Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. In 2016 voters re-elected Museveni to a fifth five-year term and returned an NRM majority to the unicameral parliament. The elections fell short of international standards and were marred by allegations of disenfranchisement and voter intimidation, harassment of the opposition, closure of social media websites, and lack of transparency and independence in the Electoral Commission (EC). The periods before, during, and after the elections were marked by a closing of political space, intimidation of journalists, and widespread use of torture by the security agencies.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; violence and intimidation against journalists, censorship, criminalization of libel, and restricted access to the internet; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; criminalization of same-sex consensual sexual conduct; and security force harassment and detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including due to torture.
On August 13, the presidential guard Special Forces Command (SFC) shot and killed Member of Parliament (MP) Robert Kyagulanyi’s (alias Bobi Wine) driver, Yasin Kawuma, while he was seated in Kyagulanyi’s car (see section 1.e.).
According to local media, between February 2017 and September, the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) killed at least nine men whom it accused of illegal fishing. On January 22, local media reported that the UPDF’s Marine Patrol Unit beat, shot, and drowned unarmed civilians it suspected of illegal fishing practices. Fishing communities told local media that UPDF soldiers tied weights to the legs of the fishermen and threw them into the lake. The UPDF’s head of marine operations James Nuwagaba told local media that UPDF soldiers only used force to defend themselves against those fishermen who fled imminent arrest and used their oars to attack soldiers. In an April 14 statement, the president stated, “Although the UPDF personnel had been accused of some excesses, such as beating people, the lake had been saved. Those who spend time blaming the army for some mistakes should know that the first mistake was bad fishing.”
Local civil society organizations (CSOs) and local media reported that on March 25, UPDF personnel shot and killed unarmed civilian Python Okello, a resident of Apaa village in Adjumani district. The UPDF and the Uganda Wildlife Authority were forcefully evicting local residents from a contested village (see section 6). On May 16, the UPDF spokesperson denied the killing and insisted that the eviction was peaceful.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) noted in its annual report on June 8 that the Uganda Police Force (UPF) at Runga Police post in Kibiro parish, Kigorobya subcounty, Hoima district, had in 2017 tortured to death a suspect accused of theft. The UHRC was investigating the incident at year’s end.
Local media reported several disappearances of Kyagulanyi’s supporters. On October 10 and 23, media reported that families of two Kyagulanyi supporters had reported the father and son missing for more than a week after unidentified men picked them up at their homes. The UPF and UPDF denied knowledge of their detention. On August 2, local media reported that armed men dressed in UPDF uniforms had, on July 9, captured chief of police Kale Kayihura’s aide Enoch Buntu at his house near Kampala and taken him to an unknown destination. His family told local media that they had not seen him since. The UPDF and UPF denied having knowledge of his arrest.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The Anti-Torture Act stipulates that any person convicted of an act of torture may be sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of 7.2 million shillings ($1,920), or both. The penalty for conviction of aggravated torture is life imprisonment. Nevertheless, there were credible reports security forces tortured and physically abused suspects.
On August 13, the SFC arrested MPs Kyagulanyi and Francis Zaake, among others (see section 1.e.). On August 15, local media published images of Zaake taken at a health facility in Arua where he had been arrested. The images showed wounds and deep cuts on Zaake’s hands and ears, and bruises and swelling on his face, and reported that he had incurred these while in military detention. According to local media, the military later dumped Zaake’s unconscious body at a hospital in Kampala where medics placed him on life support. Kyagulanyi was also reportedly tortured while in detention. On August 16, when the UPDF arraigned him in a military court in the presence of his two lawyers, the lawyers reported that Kyagulanyi had bruises and swelling on his face, and could not stand, sit, see, or hear. Kyagulanyi was carried into the proceedings by two soldiers who placed his slumped body into a seat. Two weeks later Kyagulanyi was able to fly overseas for medical treatment. While abroad Kyagulanyi stated that SFC soldiers hit him on the head with a metal bar, beat, kicked and punched him all over his body including in the eyes, mouth and nose, and pulled and squeezed his genitals. In a letter to the speaker of parliament dated August 31, President Museveni cautioned the house from referring to Kyagulanyi’s treatment as torture because the full facts “had yet to be established.”
