UN Boss reminds Uganda Police on human rights obligations

By Prosy Will S

Wakiso – Uganda Police senior officers have been reminded of their obligation to observe and champion human rights amidst international reports on Uganda Human Rights index.

Updated at 16:41 GMT on Tuesday 06th March, 21

H.E. Ms. Rosa Malango, United Nations Resident Coordination and Designated Official for Security made dialogue with senior Police officials earlier today (Tuesday 06th March 21) during an on going 3 day workshop at Imperial Golf Course Hotel, Entebbe

The workshop was attended by the Chairperson Wakiso District, Mr. Matia Lwanga Bwanika, Country Representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda, Mr. Robert Kotchani, UN officials among others.

UN Resident Coordinator H.E Rosa Malango talking to officers in uniform – Courtesy photo

In her opening remarks, the UN boss said, “On behalf of the United Nations in Uganda, I am delighted to be part of the opening session for this three-day residential workshop for senior officers of the Uganda Police Force from the Wakiso District. This workshop is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 16 which aims at building peace, justice and strong institutions as well as our UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) 2021-2025 which through Strategic Priority 1 on Transformative and Inclusive Governance, outlines our ambition to help ensure that by 2025 Uganda has inclusive and accountable governance systems and people are empowered, engaged and enjoy human rights, peace, justice and security.”

Ms Malango added, “Today we are taking a new step to reinforce our partnership in Uganda related to governance, rule of law, peace and stability by organising for the first time this workshop for senior police officers in Wakiso District. The African Obuntubulamu value system, the UN Charter, the SDGs, the Ugandan Constitution and the National Vision 2040 have informed our efforts to create spaces such as this one where we can jointly deepen knowledge about human rights concepts and standards for police officers in order to exercise your role in law enforcement in the current global and local environment. This is also an opportunity for participants to learn from each other regarding the challenges you face in discharging your duties and possible solutions. It takes courage to keep learning how best to do our jobs and to keep the public informed of our procedures, expectations and challenges, I am confident we can continue to do this together.”

She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work forever. The implications are just beginning to be understood. As a police officer, the global pandemic has joined the lists of risks and threats you need to manage every day. “I wish to use this opportunity to invite us to reflect on theopportunities and challenges going forward. So let us begin with Obwesimbu which means integrity, this Obuntubulamu value enables us to create an enabling environment for the promotion of human rights. In this context, I would like to convey my most sincere appreciation to the Uganda Police Force (UPF) Human Rights and Legal Services Directorate hand the Wakiso District Human Rights Committee for jointly organising this workshop with the UN Office of Human Rights. I would also like to congratulate the Wakiso District Local Government for establishing the Wakiso District Human Rights Committee in September 2019 following a recommendation from the Uganda Human Rights Commission. I invite other Districts to emulate Wakiso to create similar Committees to raise awareness on human rights issues among their residents and improve interaction with authorities. I use this opportunity to reiterate the importance of having a new Uganda Human Rights Commission chairperson appointed by H.E. the President of the Republic as soon as possible.” Malango added.

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“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to use this opportunity to convey our appreciation to the United Nations Peace Building Fund for making this workshop possible as part of our UN joint projecton “Harnessing the Youth’s Potential for Sustaining Peace in Uganda”. This initiative, jointly implemented by the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, UNDP, UNFPA and OHCHR, recognizes the central role of the youth and women in sustaining peace and preventing conflict in Uganda. Priority districts are Wakiso, Kampala, Kasese and Bundibugyo.” She said .

“I will now proceed with Obwerufu which means transparency and honesty. As the UN, we recognize that many human rights principles, norms and standards are not new to the Uganda Police Force and that experience shows the importance of regular trainings and reflections to identify key challenges at operational level as well as solutions to increase performance including practical guidance from superiors, the functioning of internal control and corrective mechanisms, frequent reminders about police professional ethics and initiatives that enhance community policing partnerships. I invite you to use this workshop to reflect on how we can address three important issues: (a) The need for absolute respect of the national Constitution, as well as the international and regional human rights obligations assumed by the State of Uganda while performing your duties; (b) The need to embrace professionalism across the Police Force, recognize good conduct, highlight efforts to eliminate corruption and showcase disciplinary action to the public; and(c) The need to record evidence of the Uganda Police Force as a national institution that provides common services to all citizens without discrimination.” UN Boss shared.

