BRIEFING PAPER CONCERNING ALLEGED CORRUPTION AND ONGOING
VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN UGANDA BEFORE, DURING AND
FOLLOWING THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ON 14th January 2021
1. UGANDA – BACKGROUND
1.1. Uganda was a former British Protectorate (never a Colony) which gained Independence in 1962 and, as a Republic with an elected President and Parliament, became a member of the Commonwealth. There was a period of great turbulence in the 1970s and first half of the 1980s, when Amin and Obote were Presidents and hundreds of thousands were killed. Museveni, with his National Resistance Army (NRA), took control in 1986 and Museveni became President, bringing peace and stability. Museveni has changed the Constitution several times to remove the limit of the number of terms that can be served and also the upper age limit to enable himself to continue to stand for election as President every five years.
1.2. There are five senior UPDF officers serving as directors in the Uganda Police Force, including Maj Gen Lokech, ensuring that the army holds a dominant position of control in what should be a civilian force.
1.3. A CNN report: “Museveni has maintained an iron grip on power in Uganda for nearly 35 years with help from Western allies and many say that the US is complicit in the anti-democratic tendencies of their staunch military ally, providing the UPDF with funding and training. This partnership means the US government plays a key role in “professionalizing” the UPDF. Aid to Uganda from the US has offered legitimacy to an undemocratic regime. Kyagulanyi (NUP opposition leader) has claimed that “The United States helps Museveni stay in power. If democracy is important, they should reconsider giving Uganda money used to murder and oppress.” The British government has also provided support to the military.
2. CAMPAIGN PERIOD BEFORE THE ELECTIONS
2.1. The campaign period was one of the most violent in Uganda’s history with a sustained crackdown on President Museveni’s rivals and government critics, along with unprecedented attacks on the nation’s media and human rights defenders. In November 2020, at least 54 people were shot dead by security forces loyal to Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Kaguta Museveni (henceforth referred to as Museveni) during protests against one of the numerous arrests of Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine, leader of the National Unity Platform [NUP] and the main opposition candidate, henceforth referred to as Kyagulanyi). Although Kyagulanyi has been arrested many times, beaten and tortured, he has never been convicted of any of the charges. Kyagulanyi’s bodyguard was run over and killed by a UPDF military-police truck, but a spokesperson for the Ugandan military denied it was a targeted attack.
2.2. Human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo was arrested on 22nd December 2020 by a “security and financial intelligence” team for alleged “money laundering and related malicious acts.” [Opiyo had helped get Kyagulanyi out of military detention in 2018. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee criticized Opiyo’s arrest and said it reflected “the dangerous environment” created to “marginalize and repress civil society.”]
2.3. Amnesty International (AI) stated on 14th December 2020: “During the last elections in 2016, police used the Public Order Management Act, a law that gave police excessive powers to prohibit public gatherings and protests, to disperse opposition rallies in a selective and partisan manner. On 26 March 2020, the Constitutional Court declared the section that gave police these overbroad powers illegal and unconstitutional.” Instead, in 2020, COVID restrictions on gatherings were in place which were employed instead to prevent opposition campaign meetings while government rallies were not dispersed. “While it is reasonable that the Ugandan authorities should take measures to halt the further spread of COVID-19, it is apparent that in Uganda, COVID-19 regulations have been weaponized and disproportionately applied to the opposition as pretext for political repression and to restrict their activities, and their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly… [There were] many instances when supporters of the ruling NRM, unlike those of NUP and other opposition parties, gathered in large crowds unhindered by police.” Amnesty International was also concerned about “the threatening rhetoric from senior government officials, eg: Security Minister Gen. Elly Tumwine said in Kampala in the aftermath of the police killings [in November 2020] that: ‘Police has a right to shoot you and kill you if you reach a certain level of violence.’ President Museveni, speaking at a political rally in Kotido town, warned people against protesting, saying they would be ‘crushed’”.
2.4. Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) Uganda reported over 100 cases of human rights violations against journalists, including cases of police violence….. On 27th November, three foreign journalists were arrested and deported despite having been duly accredited by the Media Council ahead of their entry into the country.”
2.5. On 13th January 2021, the day preceding the elections, Vanguard Africa, a non-profit organisation promoting democracy in African countries, filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court against Museveni and other high-ranking Ugandan officials for “violations of international law governing human rights and crimes against humanity.”
