The Head of State, President Yoweri Museveni has responded to a US Country report on human rights practices in Uganda, indicating that it contains distortions, a lot of hearsay and generalization.
According to the President, Government of Uganda (“the Government”) has had the opportunity to study the report titled ‘2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Uganda’ (“the report”) that was released on 30th March 2021 by the State Department of the United States of America.
He noted that the report raises a number of concerns and allegations that are of concern to the Government.
“This is because it contains several distortions, a lot of hearsay and generalizations and, at the very least, it is a blatant display of limited knowledge about the reality on the ground in Uganda” the President said.
Adding that from the outset, it is important to underscore; that the Government values the partnership it has with the United States in many areas and is committed to the continued strengthening of that partnership in all the areas, including in area of human rights.
That the Government strongly believes that the sustenance of the relationship depends on the upholding of the universally accepted principles of mutual respect, non-interference and respect for sovereignty. The Government will, therefore, always welcome engagement with the United States and other partner countries on any matter, provided there is adherence to these principles, which in Uganda’s view, are sacrosanct.
Safeguarding the fundamental human rights and freedoms of Ugandans is a constitutional responsibility of the Government. The Government attaches utmost importance to this responsibility and is steadfastly committed to upholding these rights.
The Government’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights of the people of Uganda is drawn from the country’s bad experience and lessons from its past history of dictatorship and human rights violations. The Government clearly does not do so because of any undue pressure or to please anyone outside, but because it firmly believes that it is important for our country and people.
Nonetheless, because of the importance that the Government attaches to its rightful place in the world, it avails itself of the opportunity to respond to some of the key allegations contained in the report in order to set the record straight:
1. Violation of Covid19 pandemic regulations
In 2020, the period covered by the report, Uganda like many countries around the world grappled with the consequences of the COVID19 pandemic. The Government in its approach to the pandemic has prioritized the protection of human life. Since without the right to life it is impossible to enjoy any other right.
The report deliberately ignores the conditions under which the elections were held. A total lockdown was declared on March 18, 2020 because of the pandemic given the rate and speed of infection at the time and the fact that how to manage it was unknown then.
To ensure that the country responded adequately and mitigated the impact of the pandemic, the Government, through the Ministry of Health, developed guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to align and standardize its response to prevent and curb the spread of the pandemic. These SOPs applied to all the people in the country irrespective of one’s gender, status, pursuits, etc. Despite the regrettable fatalities, Uganda is proud of its record in preventing deaths and limiting the spread of the pandemic. To date, out of over nine hundred fifty-seven nine hundred and twenty (957,920) individuals tested, Uganda has forty-one thousand and sixty-two (41,062) confirmed cases, forty thousand six hundred and eighty-five (40,685) recoveries and three hundred and thirty seven (337) recorded deaths.
The Government firmly believes that the primary duty of any government is to its citizens. The one thing, therefore, that the Government did not compromise, and cannot compromise on, more so in the midst of the pandemic is the security and well-being of the people. Since the outbreak of the pandemic the Government took strict measures to ensure that everyone complies and respects the law no matter who they are, including a nationwide lockdown.
The first casualties of the lockdown were over 15 million students and their teachers (about 200,000) who were ordered to return home. Next was 85,000 entertainment and recreational centers across the country – places that employed more than 400,000 people with many dependents. On account of some of these actions, the economy contracted to a growth rate of 1.7% for the first time in 35 years, sending many people living on the margins into difficult circumstances.
Ideas over postponement of elections to a future date were mooted but the country’s decision-makers (Parliament, the Executive, etc) weren’t sure to what future date this would be, given the pandemic was raging and no single person in the world knew what the future held. The Parliament, Cabinet, Electoral Commission and all the relevant political actors agreed to hold elections under minimum restrictive conditions to keep our democratic traditions. For some people, this was risky given the fragility of our health infrastructure and the apparent appearance of decisions on democracy trumping the health and lives of citizens.
Key among the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the disease was the regulation of crowds at rallies to not exceed 200 people. All these parameters were signed into law and agreed on by all political contenders as the bare minimum for proceeding with the elections. Some of the players, especially Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi of National Unity Platform (NUP) and Mr. Patrick Amuriat of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) turned against this and publically declared that they would defy the measures and as it turned out they violated all the regulations in a display of impunity. They all addressed rallies in crowded market places, in the middle of highways, defying the national electoral laws, clearly promoting lawlessness.