In her conclusive remarks, called for a word on how to accelerate action to achieve Obumu, which means unity. “The Police are a key State institution tasked with protecting, promoting and fulfilling the rights of citizens and residents in a nation State. As such Police are the entry point to the justice system and this is why when the functioning of the Police is flawed it has a huge negative impact on society, the enjoyment of human rights by the population and the branding of a nation. Being a hierarchical institution, orders and guidance by superiors are critical to ensure that human rights are fulfilled by the Force while protecting and serving the wanainchi. Your guidance as supervisors and your criteria as senior police officers to promote or reject behavior will inform how police officers execute their responsibilities. Uganda’s aspiration to become a modern society and to achieve sustainable development by adopting a people centered-environment friendly-approach to prosperity relies on a conducive environment for business, production, agro-industrilization and access to quality services including health, education and justice.”

She added that the individual experiences of citizens, residents and investors with individual police officers will inform how they will judge the whole institution of the Uganda Police Force and by association the Republic of Uganda.

All United Nations member states, including Uganda, adopted a common vison of using inclusive partnerships to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

“On behalf of the UN system in Uganda, I conclude by focusing on the Obuntubulamu values of empathy and civic engagement to reiterate our readiness to support your national journey towards shared prosperity, green growth and sustainable peace. We will continue to work with the people and Government of Uganda to ensure better compliance with human rights obligations, including our support to rule of law institutions such as the Uganda Police Force (UPF), the Ministry of Justice as well as civil society, social and cultural influencers. As Nelson Mandela once said, ‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity’ Let us work together to ensure Ugandans are able to contribute safely and freely to the development of the nation.”

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH ON UGANDA 2020

Events

Authorities in Uganda stepped up restrictions on freedoms of expression and assembly ahead of general elections in February 2021. Authorities broke up opposition rallies, arrested government critics and opposition members, and placed restrictions on media. Security forces used Covid-19 restrictions as a pretext to beat, extort, and arbitrarily detain people.

Freedom of Expression and Assembly

The government introduced new requirements that restrict freedom of expression online. On September 7, the Uganda Communications Commission issued a public notice requiring “providers of online data and communication,” including bloggers and online TV providers, to seek authorization from the body by October 5, 2020, and pay a fee of 100,000 Uganda shillings (US$26.82).

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On July 24, Ugandan police arrested four comedians, part of a group called Bizonto, for a satirical video they posted online calling on people to pray for top Ugandan government officials. The video highlighted that the leaders are all from the western region of the country, implying that power is concentrated in a group of men from one region. The group was released after four days in detention.

On July 27, plainclothes police arrested television host Bassajja Mivule. Police said videos of him circulating on social media “promote hatred.” Mivule told media that when he was questioned, the police played video clips of him speaking  about Minister of Information and Communications Technology Judith Nabakooba, which they said was offensive toward her, and another in which Mivule rallied Baganda people “to rise up,” for which police accused  him of promoting sectarianism.

On March 26, the Constitutional Court nullified section 8 of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), which has been used by police to block, restrict, and disperse peaceful assemblies and demonstrations by opposition groups, often with excessive force.  The move came after the court ruled on a 2013 petition by civil society organizations challenging the law as being unconstitutional.

On January 6, police blocked public meetings by presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, in Gayaza, just outside the capital Kampala, saying Kyagulanyi had not met all the requirements of POMA. As Kyagulanyi and his group were gathering to meet, police arrested them and fired teargas to disperse people from the area.

In May, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew the charges, and on May 18, the Nsangi Magistrate’s Court ordered the release of the 20 detainees. On June 15, a court ruled that the prison system’s refusal to allow the 20 people access to counsel violated their rights to a fair hearing and to liberty.

Arrest and Harassment of Opposition Members and Supporters

Authorities have on several occasions blocked meetings of opposition members as they sought to consult their constituents.

On January 7, police blocked parliamentarian Robert Kyagulanyi’s pressure group People Power from accessing a venue where they were to hold a consultative meeting with the public, and the next day blocked another event planned by the group in Lira in northern Uganda. This time police detained Kyagulanyi, but released him shortly after. Police also arrested journalists covering the events in Gayaza, outside Kampala, and Lira, and reportedly ordered at least one reporter to delete his footage of the events.

