KAMPALA – The Human Rights Watch has accused the Ugandan government of continuing to violate freedom of association, assembly, and expression.
The Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2020 says the government continued to undermine freedom of expression by imposing new regulations on bloggers, website owners and stifling independent media. In 2019, the government introduced new regulations requiring online operators to apply for authorization to host blogs and websites or risk being shut down.
“The government arrested its political opponents and blocked political and student rallies. These restrictions on expression and assembly, arbitrary detentions and prosecutions of outspoken critics and the government’s failure to ensure accountability for past abuses, do not abode well for the 2021 general election,” says the report.
Mr Kenneth Roth, the executive director at Human Rights Watch while releasing the report on Tuesday said decades of progress that has allowed people around the world to speak freely, live without fear of arbitrary imprisonment and torture, and enjoy other human rights are at risk.
In a 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries, including Uganda. It summarises key human rights issues drawing from late 2018 through November 2019.
Roth noted that many other threats to human rights around the world, including in Syria and Yemen, where government forces from Syria, Russia, and the Saudi-led coalition blatantly disregard the international rules designed to spare civilians, including the prohibitions against attacking civilians and bombing hospitals.
In Uganda, the Constitutional Court in May 2019 declared unconstitutional section 36 of the Police Act, which allowed police to use unlimited force when dispersing crowds and gatherings with no liability for deaths and injuries.
Police have also been using the 2013 Public Order Management Act (POMA) to block, restrict, and disperse peaceful assemblies and demonstrations by opposition groups, often with excessive force.
“The decision signals the need for reform of other laws that allow police and other security forces to arrest and disperse crowds without limits on the use of force or firearms,” says the report.
The report also cites a lack of accountability for torture, killings at safe houses kept by the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) to illegally detain and torture people, and alleged torture of Kyadondo East Member of Parliament, Robert Kyagulanyi and 33 others in Arua in August 2018.
“To date, police have made no public announcements regarding the progress and conclusion of the investigations and have made no arrests in connection with the allegations,” it says.
According to the report, several governments that in their foreign policies once could be depended upon to defend human rights at least some of the time have largely abandoned the cause. Others, faced with their own domestic challenges, mount a haphazard defense.
Elsewhere, it says autocratic populists gain office by demonizing minorities, and then retain power by attacking the checks and balances their rule, such as independent journalists, judges, and activists.