The African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) reported that through July, it had registered 63 allegations of torture committed by the UPF, seven by the Flying Squad Unit of the UPF, 12 by the UPDF, and three by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).
On October 10, local television stations aired a video showing an individual wearing a UPDF uniform kicking, slapping, and beating with sticks a detainee. The video footage showed the uniformed individual interrogating the detainee about his association with Kyagulanyi and local CSOs. The UPDF denied its officers were involved in the beating. A UPDF spokesperson told local media that it would launch an investigation, and implied that the soldier in the video was not an actual member of the UPDF. The UPDF had not released the results of the investigation by year’s end.
The UHRC reported that during 2017, it awarded 800 million shillings ($213,000) in compensation to victims of torture.
Local media and CSOs reported multiple cases of the security agencies torturing detainees to secure confessions or as punishment. On July 12, a lawyer representing 10 men accused of kidnap and murder reported to local media that the UPF and the UPDF had forced his clients to sleep on steep stairs, beat and electrocuted them, and stepped on their stomachs to force them to vomit water they had been compelled to drink during interrogation in an undisclosed detention facility.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in detention centers remained poor and, in some cases, life threatening. Serious problems included overcrowding, physical abuse of detainees by security staff and fellow inmates, inadequate food, and understaffing. Local human rights groups, including the ACTV, received numerous reports of torture by security forces and prison personnel. Reports of forced labor continued. Most prisons did not have accommodations for persons with disabilities. The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) reported that the domestic intelligence agency Internal Security Organization (ISO) also maintained unofficial detention facilities in and around Kampala where it detained suspects without charge (see section 2.a.).
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding remained a problem. The UHRC reported in June that “some prisons housed twice or up to three times their designated capacities,” especially prisons holding male detainees. The Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) reported that it held 49,322 inmates, yet its capacity was 22,000. The UHRC reported that it found the 250-person-capacity Arua Government Prison holding 840 inmates and the eight-person-capacity Kamwenge Police Station men’s cell holding 30 detainees. The UHRC reported that delays in the judicial process caused overcrowding in police cells. The UPS reported that overcrowding had increased the spread of communicable diseases, especially multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis.
According to the UHRC, authorities violated the law by holding juveniles and adult detainees together in police stations it visited due to absence of specialized holding cells for children, ignorance of the law by UPF personnel, and failure to ascertain the juvenile’s age. In at least five police stations it visited, the UHRC found juveniles aged 11 to 14 years detained in the same cell as adults. The UHRC also reported that authorities kept pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together in all but two prisons.
The FHRI and the UPS noted there were reports of prison food shortages, which led some inmates to trade sex in exchange for food from fellow inmates and UPS staff. The UHRC reported that detainees in an unspecified number of police stations spent entire days without receiving a meal while those in the Kasese and the Fort Portal police stations received one meal a day. The UHRC reported that the majority of detainees relied on family members for food.
Administration: Authorities did not always carry out investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment and, according to the FHRI, even turned away persons reporting violations. The UPDF did not make efforts to investigate and bring to account alleged perpetrators of beatings of two MPs (see section 1.e.). A lawyer representing six Rwandan nationals whom authorities detained December 20, 2017, and deported to Rwanda on December 29, told local media on January 9 that the UPDF’s CMI blocked their lawyers, family, and friends from accessing them.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed the ACTV to conduct prison visits with advance notification. The International Committee of the Red Cross declined to comment on whether it conducted prison visits during the year.
Improvements: On January 19, the UPS reported that it recruited 706 new wardens, increasing the number of UPS staff to 9,787. The UPS acknowledged, however, that it still had a staff shortage of 39,683. The UPS also reported that it had completed the construction of wards in three prisons to ease overcrowding.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, security forces often arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, including opposition leaders, politicians, activists, demonstrators, and journalists. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but this mechanism was seldom employed and rarely successful.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the UPF has primary responsibility for law enforcement. The UPDF, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security and may aid civil authorities when responding to riots or other disturbances of the peace. The CMI is legally under UPDF authority and may detain civilians suspected of rebel or terrorist activity. Other agencies with law enforcement powers include the Directorate of Counter Terrorism, Joint Intelligence Committee, and Special Forces Brigade.