Prosecutions for Serious Crimes

In 2020, the case of Dominic Ongwen, alleged former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander charged with 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, concluded at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Closing statements took place from March 10 to 12. A verdict was pending at time of writing. Two ICC warrants remain outstanding for the arrest of LRA leaders Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti, who is presumed dead.

The International Crimes Division (ICD) of Uganda’s High Court continued the trial of alleged former LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo—in custody since his capture in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009—on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The trial has had numerous delays, and proceedings also were suspended due to Covid-19.

Covid-19

In March, President Yoweri Museveni announced a series of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including a ban on private and public transport, as well as the suspension of non-essential services, and the closure of bars, restaurants and non-food markets, schools and places of worship, the airport, and the country’s borders.

On March 30, he directed the police to arrest politicians who distributed food. The government said that food donations had to go through a government-organized task force. On April 4, the government began to provide food assistance targeting 1.5 million people in Kampala and Wakiso, and eventually other parts of the country.

Abuses by Security Forces

Security forces in Uganda beat, extorted, shot, and arrested people for allegedly failing to comply with the government’s Covid-19 restrictions.

On March 23, media reported that soldiers beat locals in Mityana district, outside Kampala, claiming they were not respecting the order to close bars. On March 24, Agnes Linda Auma, resident district commissioner in charge of security in Amuru district, Northern Uganda, threatened during a radio interview to beat people who congregated in public spaces.

On March 26, media reported that police shot and injured two construction workers, Alex Oryem and Kassim Ssebudde, who were riding a motorcycle taxi in Mukono, outside Kampala, in violation of the ban on motorcycle transport with multiple passengers. The same day, members of the Local Defense Unit (LDU), an armed paramilitary group affiliated with the army, used wires and sticks to beat several people, including vendors selling fruit and vegetables and motorcycle riders, in downtown Kampala in an apparent attempt to punish non-compliance with the measures to close non-food markets. On March 30, Army Chief of Defense Forces David Muhoozi publicly apologized to Hadijah Aloyo, Christine Awori, and Safia Achaya, three victims of the LDU attacks, and announced that the military would hold the individual members responsible, without specifying how. He also announced that there would be a new commander for the units in Kampala.

On March 28, six police officers shot at a group of people in Bududa, in the eastern region of Uganda, injuring one, ostensibly to enforce the ban on public gatherings. Media reported that the police subsequently arrested David Agaba, the policeman in command.

On March 30, stick wielding LDU members attacked Alfred Ssembajjwe, a journalist and motorcycle taxi driver in Makindye, in Kampala, purportedly claiming to implement the government’s Covid-19 curfew and ban on public transport. The LDU members demanded a bribe from him then let him go. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that security forces, purportedly enforcing these measures, have harassed or assaulted at least six journalists between March 19 and April 22.

In July, the military withdrew LDU forces from their operations, reportedly to undergo training on human rights, in response to criticisms of the group’s enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions.

On  April 19, police arrested and later beat parliamentarian Francis Zaake for distributing food to the public as part of Covid-19 relief assistance in Mityana. Police held him for several days at the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Kireka, Kampala, but released him on bond on April 27. Zaake accused police and military officers of torturing himwhile he was in detention. Previously in 2018, soldiers had beaten Zaake and 32 others; on that occasion, Zaake was brought unconscious by “men in military uniform” to a hospital in Kampala.

On June 9, a military tribunal dropped charges against UPDF soldiers accused of brutalizing students protesting fee increases during a raid on Makerere university in Kampala in October 2019. During the raid, police and soldiers fired teargas into student residences, raided dormitories, and beat and arrested students, detaining dozens for days without charge. The Military Police spokesperson said none of the students who were allegedly brutalized showed upto testify.

On February 5, 2020, Parliament’s human rights committee released findings from an August 2019 investigation into allegations that the country’s security agencies were detaining people in several unacknowledged and ungazetted places of detention across the country often referred to as “safe houses,” and subjecting detainees to torture. The committee found that authorities continue to operate safehouses and to subject detainees to torture and abuse, with near total impunity.

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