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Human Rights Watch Raises Red Flag on Uganda's Election

The agency cited wanton killings by security forces, arrests and beatings of opposition supporters and journalists, disruption of opposition rallies, and a shutdown of the internet as major setbacks in the pursuit of democracy and the rule of law.
Police officers fire teargas and live bullets to disperse journalists who were the disturbances
Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy group has raised a red flag on Uganda's electoral processes, stating that weeks leading up to polling day were characterized by widespread violence and abuses. 

The agency cited wanton killings by security forces, arrests and beatings of opposition supporters and journalists, disruption of opposition rallies, and a shutdown of the internet as major setbacks in the pursuit of democracy and the rule of law.

Since election campaigns began in November 2020, security forces have clamped down on opposition members and journalists, violently arresting scores of people, including the presidential candidates Patrick Amuriat of the Forum for Democratic Change and Robert Kyagulanyi, of the National Unity Platform."

They also pointed out the November 18 and 19 incidents in which security forces clamped down on protesters demanding the release of Robert Kyagulanyi, who had been arrested in Luuka district for disregarding COVID-19 guidelines on his campaign trail. The ensuing fights resulted in 54 deaths.

They add that during the campaigns, police fired teargas and live bullets to disperse crowds during opposition rallies, citing government COVID-19 regulations restricting public gatherings.  According to Human Rights Watch, the heavy deployment of security, blocking Kyagulanyi from campaigning and the ensuing arrests denied the opposition a levelled playing ground in the race.

Oryem Nyeko, an Africa Researcher with Human Rights Watch says that a democratic playing field for free and fair elections was worryingly absent during the elections. He added that instead of restricting free expression, movement, and assembly, the Ugandan government should take concrete steps to improve respect for human rights for all and remove all remaining restrictions.” 

Similar concerns have also been raised by Ugandans in the Diaspora, during a meeting organised to review the outcome of the January 14, presidential election. In a statement signed by activist Eric Mukasa, Ugandans in the Diaspora called on the government to end all forms of harassment and intimidation of opposition supporters and leaders, including Robert Kyagulanyi, whose movement is now restricted to his home in Magere.

"Instead, the authorities should protect rights, including freedom of movement, and ensure respect for the rule of law.” The statement reads. They equally called on the authorities to ensure thorough investigation and prosecution of those responsible for abuses.   

But government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said Human Rights Watch should be disregarded for trading on biases. According to Ofwono Opondo, Human Rights Watch said that the elections were marred with violence even before elections, they were conducted, and that the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth has been drumming support for Kyagulanyi against President Yoweri Museveni.

“We do not conduct polls for outsiders to endorse” Ofwono Opondo said and added that Uganda’s polls are a matter of sovereignty.

Government has meanwhile said that shutting down the internet stopped the violence in Kampala. While meeting ambassadors on Wednesday in the Foreign Affairs headquarters, Minister of Foreign Affairs some Kutesa reiterated claims that the opposition was at the centre of violence in Kampala.