Uganda has in the past had a history of lawless politicians creating insecurity, with dire consequences for the country. These politicians acted under a sense of impunity and did great harm to the social and political fabric of the country. It is this history that informs the uncompromising stance of the Ugandan state today on preventing any return to anarchy, and protecting the lives of Ugandans and their property.
Therefore, for the report to focus on media reports (mainly planted by sympathizers of the lawlessness) on the alleged violations of the rights of the law breakers, while ignoring their responsibility, is wrong; and is an unfortunate display of an attitude that the lives of the wider citizenry matters less than the rights of the law breakers.
Instead, the Government should be applauded for saving the people from the consequences of the reckless and selfish political actors, who for example, wore no masks to rallies, never heeded to the prescribed anti-COVID measures and openly encouraged their followers to follow suit, in some cases assaulting security personnel on duty and removing their masks.
The Government is alert to the history of political impunity in the country and was not, and is not, prepared to watch idly as the foundations of social cohesion and national unity, on which the country has built a consensus for governance and stability, is undermined. No one is above the law and every crime is taken seriously, regardless of the status or political views of the perpetrator. This is the reason the Government closed down some aspects of social media and internet for a number of days – because for more than three years, some elements in both in the country and the diaspora, supported by foreign interests, ‘tribalized/ethnicized’ what should ideally be a political conversation and came close to stoking tribal animosity.
These elements to this day, continue to tell diabolical lies about the country on social media creating mendacious fabrications with the stated purpose of undermining tourism, investment in the country and trade with the rest of the world. Needless to say, these schemes are akin to the proverbial cutting off of the hand that feeds one, because if they wished to create jobs for the youth as they claim, they would be aware that trade and investment are the only avenues in modern times through which that goal can be realized.
The Government has not forgotten, and will not forget, what happened in a neighboring country where the local media, on one side, fueled the mass killing of people while the international media, on the other side, ignored or misunderstood what was happening leading to the worst genocide our region has seen.
2. Allegations of missing persons, kidnaps and disappearances
The rights of Hon. Kyagulanyi are repeatedly referred to in the report. However, Hon. Kyagulanyi is a citizen of Uganda and like all other citizens has the corresponding obligation to not infringe on the rights of others in the enjoyment of his rights as our Constitution mandates.
From the beginning of the campaigns, Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi and Mr. Partrick Oboi Amuriat promised a ‘Plan B’, which according to them, was (and remains) a plan to commit violent acts, organize an insurrection, and “make Uganda ungovernable”. During the campaigns, they repeatedly stoked fear and incited violence, which was a clear and present danger to the security and stability of the country and its citizens. We do not believe that any country that upholds democratic values would tolerate such a plan. Uganda certainly would not, because of its commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
It is against this background that the Government deployed the security forces in Kampala and the rest of the country. This was done to reassure the public that elections would be held and law and order would be maintained during the elections. It was also a clear and necessary message to those that intended (and had plans) to disrupt peace to change course. The outcome of this deployment was an election whose peaceful, free and fair nature, has been acknowledged by most in the country and beyond.
The law enforcement agencies in Uganda are a product of our history. They recognize the sanctity of life and have always upheld human rights in the execution of their constitutional duties, balancing the needs of security, with ethical concerns for the rights and wellbeing of all Ugandans. That is why the country remains peaceful and stable.
We therefore take exception to the characterization of ordinary security arrests in this report as “kidnaps and forced disappearances”. It is important to underline that anyone suspected of wrongdoing in Uganda is guaranteed due process.
Any government worth its name deals with insurgencies, insurrections, mobs and riots first by down grading the organizers’ capacity to destroy public facilities and secondly, to stop rioters from killing and maiming lives, as the planned and orchestrated riots of November 18 and 19, 2020 in Uganda were.
As an example, according to media reports on January 06, 2021, over 350 people termed as “insurrectionists” were arrested in Washington DC area after the attack on the US Capitol building. Five people died in this incident. These extremist groups were no different from the mobs and looters that held Kampala hostage on those two November days. Many of the people arrested have either been charged in courts and/or released while others remain in custody under investigation.