The security services used excessive force, including torture, failed to prevent societal violence, and at times targeted civilians. On August 19, local media reported that in the town of Mityana, UPF personnel who were responding to protests fired on a minivan transporting football supporters, killing two and injuring five. On September 4, the security minister said the UPF was pursuing the two officers responsible for the killing, who had deserted the force after the act. The UPF had not released any further details by year’s end.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the UPDF and UPF. Due to corruption, political interests, and weak rule of law, however, the government’s mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse were ineffective, and impunity was pervasive (see sections 1.a. and 1.e.). The state did not pursue a 2016 criminal case against Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kayihura for his supervisory role during public beatings of unarmed supporters of opposition leader Kizza Besigye in Kampala. On January 10, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) dropped murder charges against former Kampala central police station commander Aaron Baguma for his alleged role in a 2015 killing of a businesswoman. Although Baguma pled not guilty, the DPP said Baguma had agreed to testify against his cosuspects.
The UHRC reported it trained 1,104 UPF and 361 UPDF personnel on human rights provisions pertaining to the freedom of assembly, freedom from torture and the rights of detainees.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires that judges or prosecutors issue a warrant before an arrest is made, unless the arrest is made during commission of a crime or while in pursuit of a perpetrator. Nevertheless, authorities often arrested suspects without warrants. The law requires authorities to arraign suspects within 48 hours of arrest, but they frequently held suspects longer without charge. Authorities must try suspects arrested under the Antiterrorism Law within 120 days (360 days if charged with a capital offense) or release them on bail; if prosecution presents the case to the court before the expiration of this period, there is no limit on further pretrial detention. While the law requires authorities to inform detainees immediately of the reasons for detention, at times they did not do so. The law provides for bail at the judge’s discretion, but many suspects were unaware of the law or lacked the financial means to cover the bond. Judges generally granted requests for bail. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and access to a lawyer, but authorities did not always respect this right. The law requires the government to provide an attorney for indigent defendants charged with capital offenses. Security forces often held opposition political members and other suspects incommunicado and under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention, particularly of opposition political party members, remained problems (see section 1.e.). On July 24, the UPF arrested at least 11 members of opposition politician Asuman Basalirwa’s campaign team three days before the July 27 election. The UPF said it arrested Basalirwa’s supporters on suspicion that they were planning acts of violence. The police released the supporters on July 28 after the election without charge.
Pretrial Detention: Case backlogs due to an inefficient judiciary that lacks adequate funding and staff, the absence of plea-bargaining prior to 2015, insufficient use of bail, and the absence of a time limit for the detention of detainees awaiting trial contributed to frequent prolonged pretrial detentions. The UHRC reported 52 percent of the country’s 49,322 inmates were pretrial detainees. In 2017 the FHRI reported that 20 percent of prisoners had spent at least three years in pretrial detention. According to the UHRC, the average length of time pretrial detainees spent in prison was 10 months for those facing capital charges, and two months for noncapital offenses.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Citizens detained without charge have the right to sue the Attorney General’s Office for compensation for unlawful detention; however, this right was rarely exercised.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. Corruption, understaffing, inefficiency, and executive branch interference with judicial rulings often undermined the courts’ independence. In response to a Constitutional Court ruling that scrapped a parliamentary and presidential term extension that parliament had earlier passed, the president on July 30 wrote that “the judges are not in charge of the country,” and that he and his party would effect the legislatives changes they wanted “judges or no judges.”
The president appoints Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, and High Court judges and members of the Judicial Service Commission (which makes recommendations on appointments to the judiciary) with the approval of parliament.
Due to vacancies on the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, High Court, and the lower courts, the judiciary did not deliver justice in a timely manner. At times the lack of judicial quorum precluded cases from proceeding.
