONE 😥😥 BOBI WINE HAS GONE THROUGH A LOT. What do you think the world is waiting for before coming to our rescue? Is everyone waiting for Bobi to be killed by Museveni, then they would come up? BUT WHY, WHY, WHY? Museveni is too evil and doesn’t care killing anyone. PLEASE SAY SOMETHING. My country is bleeding.”
- I am, with hesitancy, sharing with you some photos of arrests by the Uganda police from the past few weeks. I have seen much worse which are too awful to share – of injuries, of three young men with all their legs tied together and hung up by their ankles from window bars like animals at a butchers, and another man left in the sun hanging face down from a horizontal pole to which he had been tied by his ankles and wrists. These are, I believe, the tip of the iceberg.
Please feel free to copy any of this email in your own correspondence.
I also copied this email to:
- Mrs Pauline Latham (MP who is on the International Development Committee and also on the Human Rights Joint Committee): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr Stephen Doughty (MP, Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development): email@example.com
- Lord Boateng (House of Lords, International Relations and Defence Committee): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr Tom Tugendhat (MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Commitee): email@example.com
- Ms Ruth Jones (MP Newport West, interested in human rights): firstname.lastname@example.org