According to the same media reports, at the inauguration of President Joseph Biden recently, the security forces deployed around Washington and its precincts numbered over 21,000 people. These were troops and agencies of all manner and training and one assumes they were deployed to ward off any potential rioting and looting in Washington city. Why should the authors assume Uganda should do less when dealing with its own potential sources of insecurity and protecting the lives and property of her citizens? The same intimidation unleashed online by the extremist elements in opposition against voters who held a different opinion; the kind that was supported by some online giants like Facebook (apparently the ones who claim online media freedom) which closed accounts of all NRM leaning supporters, leaving the extremist groups a free reign, was eventually applied against people’s homes and businesses by these same groups. This is the reason some people’s banana groves in areas like Mpigi district some 50 kilometers outside Kampala, were destroyed, vehicles torched and police officers beaten.
The Government is on record as stating that the incidents of November 2020 referred to in the report were regrettable and would be investigated, with a view to determining conclusively what happened. The investigations were completed and a copy of the report shared with the US Ambassador in Kampala.
The Government has already extended condolences to the families that lost loved ones and has also undertaken to compensate those whose loved ones were innocent victims of the situation brought about by the violent riots or properties to criminal gangs and rioters.
We wish to underline that anyone suspected of wrongdoing in Uganda will continue to be guaranteed due process. All those arrested have been investigated and, investigations will continue and those found with cases will be charged in courts of law.
3. Right to freedom of expression
The report claims ‘government restricted citizens ability to criticize its actions or to discuss matters of general public concern’ by curtailing media freedoms. In the same breath, it states, ‘…the country has an active media environment with numerous privately owned television, radio and newspapers.’ These two positions are contradictory and irreconcilable and, in many ways, expose the lack of understanding of the Ugandan environment by the authors.
On the freedom of the media, the right of people to information is in our Constitution. The Uganda Government strongly believes that the media is an important part of a democratic society and is essential to the protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms and socio-economic transformation. We also believe that people need free media to provide them with accurate information and informed analysis and to hold Governments to account.
The report also strangely makes baseless allegation of restriction and trampling on the freedom of expression and media. Uganda presently boasts of 322 privately-owned radio stations, 40 television stations, 56 licensed online publishers, and many newspapers with national coverage. Through these outlets, citizens of Uganda are free to express their views.
In 2016 alone, Uganda spent Ug shs 350billion (about US$95m) in media advertising. The top twenty spenders were all private sector institutions while more than 90 percent of the media channels that consumed the money are all privately owned. Government of Uganda has only 24 media houses that command a small listenership/viewership and miniscule revenue. This is out of 322 stations across the country, since the airwaves were opened in 1992. This state of affairs openly contradicts the false narrative in the report.
It is the private sector in Uganda NOT the government that largely determines major commercial and by extension, editorial decisions. Uganda’s media is fiercely independent and the same media has no recourse to intelligence services information used against opponents, often the way the same media relies on their intelligence agencies as sources of news to shape public opinion. As many Ugandans and foreigners who live in the county know, the Government in Uganda is always on the backpedal, rebutting lies after lies and heading into ‘storms’ almost always created and/or emanating from the privately owned media houses; the same houses that gobble all the advertising revenue including the government’s own promotion expenditure.
The difference is that Uganda doesn’t find this a major issue of concern. In fact, Government accepts this scenario if the media were telling the truth. This is because the NRM Government knows partly this is the reason the economy grows faster than many in the world, on account of allowing unrestricted media rights to her citizens.
This state of affairs while often unpleasant, the government restrains itself from intervening because it fulfills our principled stand of building an economy based on and supported by the private sector. As in America’s mid-range media houses, the battleground for business and political fights is played out in the media. If the report authors weren’t communicating from a biased position, they would know it is the same in Uganda.
The Ugandan Government controls neither the narrative nor the outcomes of what appears in the media. To assume that the same Government which the report admits accords more than 35% women representation in Parliament and guarantees them 34% of positions in cabinet, can be the same that tramples and muzzles rights and media freedoms of her citizens, is to demonstrate limited understanding of Uganda.