Judicial corruption was a problem, and local media reported numerous cases where judicial officers in lower courts solicited and accepted bribes from the parties involved. On June 26, the chief justice told local media that ministers and local politicians undermined courts by issuing counterorders to court pronouncements. On July 12, magistrate Joseph Angole wrote an open letter in the media to the chief justice noting that because of poor pay, “Judicial officers are living off litigants and in such a situation we can’t pretend that there is justice and fairness.” On September 10, the Judicial Service Commission suspended Angole to enable it to investigate him for corruption.
Although the law provides for a presumption of innocence, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and are entitled to free assistance of an interpreter. An inadequate system of judicial administration resulted in a serious backlog of cases, undermining suspects’ right to a timely trial. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney of their choice. The law requires the government to provide an attorney for indigent defendants charged with capital offenses. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and appeal. The law allows defendants to confront or question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, but authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal.
All nonmilitary trials are public. A single judge decides cases in the High Court, while a panel of at least five judges decides cases in the Constitutional and Supreme Courts. The law allows military courts to try civilians who assist members of the military in committing offenses or are found possessing arms, ammunition, or other equipment reserved for the armed forces.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
During the year authorities detained numerous opposition politicians and activists on politically motivated grounds. Authorities released many without charge but charged others with crimes including treason, unlawful possession of firearms, inciting violence, holding illegal meetings, and abuse of office. No statistics on the number of political detainees or prisoners were available.
On August 13, the SFC arrested Robert Kyagulanyi in his hotel room in Arua town, on accusations that he illegally possessed military-grade weapons in the room. Earlier that day, Kyagulanyi had joined a section of other opposition MPs to campaign for opposition candidate Kassiano Wadri in a by-election. Kyagulanyi’s supporters clashed with supporters of rival NRM candidate Nusura Tiperu. Police fired live bullets and teargas to disperse the crowds. President Museveni, who claimed that the crowds had struck his vehicle with projectiles, directed the SFC to join the police to restore order in Arua. The SFC subsequently shot and killed Kyagulanyi’s driver in his car (see section 1.a.). That same evening the UPF also arrested opposition MPs Francis Zaake, Paul Mwiru, Gerald Karuhanga, candidate Wadri and former MP Mike Mabikke on accusation that they incited their supporters to attack the president’s motorcade. On August 16, the UPF arraigned Mwiru, Karuhanga, Mabikke, and Wadri before a magistrate’s court and charged them with treason. The court released them on bail on August 27 and the cases continued at year’s end. On August 16, the UPDF also arraigned Kyagulanyi before a military court and charged him with illegal possession of arms. On August 17, Kyagulanyi’s family and lawyers were allowed to see him and alleged he had been tortured (see section 1.c.). On August 23, the UPDF dropped the arms charges against Kyagulanyi, and the UPF then charged him with treason. On August 30, after being granted bail, Kyagulanyi attempted to depart the country to receive medical treatment. After initially preventing him to leave, the police allowed him to depart on August 31. Kyagulanyi returned to Uganda on September 20, and upon arrival was forcibly escorted by police to his home. The police prevented him from holding the meetings and displays of support that his supporters had planned. Kyagulanyi’s trial continued at year’s end.
On June 13, the UPDF arrested former IGP Kayihura, detained him at Makindye Military Barracks, and said it was questioning him on a matter it could not divulge. Local media reported that the UPDF held Kayihura on suspicion that he spied for a foreign country and that he was involved in the 2017 killing of Assistant IGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi. Through his lawyers, Kayihura said ISO had forged evidence to link him to Kaweesi’s killing. The government permitted UHRC, a government human rights agency, to visit Kayihura. On August 24, the UPDF charged Kayihura with failure to control war materials, and aiding and abetting kidnap from Uganda. The UPDF on August 28 released Kayihura on bail and his trial continued at year’s end.
