Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The law also allows authorities to carry out elections for the lowest-level local government officials by having voters line up behind their preferred candidate or the candidate’s representative, portrait, or symbol. Serious irregularities marred the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections and several special parliament elections that followed.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held its fifth presidential and legislative elections since President Museveni came to power in 1986. The Electoral Commission (EC) announced the president was re-elected with 61 percent of the vote, and FDC candidate Kizza Besigye finished second with 36 percent. The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party captured approximately 70 percent of the seats in the 431-member unicameral parliament. Domestic and international election observers stated the elections fell short of international standards for credible democratic elections. The Commonwealth Observer Mission’s report noted flawed processes, and the EU’s report noted an atmosphere of intimidation and police use of excessive force against opposition supporters, media workers, and the public. Domestic and international election observers noted biased media coverage and the EC’s lack of transparency and independence. Media reported voter bribery, multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and the alteration of precinct and district results. Due to election disputes stemming from the elections, in 2016 the Supreme Court recommended changes to electoral laws to increase fairness, including campaign finance reform and equal access for all candidates to state-owned media. The government had not yet enacted laws to comply with these recommendations.
During the year the EC held several local elections, which local media reported featured incidents of intimidation by security forces and irregularities such as voters in opposition strongholds complaining their names were missing on the voter register. Political parties also held party primaries in preparation for the 2021 general election. On September 4, the ruling NRM party held its primaries, in which party members alleged widespread voter intimidation, bribery, harassment, and killings of rival supporters. On September 4-5, local media broadcast images of party members receiving 5,000 Ugandan shillings ($1.35) each before lining up to vote. On September 5, amateur cellphone video footage emerged on social media showing State Minister for Labor Mwesigwa Rukutana in a scuffle with a rival’s supporters, before drawing a rifle from one of his bodyguards and aiming it at his rival’s vehicle. Local media reported that Rukutana fired the gun at the vehicle, injuring an occupant and damaging the car. On September 6, the UPF arrested Rukutana with his three bodyguards for inciting violence, attempted murder, and malicious damage to property. His trial continued at year’s end.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition leaders and intimidated and beat their supporters (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.d.). On October 14, UPF and UPDF officers raided the NUP secretariat in Kamwokya and confiscated documents, property, and party insignia while accusing the NUP of being in possession of military uniforms (see section 2.a.). NUP officials reported UPF and UPDF personnel stole 25 million Ugandan shillings ($6,800) from the party’s offices that the party had earmarked to pay nomination fees for its electoral candidates, and confiscated signatures backing Kyagulanyi’s nomination to contest for the presidency. The UPF used COVID-19 restrictions to disperse opposition meetings and rallies but allowed similar meetings by the ruling party to proceed unhindered (see section 2.b.). The law prohibits candidates from holding official campaign events more than four months prior to an election, although the ruling NRM party operated without restriction, regularly holding rallies and conducting political activities. In December 2019 the EC announced it had closed its update of the voter register in preparation for the 2021 election, effectively blocking more than one million citizens who would have turned 18 years old–the required minimum age to vote–by February 2021 from participating in the electoral process. Local civil society organizations criticized the action and stated the EC closed the voter register early to lock out potential Kyagulanyi supporters. The UPF used COVID-19 restrictions regularly to block opposition politicians from appearing on radio and television talk shows (see section 2.a.). Opposition politicians also accused the ruling party of gerrymandering when the parliament approved 46 new legislative districts.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women comprised 35 percent of the members of parliament and occupied 34 percent of ministerial positions. Cultural factors, high costs, and sexual harassment, however, limited women’s ability to run for political office. Female activists reported the official fees required to secure a nomination to run for elected office were prohibitively high and prevented most women from running for election. Gender rights activists reported violence from the security agencies discouraged women from participating in electoral activities. Gender rights activists also reported an affirmative action policy, which reserved a legislative position for women in each district, instead discouraged women from running against men in the other positions not reserved for women. Election observers reported that holding party primaries and some local government elections by having voters line up behind their selected candidate effectively disenfranchised women, because they could be discouraged from participating in a process that could bring them into conflict with their domestic partners if they voted for the opposing candidate.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, which is punishable by life imprisonment or death. The law does not address spousal rape. The penal code defines rape as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl without her consent.” Men accused of raping men are tried under a section of the penal code that prohibits “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” The law also criminalizes domestic violence and provides up to two years’ imprisonment for conviction.
Rape remained a common problem throughout the country, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. Local media reported numerous incidents of rape, often involving kidnapping and killings of women, but authorities were often unable to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable. Local media often reported that perpetrators of rape included persons in authority, such as religious leaders, local government officials, UPF and UPDF officers, health-care workers, media personalities, teachers, and university staff. According to local media and local civil society organizations, rape victims often believed they were powerless to report their abusers, in part to avoid stigmatization. Civil society organizations and local media reported that, even when women reported cases of rape to the police, UPF officers blamed the women for causing the rape by dressing indecently, took bribes from the alleged perpetrators to stop the investigation and to pressure the victims into withdrawing the cases, or simply dismissed the accusations and refused to record them. According to civil society organizations, UPF personnel lacked the required skills for collection, preservation, and management of forensic evidence in sexual violence cases. Civil society organizations also reported that some police stations lacked female officers on the staff, which discouraged rape victims from reporting their cases. For example, on January 1, several women posted that radio presenter and employee of the state-owned Vision Group Charles Denzel Mwiyeretsi had raped or attempted to rape them. Vision Group’s chief executive said on January 2 that Mwiyeretsi would face a company disciplinary committee, but the company had not revealed details of its investigations by year’s end.