Regarding the allegation concerning the restriction of the internet and journalists, it must be underscored that it is the criminal or criminally-minded conduct of elements amongst the public that has led to the conclusion by the Government that both online and traditional news reporting needs streamlining; and why the Government has sought to have all practicing journalists registered – a perfectly lawful and necessary measure that the report surprisingly questions.
Besides the foregoing, if indeed one needs certification to practice law or medicine, why should a vital profession as journalism which is so vulnerable to abuse especially in developing countries left to anyone who claims they are reporters? In fact, many of the journalists mentioned in this report are neither registered with the Uganda Media Council nor known anywhere as reporters. They were simply embedded political activists that didn’t notify any regulatory or security agency of their presence on the campaign trail.
While the above does not justify any wrong measures taken by security personnel against them, they make the work of policing demonstrations harder because it is always difficult to distinguish lawbreakers from the reporters. It is the same with the foreign political activists some of whom are referred to in the report, disguised as tourists and taking on news reporting work and abusing the immigration rules of the country. Declaring false information to seek entry in any country attracts fines, deportation and/or prison sentences. This report, however, wrongly says this abuse of Uganda local laws should be normal standard practice for those coming here as long as they are from a certain part of the world. This is outright abuse of our country’s openness and cannot be tolerated.
Yet another wild allegation in the report is the purported restriction of political symbols. In Uganda, military fatigues or other attire associated with the security forces of the country is by law a preserve of ONLY the security forces. Uganda is alert to the history of political impunity by wrong elements that have in the past abused the military clothing to cause mayhem in the country, and would, therefore, not overlook such a risk whenever it manifests itself.
4. Freedom of worship
The Government categorically rejects the false narrative in the report that Uganda curtails freedom of worship. Uganda is a secular state that respects freedom of religion. No country in the world including the USA, can allow individuals or a group for that matter to use religion to commit acts of criminality and subversion in its territory.
Uganda has been a victim of terrorism and subversive acts by organisations that act under the cloak of religion. The Government of Uganda will not and cannot overlook, nor accept acts of such groups or individuals that threaten its people and national security. On June 8, 1998, the so called Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), raided the Uganda Technical College Kichwamba in Kabarole District and burnt 80 students alive in three dormitories and abducted 100 others. In July 2010, Uganda was a victim of a terrorist attack by Al Shabaab and 74 lives were lost. The ADEPER group referred to in the report is an organization that has been involved in subversive activities in Uganda.
These groups and their leaders such as Seka Baluku and Abu Yasir Hassan who were designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists by the US State Department in March 2021 must be condemned.
5. Freedom to participate in the political process
The report refers to limited political space and process in Uganda with clearly uninformed of the political culture in our country. For the record, the democratic process in Uganda is informed by democratic values, which are entrenched in the Constitution.
Needless to say, free and fair elections continue to be held in the country under the legal framework that has been in place since the promulgation of the said Constitution following a long period of social and political instability. Consequently, democratic elections have been held five times since 1996 and on all occasions, except one in 2011, the results of these elections were subjected to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of Uganda, which has consistently found them to be reflective of the will of the people of Uganda.
The repeated vilification in the report of the 2016 elections is also perturbing and unacceptable. The determination on whether that election was in compliance with the law was made by the highest court in the land. Our expectation and request is that everyone, including our international partners, respect that. The repeated baseless assertions are an assault on the independence of our institutions, a mockery of the rule of law which, ironically, the authors wish to espouse.
Government has consistently underscored that it will be up to our people to decide what reforms they want to have in line with our Constitution, which explicitly provides for their sovereignty. Needless to say, a number of electoral reforms have been implemented on the basis of the lessons learned from the elections of 2016 and we call upon all our partners to interest themselves in those reforms, in order to appreciate the robustness of our electoral legal framework which, by most accounts, is one of the most progressive in Africa and beyond,
In January 2021, Ugandans, once again, went to the polls to exercise their constitutional and democratic right to elect their representatives through a general election, for the sixth successive time since 1996. After many years of turmoil and internal strife, this is the first time ever in the country’s history that Uganda has enjoyed more than three decades of an uninterrupted stable democratic process.