The High Court did not fix a trial date for the Rwenzururu king Charles Wesley Mumbere and his bodyguards whom the state arrested and charged with murder, terrorism, and treason in a 2016 raid on the king’s palace in Kasese. At year’s end the state continued to hold the bodyguards on remand at Luzira prison and to limit the king’s movements to the Kampala, Wakiso, and Jinja districts.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through the regular court system or the UHRC, which has judicial powers under the constitution. These powers include the authority to order the release of detainees, pay compensation to victims, and pursue other legal and administrative remedies, such as mediation. Victims may appeal their cases to the Court of Appeal and thereafter to the Supreme Court but not to an international or regional court. Civil courts and the UHRC have no ability to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses criminally liable, and bureaucratic delays hampered enforcement of judgments that granted financial compensation.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police did not always obtain search warrants to enter private homes and offices.
The Antiterrorism Act and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act authorize government security agencies to tap private conversations to combat terrorism-related offenses. The government utilized both statutes to monitor telephone and internet communications.
The government continued to encourage university students and government officials, including members of the judiciary, to attend NRM political education and military science courses known as “chaka mchaka.”
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.
Freedom of Expression: The government restricted citizens’ ability to criticize its actions. It also restricted some political symbols, musical lyrics, and theatrical performances.
On September 1, local media reported that the ISO had blocked dual citizen Kato Kajubi from flying out of the country, accusing him of offensive communication after he posted videos on social media showing himself participating in a protest abroad against the government’s arrest of Kyagulanyi. The authorities released Kajubi but held him under house arrest without arraigning him in court. In late October, Kajubi was finally allowed to depart the country. His computer and phone had not been returned to him by year’s end.
The cyberharassment trial of Makerere University professor Stella Nyanzi remained pending at year’s end. On November 2, Nyanzi was arrested on new allegations of offending the president, due to social media posts made in September in which she allegedly insulted the president and his mother. On November 7, after being detained for more than 48 hours without charge, Nyanzi was charged under Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011 on offensive communication. The trial continued at year’s end.
Press and Media Freedom: The country had an active media environment with numerous privately owned newspapers and television and radio stations. These media outlets regularly covered stories and often provided commentary critical of the government and officials. The UPF’s Media Crimes Unit, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media, and security forces subjected numerous journalists to harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Government officials and ruling party members owned many of the private rural radio stations and imposed reporting restrictions. Media practitioners said government and security agents occasionally called editors and instructed them not to publish stories that negatively portrayed the government. In September the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) directed all radio and television stations to broadcast live the president’s speeches on political and security events. The president repeatedly attacked critical media in his speeches. In at least three speeches between January and June, the president referred to the privately owned The Daily Monitor and Red Pepper as enemy newspapers and warned that he “would do something” about The Daily Monitor if it did not desist from reporting about the country’s growing foreign debt. The government instructed telecommunication companies to pull down internet news agencies that did not register with the UCC.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces subjected journalists to violence, harassment, and intimidation.
Local CSO Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJU) reported that the government did not stop its security agencies from denying journalists access to news scenes, damaging and confiscating cameras, and unlawfully arresting journalists. The HRNJU and local media reported that the security forces harassed at least 12 journalists through July. On August 21, local television aired footage of UPDF soldiers beating Reuters journalist James Akena with sticks as he covered youths protesting Kyagulanyi’s detention, even as he knelt down and raised his hands in the air. On September 20, the police and SFC blocked journalists from accessing Entebbe International airport and sections of the Entebbe-Kampala highway, and arrested several journalists, effectively stopping the media from covering Kyagulanyi as he returned from the U.S., where he had gone for medical treatment. The minister of security told local media on September 3 that acts of security personnel beating journalists during protests were “occupational hazards” because “whenever it rains, everyone gets wet.”
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly restricted media coverage and content. On March 27, local media reported that the UCC had suspended the broadcast licenses of 23 radio stations, accusing them of “abetting electronic fraud” by promoting “witchcraft content.” The UCC told local media that the radio stations hosted “witchdoctors” who conned the public by promising to solve a listener’s problems if the listener sent them money. The UCC reported in August that it had withdrawn the suspension after the radio stations committed themselves to respect broadcasting regulations.
Many print and broadcast journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when reporting on the president, his inner circle, and powerful business companies.
Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials. On May 22, the UPF questioned and later released on bond four editors of online publications on criminal libel charges after they published personal bank account details of a former central bank official that the government ombudsman was investigating for corruption.