2.6. Mr Fontelles made a statement on behalf of the European Union released on 21st January 2021: “The EU …. regrets that the disproportionate role given to security forces during the elections brought forth violence in the pre-electoral period, harassment of opposition leaders, suppression of civil society actors and media, and the raiding of a domestic observer’s office”.
3. DURING THE ELECTIONS
3.1. International observer missions from outside the sub-region were conspicuously absent from the Presidential Election held in Uganda on 14th January 2021 because Ugandan authorities failed to accredit the missions. Ahead of the election, a coalition representing hundreds of Ugandan civil society organizations said out of 1,900 accreditation requests, the government only granted ten. Uganda’s Electoral Commission also rejected the European Union’s offer of monitors even though the EU had observed the three previous elections. The lack of international monitors left only local journalists and a few international journalists covering the elections. The internet and social media platforms were shut down, further preventing the flow of information.
4. ELECTION RESULTS
4.1. Museveni claimed on 16th January 2021, two days after the Election, to have been re-elected as President of the Republic of Uganda for his sixth term in what he called a free and fair election. However, with increasing evidence that there were significant and widespread voting irregularities and violence by security forces, Museveni’s claim is disputed by many within Uganda and it is now impossible to assess the actual support for Museveni and for the opposition parties. The US State Department’s Spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus, has stated: “We are deeply troubled by the many credible reports of security force violence during the pre-election period and election irregularities during the polls.”
4.2. It has been argued that it was not so much an election as an “election-type event” aimed at legitimising Museveni’s continued role as President of Uganda (Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham on Twitter 12 Jan 2021). Museveni is, in effect, the leader of a military regime in the place of a democratic government. His son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, is the Commander of the Special Forces Command, an autonomous force whose mission is “To develop and operate a powerful and versatile special operations force that is situated within the unique Ugandan way of war and is responsive to the requirements of the UPDF and the nation.” The use of military courts to try civilians, military personnel heading the “civilian” police force and the use of the military and Special Forces for public order and control, all confirm the military nature of the regime.
5. AFTER THE ELECTIONS
5.1. The illegal house arrest of Kyagulanyi for eleven days following the Elections, combined with continuing unprovoked violence on the part of Museveni’s security forces, is cause for concern. Access to Kyagulanyi, including by his lawyers, was prevented by a strong military detachment surrounding his home during this period thereby hindering him from seeking legal advice or filing a complaint in the Courts about the election process.
5.2. In the weeks since 14th January 2021, thousands of opposition supporters (the true number is unknown) have allegedly disappeared, been abducted, beaten, arrested, held in prisons and other non-gazetted places, tortured, and killed. Even wearing a red T-shirt or beret, the colour of Kyagulanyi’s opposition NUP party, is dangerous, provoking a violent response from the security forces. Some opposition supporters have even been brought before military courts instead of civil courts for questioning the validity of the election.
5.3. The Daily Monitor, one of Uganda’s leading daily newspapers, quoted the UPDF (army) Member of Parliament, Brig Gen. Felix Kulayigye, on 5th Feb 2021, as allegedly saying: “The only day a voter has freedom is the day that voter casts his/her vote. After that you’re nothing but a slave of the person you have sent to represent you or you have elected to lead you”.
5.4. Unlike the continuing actions of Museveni and his security forces, Kyagulanyi has consistently called for non-violent protest and resistance in the fight for justice. Unlike in Myanmar (where thousands were able to demonstrate peacefully in the immediate aftermath of the military coup there), peaceful protests and demonstrations are impossible in Uganda as they are always met with brutal violence by the security forces. It has therefore become impossible for Ugandans to protest without risking violence, arrest and even unexplained death. An NUP Member of Parliament in Kampala, a medical professional, reported he is spending all his time treating people who have been beaten and tortured by the security forces.
5.5. In a further move against any vestiges of democracy, on 2nd February 2021, Museveni suspended the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), a multi-million dollar funding facility working in Uganda, approved by government in its support for national and local government institutions and civil society, and funded by seven of Uganda’s International Development Partners (Austria, Denmark, European Union, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden). The DGF exists to “provide harmonized and coordinated support to state and non-state partners to strengthen democracy, protect human rights, improve access to justice, and enhance accountability in Uganda.” Their vision statement is for “A Uganda where citizens are empowered to engage in democratic governance and the state upholds citizens’ rights”.