The report also paints a false narrative regarding the women representation in Parliament. The facts speak for themselves as Women in Uganda are increasingly leading in all spheres of life ranging from social to economic and political fields. The Government is proud of this milestone. For example; out of the 28 committees in Parliament, 11 are chaired by women, out of 33 Senior Ministers, 12 are women. In addition, out of 46 Ministers of State, 14 are women. This reflects a 36 percent representation for women in Cabinet. Out of 39 Shadow Ministers of the opposition, 8 (20.5%) are women.
6. Status of Refugees in Uganda
The other distortion in the report is the allegation of refugees’ mistreatment. The report alleges that some of the refugees from the neighboring countries live in fear because of the perception that Uganda might be ‘complicit in extrajudicial actions against them’. This would be laughable if it weren’t flatly absurd.
Uganda is the largest refugee hosting nation in Africa and the third in the world and experiencing one of the fastest growing refugee crisis in Africa, with the current total number of Refugees and asylum seekers standing at 1,424,325(January 2021 statistics).
The issue of refugees is a shared responsibility. Uganda has fulfilled its part of that responsibility while many countries in the world have not done their part. As an example, at the height of the COVID19 pandemic when the entire world was under lockdown, Uganda opened its borders and allowed in over 3000 refugees from a neighboring country. Sixty-five per cent of the arrivals were young children and the group also included 33 pregnant women, two of whom gave birth soon after arrival.
We accord full rights and protection to all refugees within our borders. without questions. Uganda is fulfilling its international obligations fully but moreso because we also ideologically believe, this is the only way we should treat brothers and sisters in trouble. For anyone, therefore, to accuse Uganda of something that goes against our principled approach is an insult. We expect to be treated better by a partner that is fully aware of our unrivalled approach to refugee issue
7. The conduct of Arrests by security forces
The Government objects to the false impression in this report that Ugandan security officers are law unto themselves and when they make mistakes in their line of duty, they are not apprehended. Both the UPDF and UPF have a history of respect of the rule of law and arguably hold the best civil-military relationship record compared to many nations in the world. In 2019 alone, some 2,175 complaints were registered against errant Police officers and the Police Standards Unit (PSU) investigated to conclusion some 1,446 while 729 are still under inquiries.
As is the case with UPF, the UPDF too deals sternly with errant officers. For example, on February 19, 2021, the UPDF court martial took action against seven soldiers who were implicated in the assault of some reporters. The Chief of Defense Forces (CDF) later publicly apologized to the Media fraternity on this matter. This and many allegations made in this report paint a pattern of obfuscation that rhyme with Hon. Kyagulanyi’s wild goose chase attempt to justify his own wrong actions.
The report also bares uninformed assertions that a police officer cannot arrest a suspect without a warrant. This is not true because, like in any other jurisdictions around the world, a police officer in Uganda is under section 23 of the Police Act, Cap. 303, expressly authorized to arrest, with or without a warrant, any person he or she has reasonable cause to suspect has committed or is about to commit an arrestable offence. Based on credible evidence, the Uganda Police arrested and produced in court various suspects including Mr. Nicholas Opio and Rtd. Gen. Henry Tumukunde who are singled out in the report.
The report further in a biased manner unjustly finger points at the security forces and does not weigh in at any point in time, on the provocative actions and assault by opposition leaders and their supporters against the security forces. Perpetuators of crime must be held to account. The Government will ensure that law enforcement agencies, protect victims and potential victims and promote offender accountability by consistently enforcing national laws.
8. Prisons conditions:
The report omits to comment on the milestones that the Government of Uganda has registered in detention centers especially the prison services. The Uganda Prisons Service is currently one of the best performing prisons on the continent of Africa, that has interested a number of neighboring countries to benchmark on our prison polices.
The Government of Uganda has taken demonstrable steps to improve the prison conditions affecting all prisoners and especially those with disabilities. This it has done by increasing prison holding capacity from 14,334 in 2012/2013 to currently 19,456, expansion and construction of disability friendly prisons for example Rukungiri and Mutufu; Kyangwali, Butyaba and Kitalya Minimax. Mutukula, Nebbi, Adjumani, Ragem and Orom-Tikau..
There is no such thing as ‘Forced Labour’ in Uganda Prisons Services as alleged in the report. To the contrary there are existing Policies and legislations regarding Prison Labour, composition of prison Labour, nature of work done, earning scheme and payment of prisoners, employment of vulnerable persons in place. Strict measures are in place to ensure that officers in charge (OCs) comply with these regulations.