National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies. In November 2017 the UPF closed the Red Pepper newspaper, arrested its five directors and three editors, and charged them with treason after the newspaper published a story alleging the president was working to overthrow a neighboring country’s government. The court released the eight on bail in late December 2017, but authorities did not allow the newspaper to reopen until January 24, after a January 22 presidential pardon. On March 27, the DPP dropped the treason charges against the eight.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. On July 1, the government levied a 200-shilling (five-cent) daily tax on social media that it said was to compensate for revenue losses incurred due to migration of utility preference from conventional voice calls to internet-based messaging and calls. The president, however, in a July 4 statement, said the tax on social media use was justified because social media users abused the internet by taking part in “subversion and malice.”
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government restricted some artistic presentations. The government in October, November, and December blocked Kyagulanyi from holding concerts at various locations across the country. Authorities also blocked other musicians from holding concerts at the Kyagulanyi-owned One Love Beach venue. On August 2, local media reported that UPF had blocked Kyagulanyi from holding five concerts because the UPF said he would use the events to incite the public, even after the UPF had given written assurance to provide security for the events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to use the Public Order Management Act to limit the right to assemble and disrupted opposition and civil society-led public meetings and rallies. The act also placed a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and afforded the UPF wide discretion to prevent an event by refusing to approve it, or, more commonly, by not responding to the permission request, which then created a legal justification for disrupting almost any gathering.
According to local media, the UPF on July 11 fired teargas and live bullets to disperse a crowd of youth who were marching in Kampala to protest the government’s imposition of a 1-percent tax on all mobile money transactions. The police arrested three protesters and the state charged them in court on July 16 with holding an unlawful assembly. The court released the three on bail on July 23 and the trial continued at year’s end. On July 18, the UPF questioned MP Kyagulanyi, who had led the protest, and released him on police bond.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government restricted the operations of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), especially those that work on civil and political rights (see section 5). Government regulations enacted in 2017 require NGOs to disclose sources of funding and personal information about their employees and impose onerous registration and reporting requirements. Government regulations enable the NGO Bureau and its local level structures to deny registration to any organization focused on issues deemed to be “undesirable” or “prejudicial” to the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” The regulations also provide the NGO Bureau broad powers to inspect NGO offices and records and to suspend their activities without due process. The regulations increased registration fees for local NGOs from 20,000 shillings ($5.33) to 100,000 ($26.67), and annual permit renewal fees from 20,000 shillings ($5.33) to 60,000 shillings ($16), respectively. They also introduced new fees, including for the NGO Bureau to review permit applications (60,000 shillings, or $16) and for NGOs to file annual reports (50,000 shillings, or $13.33). On July 24, local media reported that the minister for internal affairs had instructed the bureau “to tighten accountability oversight” over NGOs to ensure they used their funds for the approved purpose. The bureau in turn vowed “to crack the whip” on NGOs deemed noncompliant. Local media reported that the minister had voiced suspicion that NGOs used foreign funds to support dissent.
The government also restricted the operations of opposition political parties (see section 3).
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
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. Nevertheless, the 2016 presidential and National Assembly elections and several special parliament elections during the year were marred by serious irregularities.
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 president was re-elected with 61 percent of the vote, and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Besigye finished second with 36 percent. The ruling NRM party captured approximately 70 percent of the seats in the 431-member unicameral National Assembly. Domestic and international election observers stated that 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 August 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 Supreme Court instructed the attorney general to report in two years on the government’s implementation of the reforms. As of year’s end, the attorney general had not yet issued his report.
The law 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. On July 10, authorities held the first Local Council I (L.C.I) elections in 17 years by lining up voters behind their candidates. Civil society organizations criticized this legislation, saying it violated citizens’ constitutional right to vote by secret ballot. On July 4, the EC suspended the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda’s (CCEDU) accreditation and banned it from any election-related activity, claiming that the organization was partisan due to its opposition to the lining-up voting method for the lowest-level local government elections (see section 5). All subsequent elections during the year took place without domestic or international observers present.
During the year several special elections and local level elections were held, all of which were marred by credible reports of irregularities and voter intimidation.