5.6. On 5th February 2021, the NGO Forum of Uganda published a statement on behalf of Ugandan Civil Society Leaders on the suspension of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) and the post-election environment. It ended with this paragraph: “We, therefore, call upon all Ugandans to remain steadfast and committed to engaging in the ongoing protracted struggle to regain and restore our constitutional order, ensure justice for all those who have been treated unfairly, and build common ground for a Uganda whose main foundation is shared prosperity, justice and the rule of law.”
5.7. The Director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (Arthur Bainomugisha), an independent public policy think tank in Uganda, has said: “The reactions of the international community should be used to help improve our systems, to improve our political institutions.”
5.8. With a clamp-down on social media and no safe way of protesting, so many ordinary Ugandans have nevertheless risked sending pleas to the outside world to stop ignoring what is happening, namely the violence, repression and breakdown of democracy. They are crying out for peace and justice, freedom of speech, protection of human rights, an end to violence and oppression and a return to normality and democracy.
SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTIONS FOR THE UK GOVERNMENT
1. What attempts did the UK Government make to send a team of Observers to monitor the Presidential Election on 14th January 2021?
2. With alleged widespread polling irregularities, human-rights abuses, harassment, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters before, during, and after the election being commonly reported in Uganda, what evidence does the UK Government have that the Presidential Election in Uganda on 14th January 2021 was transparent, free and fair and that Museveni was re-elected as President of Uganda by a genuine majority of Ugandans?
3. The US government declined to congratulate Museveni and instead reiterated their calls for security forces to account for the harassment of political actors and abuse of human rights during the campaigns. Morgan Ortagus, Spokesperson for the US State Department stated: “We reiterate our intention to pursue action against those responsible for the undermining of democracy and human rights in Uganda.” Would the UK Government agree that the statement issued by James Doddridge, UK Minister for Africa on 16th January 2021 was premature and ill-advised in view of claims that the Opposition Leader Kyagulanyi gained the majority of votes cast on 14th January 2021? Will the UK Government retract the original statement and issue a more reserved and cautious statement that does not affirm the legitimacy of Museveni’s claim to have been democratically elected by the majority but which instead acknowledges the concerns expressed by the European Union, the United States of America and the United Nations with a commitment to take action?
4. With members of the NUP opposition party’s campaign team being tried in military courts, would the UK Government agree that Uganda is now, in effect, a military regime camouflaged as a democracy and that Museveni is, in fact, a military ruler (not a democratically elected leader) putting up a pretence of a democratic election to satisfy and gain the support of international governments such as the UK?
5. How would the UK Government respond to the suggestion that it does not take action against Museveni because it sees Museveni as a highly valued ally in various arenas, including in the fight against Al Shabaab in Somalia?
6. The UK Government has reported in the past that: “Policies are often not well implemented [by the Ugandan Government]. Governance trends are concerning and corruption is endemic.” In the wake of the contested Presidential Election, how can the UK Government, as one of Uganda’s major donors, reassure us that they will no longer ignore years of corruption, harassment and oppression?
7. Under the current circumstances following the Presidential Election, what is the UK Government doing, as a matter of urgency, to work with other governments, international organisations (especially the Commonwealth) and other agencies to agree united action to ensure that democratic processes are upheld in Uganda and citizens are protected?
8. We note with concern that the Uganda Government suspended the Democratic Governance Facility on 2nd Feb 2021. Will the UK Government explain why it has withdrawn its funding support for this organisation and what alternative plans it has to strengthen civil society in Uganda and to help build capacity for Ugandans to manage the peaceful transition of power from a military regime to a democratically elected President and Government with appropriate accountability and control of the security forces?
9. How will the UK government encourage, support and participate in any sanctions or other actions that may be proposed by the Commonwealth of Nations to restore democracy and peace in Uganda?
10. What proportionate sanctions, such as travel bans, would the UK Government consider appropriate to take against individuals in the Uganda Government and Security Forces who may be linked to violations of human rights and democracy in Uganda?
11. What measures does the UK Government have in place to oversee and ensure that all UK aid to Uganda is specifically targeted and used as intended for the purposes of reducing poverty instead of supporting those in power? How will the UK Government ensure that, from now on, no UK or UK-supported aid funds are granted to the budget of the Uganda Government under President Museveni, but are granted through other channels of delivery to be used transparently?
12. What measures does the UK Government have in place to monitor investments in Uganda, particularly any which may be used to support the security forces?