The report further perpetuates a falsehood that female suspects are detained in the same cell as men that is utterly baseless. In Uganda, all police cells have both female and male and the fake pictures that made their round on social media purporting to show female suspects jointly in detention with males were taken in the police station waiting area during statement taking. The report reaffirming this false goes confirms the limited knowledge of the authors of the reports on prison services conditions in Uganda.
9. Allegations of case backlog and late delivery of justice
There are some structural bottlenecks Uganda faces as a growing nation and as a key partner. The door of justice in Uganda is a revolving one. Many of the suspects charged for inciting and commission of violent crimes, destroying property and lives, are released by the courts only to return to this criminality as soon as they settle into society.
There is a high rate of recidivism mainly for petty crime and political violence largely because of some weak investigation infrastructure and understaffing at courts of law. This is not something we are proud of but this is what it is. Government is taking steps to redress this amidst other challenges and resource constraints. For a rapidly growing country and one of the fastest increasing population, the judicial system is constrained by low infrastructure, remuneration, training and the competition for resources with other social services.
Our supposition is that if our allies cared more about this and engaged us in a healthy conversation, we would deal with the sources of some of what is perceived as political violence. We would deliver justice better and faster to the population and keep law and order.
10. NGO Operations in Uganda
Yet another falsehood in the report centers around ill treatment of Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Uganda. The Government of Uganda recognizes the critical role played by NGOs in the advancement of democracy and the betterment of society. However, all NGOs registered in Uganda are expected to comply with the law. The NGOs should also align their activities in support of the priorities of government as outlined in NDPIII and the 2040 Agenda. Furthermore, their activities including financing should be transparent.
The report asserts that the requirement for local authorization of NGOs proved difficult for many NGOs to execute and threatened their compliance with the law is unfounded. Some NGOs are known to shift from one district to another defrauding the unsuspecting and already vulnerable members of the community. It is therefore important for NGOs to first engage with the districts through Memoranda of Understanding for smooth coordination, monitoring and supervision of NGO activities across the country, a mandate bestowed upon the NGO Bureau by the NGO Act, 2016 under Section 44 (a).
The Terrorism Financing Risk Assessment of Non-Profit Organizations in Uganda and globally identifies NGOs as potential conduits for financing and carrying out terrorism and money laundering activities. This risk qualifies them for closer scrutiny by Government to fight crime and maintain peace and security in the country. Therefore, the NGO Bureau in Uganda that is a mandated Government Authority to manage NGOs will continue to closely monitor and inspect the activities all NGOs in Uganda.
The Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) a Government agency mandated to detect and deter money laundering, received credible information that some NGOs namely; Uganda National NGO Forum and the Uganda Women’s Network
(UWONET) on December 9, 2020 were involved in certain unlawful activities.
In accordance with its mandate, the FIA caused the freezing of their accounts, pending investigations. The matter is under investigation by the Criminal Investigations Department of the Uganda Police Force.
11. Government stance on domestic violence and rape
Contrary to the false misinformed narrative in the report on domestic violence and lack of a law of spousal rape in Uganda, the Government of Uganda forbids all forms of violence, including violence against women and children including but not limited to spousal rape which is being addressed under the Domestic Relations Bill which is currently before Parliament. In addition, the Domestic Violence Act, 2010 among others provides for punishment for perpetuators of domestic violence. This goes to show the commitment of government on causes of women.
The report also deliberately omits to acknowledge the milestone registered in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) The existing legal framework (Female Genital Mutilation Act) prohibits and criminalizes FGM that are vigorously being implemented.
12. The State of women’s inheritance rights in Uganda
The report also fails to recognize the recent important milestones in Uganda that guarantee the women’s right to inheritance. The women’s’ rights including the right to marry and own property is fundamentally provided for under the 1995 Constitution. To enhance this position, the Succession Amendment Bill, 2020, that was recently passed by Parliament on 30 March 2021, guarantees the protection of widows and widowers right to inheritance of property and the right of married women to dispose of any property which they would be entitled to dispose of during their life or which they are entitled to under a will.