In special elections in Jinja on March 15, in Bugiri Municipality on July 26 and in Arua on August 15, CCEDU and local media reported incidents of ruling political party members bribing voters. The government deployed UPDF and UPF personnel heavily during the campaigning period and on voting day for these special elections, with NGOs and press reporting that security personnel beat and intimidated opposition supporters. Local media reported that 10 days after the EC set dates for the Rukungiri Woman MP by-election, the president visited the district and made donations worth five billion shillings ($1,300,000) to youth and women’s groups, which the opposition FDC characterized as an attempt to bribe the electorate to vote in favor of the ruling-party candidate. The president denied the bribery allegations and said he was only promoting poverty-eradication projects.
On August 13, the police arrested Kassiano Wadri, an opposition candidate in the August 15 Arua Municipality by-election, and prevented him from casting his ballot in the election. The UPF and UPDF fired teargas and live bullets to disperse Wadri’s supporters on the final campaign day August 13 and killed one person (see section 1.e.).
Political Parties and Political Participation: According to the EC, there were 29 registered political parties. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition leaders and intimidated and beat their supporters. While the ruling NRM party operated without restriction, regularly holding rallies and conducting political activities, authorities often prevented opposition parties and critical civil society organizations from organizing meetings, speaking on the radio, or conducting activities. The opposition FDC reported that, during campaigns for the May 30 Rukungiri Woman MP by-election, the government directed local radio stations to cancel purchased opposition advertisements without a refund. Authorities restricted CSOs from observing electoral processes (see section 5.).
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process.
Cultural factors limited women’s political participation. Local NGOs and the government statistics agency Uganda Bureau of Statistics reported that in rural communities husbands restricted their wives from running for public office. The FHRI reported that women abstained from lining up behind their favored candidate to vote in the July 10 L.C.I elections because they were afraid of confrontation with family members who supported rival candidates. The president and the ruling NRM party accused opposition supporters of intimidating their female supporters from taking part in electoral activity.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The 2009 Anticorruption Act provides criminal penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment for official corruption. A 2015 amendment to the act mandates confiscation of the convicted persons’ property. Nevertheless, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Government up to the highest levels lacked the political will to combat corruption, and many corruption cases remained pending for years. Media reported numerous cases of government corruption during the year, including cases of public officials demanding bribes from foreign investors. There were also many reports of UPDF and UPF corruption. Magistrates and judicial officials were also arrested for soliciting bribes. On July 12, a magistrate wrote an open letter acknowledging that the majority of his colleagues lived off payments from litigants (see section 1.e.). On July 7, the president announced he had created a committee to assist the Inspector General of Government (IGG), whom he accused of incompetence, to report and investigate allegations of corruption. Local CSOs criticized this decision, calling it a duplication of duties that would not achieve much because it is the president himself who prevented the IGG from rooting out corruption by protecting corrupt senior officials from prosecution.
Corruption: On September 24, local media reported that the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) had in a confidential report to the speaker of parliament noted that the central bank failed to do due diligence as it disposed of a commercial bank’s assets and liabilities to a rival bank at 80-percent rates below their market value. The auditor general reported that the central bank failed to do an independent appraisal of the failed bank’s assets and liabilities but instead depended on the buyers’ valuation, creating suspicion that central bank officials colluded with the buyers to undervalue the failed bank. The OAG also reported that the central bank evaded procurement rules as it spent 479 billion shillings ($128 million) to dispose of and recapitalize the fallen bank. On October 16, local media reported that the IGG had commenced investigations into the wealth sources of at least 100 central bank officials, on suspicion that many had unexplained wealth. The IGG’s office said it was only validating the officials’ financial declaration forms. Local media reported on November 1 that parliament’s Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities, and State Enterprises had started an inquiry into “irregular conduct” in the central bank and this continued at year’s end.
In response to allegations of corruption, malfeasance, and inflation of the number of refugees in the country, the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR led the creation of a Joint Plan of Action (JPA) for Promoting Transparency and Accountability in Uganda’s Refugee Response. The JPA process was ongoing at year’s end.