Women’s rights activists reported the government used the law to silence women and stop them from identifying their abusers online. On February 20, the UPF arrested university student Sheena Bageine, accusing her of cyberharassment and offensive communication after she posted the names of numerous men she alleged were rapists. The UPF released Bageine on February 21 without formally charging her.
Gender-based violence was common and became increasingly prevalent after March, when the government enforced a lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Civil society organizations reported the lockdown saw an increase in violent resolution of domestic disputes, which adversely affected women. On August 1, a 46-year-old teacher, Simon Shimanya, struck his wife with a pickax at their home in Kasangati, Kampala and killed her. On August 13, the UPF arrested Shimanya 200 miles from Kampala. On August 25, a court found Shimanya guilty of manslaughter and later sentenced him to 17 years in prison.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and establishes a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted perpetrators, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. According to the 2016 Demographics and Health Survey, 0.3 percent of the female population younger than age 50 had undergone FGM/C. On February 5, State Minister for Gender, Labor, and Social Development Peace Mutuuzo reported that persons practicing FGM/C had co-opted health-care workers, who allowed them to carry out the procedures in hospitals, to create the impression that it was safer. Minister Mutuuzo also reported that persons aspiring to political office in the 2021 general elections made public statements in support of FGM/C. Minister Mutuuzo also reported the government allocated 200 million Ugandan shillings ($54,000) to combat FGM/C but declared that this was only one-sixth of the required sum.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to local media and NGOs, violence against widows and acid attacks were prevalent. NGOs reported that widows in remote areas experienced sexual violence at the hands of their deceased husband’s family and lost their rights to property.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, but authorities did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual harassment was a widespread problem in homes, schools, universities, workplaces, public transport, public spaces, and in the music and entertainment industry. Local media reported numerous incidents of senior executives, public servants in the legislature and judiciary, and music producers who demanded sexual favors from female subordinates in exchange for job retention, promotion, and nomination for official trips. In March numerous emerging women musicians reported on television that music producer and songwriter Andrew Ojambo, also known as Daddy Andre, had attempted to or had forced them into sexual relationships with him at a studio in his bedroom as a precondition for recording or promoting their songs. Ojambo denied the allegations.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The law criminalizes abortion although the government seldom enforced these provisions. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and have access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion and violence. LGBTI organizations reported that some public health facilities discriminated against LGBTI persons seeking reproductive healthcare services. Family planning information and assistance were difficult to access, particularly in rural areas, where there were few healthcare providers.
Local media and civil society organizations reported that a government lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19, which prohibited public transport between March and July, prevented many women from accessing reproductive health services. Local media reported that as a result, women could not travel to healthcare providers to receive reproductive health services. Local media reported that the ban on public transport led to shortages of contraception in some parts of the country because there were no means for resupplying remote areas. The lockdown forced some reproductive health service providers to close after authorities denied them special permits to operate. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and local civil society organizations reported that men’s lack of support for, or active opposition to, family planning deterred some women from using contraception.
Local media and civil society organizations reported that the government lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 adversely affected access to skilled health attendants during pregnancy and childbirth. On March 30, the president banned all private passenger travel and directed that individuals seeking medical care travel only with written authorization from the resident district commissioner. This was rescinded for pregnant women on April 15, although the ban continued to be sporadically enforced. Local media reported several incidents of police officers and Local Defense Unit soldiers (a militia-like reservist corps) beating pregnant women found travelling to prenatal appointments without authorization. Local media reported that during the lockdown, some public health-care providers suspended neonatal and prenatal care services and turned away pregnant women because their staffs were unable to travel to their workplaces.
Maternal mortality was high at 375 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization and local civil society organizations. Media attributed the high rate to a lack of access to skilled medical care for pregnant women, a preference for traditional birth attendants over skilled medical workers, and unsafe abortions. According to UNFPA, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate was 36.3 percent. Female genital mutilation (FGM) occurred and, according to UNFPA, was a driver for obstetric fistula.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Local NGOs reported numerous cases of discrimination against women, including in divorce, employment, education, and owning or managing businesses and property. Many customary laws discriminate against women in adoption, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Under customary laws in many areas, widowed women cannot own or inherit property or retain custody of their children. Local NGOs reported that the government occasionally paid significantly less compensation to women than men in exchange for land it repossessed, while in some cases, it forcefully evicted women without compensation. Traditional divorce law in many areas requires women to meet stricter evidentiary standards than men to prove adultery. In some ethnic groups, men can “inherit” the widows of their deceased brothers. The law does not recognize cohabiting relationships, and women involved in such relationships have no judicial recourse to protect their rights.