13. Trafficking in persons
Human trafficking is a global problem and one of the world’s most shameful crimes. Nearly every country including the USA, is affected as a point of origin, transit or destination. In Uganda, there have been big wins, such as the passage of strong laws such as the 2009 Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, against trafficking in persons and the convictions of traffickers.
Prevention is the best defense because it keeps people safe from abuse and saves us the cost and effort of rescuing, rehabilitating and reintegrating victims, and prosecuting criminals. The Government is ready to work with partners like the USA to take steps to monitor and evaluate these preventive measures to test their effectiveness.
14. The rights with persons with disabilities, including albinism
The report overlooks the successful approach to the protection of the rights of person with disabilities. The Government of Uganda has adopted a number of laws and policies pertaining to people with disabilities, including their right to productive and decent work and basic services
Steps to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities include; establishment of a funded National Council for Disability (NCD) which monitors and coordinates disability related work. Milestones achieved include representation of persons with disabilities at parliamentary and all levels of local government, sensitization of the populace for inclusion of persons with disabilities, directed media houses to incorporate sign language as well as braille printed documents to afford persons with disabilities the right to information.
15. Allegations of intimidation and harassment of LGBTI
On the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) persons, Uganda as a country has a set of laws some of which predate our own independence. These laws, which include laws on same-sex, reflect the culture and values of our people and it is not within the power of the Government to compel them to change their cultural values or views overnight. That notwithstanding, nobody, contrary to all sorts of claims that go around from all sorts of groups and actors, gets discriminated upon, persecuted and prosecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation in Uganda and the Government would challenge anyone, to bring such evidence up. However, the Government does not condone any promotions of sexual orientation of any kind.
The report further falsely alleges the arrest from a shelter of homeless young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) in March 2020. There are no Shelters for LGBT Persons in Uganda and it is on the record that the individuals in question were arrested for violating COVID19 rules and arraigned before a court of law. The charges were subsequently withdrawn by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions during the COVID19 Pandemic, following a decision to de-congest prisons. All the 19 individuals were accordingly released from prison following the withdrawal of the charges.
The report also makes an absurd allegation that on 19th July 2020, an LGBTfriendly nightclub in Kyenjojo town that had over 120 people in it was disrupted – because of the supposed anti-LGBTI environment in Uganda. This is patently false because was an illegal gathering in view of the existing antiCOVID laws.
16. Rights of workers
Strangely still, the report is blind to the concerted efforts of government to engage with workers through various workers’ unions by alleging that workers in Uganda are forbidden from forming and joining trade unions. The Uganda media in 2020 often covered stories of the union of Lectures in public Universities, Judicial officers as well medical personnel exercising their right to strike, as a bargaining tool with Government to attain a wage increment. It is surprising that these developments did not make their way to the report.
17. Allegations against State institutions generally
A common theme in the report is that state institutions (such as the Courts, the Electoral Commission, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, etc.) are dysfunctional, politically compromised and ineffective. This is not only false, but an unfortunate attempt, intended or not, to denigrate, delegitimize and undermine them. Again, this stance is clearly informed by a biased approach to, or view of, politics in Uganda which prevents an objective take on it. All state institutions are a creature of the law and are accountable to Ugandans. The Government has already rejected, and will continue, to reject the allegation, for example, that the Electoral Commission did not conduct a free and fair election. The only arbiter of electoral disputes is the court of Uganda and it is important that this is respected by all actors including our international partners.
The Government is concerned about the contents of the report because they are all derived from misinformation, falsehoods and an inadequate understanding of the political reality on the ground in Uganda. The total disregard of the impact of COVID-19 on life in the country, including on the conduct of political activities, is most unfortunate, especially at a time when the WHO estimates that there are over 136,291,755 confirmed cases of COVID19, including 2.9 million people that have died around the world. In this regard, we are proud of our health workers and the security forces that have contributed to the comparably low fatalities and transmission numbers in Uganda.
The Government reiterates that while it cherishes, and is committed to the continued strengthening of Uganda’s bilateral partnership with the United States of America, and remains ready for continuous dialogue on all matters of mutual interest or concern, it holds the firm view that these mutual goals are best achieved through adherence to the time-honored and non-negotiable principles of fairness, mutual respect, non-interference and sovereignty.