On December 5, a federal jury in New York City convicted the head of an NGO based in Hong Kong and Virginia on seven counts for his participation in a multi-year, multimillion-dollar scheme to bribe top officials of Chad and Uganda in exchange for business advantages for a Chinese oil and gas company. According to the evidence presented, Chi Ping Patrick Ho caused a $500,000 bribe to be paid via wires transmitted through New York to an account designated by Sam Kutesa, the minister of foreign affairs of Uganda, who had recently completed his term as the president of the UN General Assembly.
Financial Disclosure: The Leadership Code Act requires public officials to disclose their income, assets, and liabilities, and those of their spouses, children, and dependents, within three months of assuming office, and every two years thereafter. The requirement applies to 42 position classifications, totaling approximately 25,000 officials, including ministers, MPs, political party leaders, judicial officers, permanent secretaries, and government department heads, among others. Public officials who leave office six or more months after their most recent financial declaration are required to refile. The IGG is responsible for monitoring compliance with the declaration requirements, and penalties include a warning, demotion, and dismissal.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated with government restrictions. The government restricted and failed to cooperate with most domestic and international NGOs, especially those focused on governance and human rights (see section 2.b.). The president repeatedly attacked CSOs in his speeches, labeling them imperialist agents keen on destabilizing the country. Authorities denied LGBTI-related organizations official status due to discriminatory laws preventing their registration.
On July 4, the EC indefinitely suspended the civil and political rights CSO CCEDU accreditation from participating in electoral-related activities including civic education and elections observation. In a letter the EC accused CCEDU of dishonesty and partisan behavior in its criticism of the voting by lining up method in the L.C.I elections (see section 3). CCEDU said the suspension would hurt democracy but affirmed its opposition to the method of voting. It accused the EC of seeking to silence criticism in electoral management by expecting CCEDU to monitor elections but ignore electoral irregularities. The suspension continued at year’s end.
The government was often hostile to concerns of local and international human rights organizations, and government officials dismissed NGO claims of human rights abuses by security forces. CSOs expressed concern that authorities did little to investigate and prevent a continued streak of unsolved break-ins at CSO offices. The CSOs warned that the continued occurrence of break-ins without government investigations leading to arrests and prosecutions, at best signaled government complicity in the acts. Local media and CSOs reported that unidentified individuals on August 6 broke into the offices of women’s rights organization ISIS-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange, and stole computer hard drives. Local media also reported that on February 8, unidentified individuals broke into the offices of sexual minorities CSO Human Rights Awareness Forum, injuring two security guards with machetes. In both incidents, police reported they would investigate the crimes but did not release findings by year’s end.
The Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS) reported that in January authorities had unfrozen its bank accounts and those of its staff, which the government had frozen in 2017 on suspicion that GLISS was funding opposition to the government’s attempt to amend the constitution and allow the president to seek reelection beyond 75 years of age.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The UHRC is the constitutionally mandated institution with quasi-judicial powers authorized to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, direct the release of detainees, and award compensation to abuse victims. The president appoints its board, consisting of a chairperson and five commissioners.
The UHRC pursues suspected human rights abusers, including in the military and police forces. It visits and inspects places of detention, and holds private conferences with detainees on their conditions in custody. It investigates reports of human rights abuses and reports to parliament its annual findings as well as makes recommendations of measures to improve the executive’s respect of human rights. The UHRC reported that the executive did not always implement its recommendations. Some human rights activists and complainants said the UHRC lacked the courage to stand up to the executive in politically sensitive cases. Opposition politicians said the UHRC limited its actions in the face of human rights violations to public statements and lacked the will to direct the release of political prisoners whom authorities had tortured.
The Committee on Human Rights is the legislative team mandated to monitor and report on human rights concerns in all parliamentary business, monitor government’s compliance with national and international human rights instruments, study UHRC recommendations, and hold the executive accountable for the respect of human rights. Civil society activists said the committee lacked political will to challenge the executive on its human rights record. Activists said the committee did not comment on or criticize the executive when it violated its opponents’ freedoms of assembly, expression, and association because ruling party MPs chaired and dominated the committee.