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Friday, August 19, 2022

How Museveni angered the EU

The European Union (EU) has expressed disappointment in President Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s government over human rights and democracy observance.

In what seemed like orders from a colonialist proudly aware of his financial and military muscle over an overseas colony, the EU, through its Parliament, adopted a string of resolutions calling out Kampala to respect human rights and redeem its image on electoral democracy.

The resolutions were adopted in a February 11 EU Parliament sitting. Some 632 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favour of the resolutions, 15 were against while 48 abstained.

So, why is the EU disappointed with Museveni’s government?

The MEPs recounted failures on the side of government to hold a free and fair election, and to respect human rights.

On elections, the EU accuses the Electoral Commission (EC) failure to “follow the prescribed tallying process.”

The MEPs also say “the run-up to the 2020 Ugandan presidential elections was marred by violence, with opposition candidates, civil society organisations (CSOs), human rights defenders, electoral experts and journalists facing systematic oppression and intimidation when exercising their legitimate rights” and that the “excessive use of force by law enforcement and security agencies seriously tarnished the electoral process.”

They also agreed that the state had started limiting presidential candidates and suffocating freedom of the press as early as September 2020.

“The authorities intensified their repression of the political opposition ahead of the elections, with security agencies arresting the key opposition candidates Bobi Wine, Patrick Oboi Amuriat and Lt Gen. Henry Tumukunde, disrupting their rallies and limiting media coverage of the elections,” noted the legislators.

The EU parliament also talked of the November 18 riots and of the harassment of Amuriat.

“The presidential candidate of the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, was arrested numerous times prior to the elections, with crowds at one of his campaign rallies being dispersed by tear gas on 9 November 2020 and his convoy being shot at by police on 6 January 2021,” the House noted.

“The increasing militarisation of the election campaign became particularly apparent on 18 and 19 November 2020 when security forces clamped down on protestors who were demanding the release of the then-detained presidential candidate Bobi Wine, resulting in at least 54 protestors dying in at least seven districts around the country, hundreds being arrested and others going missing.”

Why else were the MEPs angry with Museveni?

Bobi Wine house arrest

After the elections the opposition candidate Bobi Wine was put under de facto house arrest, with security forces surrounding his house for 11 days;

Election observers

International observer and electoral expert missions were largely absent from the polls after Ugandan authorities failed to accredit the missions.

The EU had offered to send a small team of electoral observers, but the offer was declined. The USA cancelled its observation of Uganda’s general election because most of its accreditation requests were denied.

Previous recommendations

The authorities also failed to implement recommendations from past missions. The 2016 EU Election Observation Mission’s final report made some 30 recommendations, including highlighting the need for a more independent electoral body and the elimination of the excessive use of force by security services, none of which were implemented by the Ugandan authorities.

Internet shutdown

The government restricted internet access prior to the elections. There have been reports of access to online messaging and social media platforms being blocked before the elections. Access to some social media sites remains restricted.

Covid19 and elections

The Covid19 pandemic has also been used as a pretext for repression and disproportionate restrictions on opposition gatherings and activities. Uganda has reported approximately 40 000 cases of COVID-19. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern that Covid19 measures were used to restrict political freedoms and political participation during the election process.

On 26 December 2020, Uganda suspended campaigning in areas where the opposition enjoyed particular popularity, including Mbarara, Kabarole, Luwero, Kasese, Masaka, Wakiso, Jinja, Kalungu, Kazo, Kampala City and Tororo, citing Covid19 precautions.

Covid19-related restrictive measures have targeted particular groups, resulting in excessive violence and arbitrary arrests without access to a lawyer, as illustrated by the police raid held on 29 March 2020 on the Children of the Sun Foundation, a shelter for homeless young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender;

Suspension of NEW-U

In November 2020, the National Bureau for NGOs (non-governmental organisations) arbitrarily halted the activities of the newly formed National Election Watch Uganda, a citizen-led CSO set up to observe elections.

Nicholas Opiyo

The Ugandan authorities have increasingly targeted CSOs, particularly those working on human rights and elections. On 23 December 2020, Nicholas Opiyo, a leading human rights lawyer and Sakharov Fellow was arrested alongside three other lawyers – Herbert Dakasi, Anthony Odur, and Esomu Obure – and Hamid Tenywa, a National Unity Platform (NUP) member, on accusations of money laundering and breaching Uganda’s constitutional guarantees.

Missing Bobi Wine supporters

Hundreds of NUP supporters have been abducted by security operatives on the campaign trail and an unclear number of them are still being forcibly detained or are missing;

DGF Suspension

On 2 January 2020, in a letter to the Ministry of Finance, President Museveni ordered the suspension of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF); whereas, the DGF funds the majority of NGOs in Uganda and is supported by numerous Member States including Austria, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Ireland.

Whereas its purpose is to strengthen democratisation, protect human rights, improve access to justice and enhance accountability, the implementation of important programmes with EU funding is being severely hindered.

Freedom of the press

In December 2020, the Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda reported over 100 cases of human rights violations against journalists, including police violence, which mainly took place when they were out covering the campaigns of political candidates; whereas the police vowed on 30 December 2020 that only ‘certified journalists’ would be allowed to cover the vote; whereas at the end of November 2020, the authorities expelled three Canadian journalists.

Uganda is now ranked 125th out of 180 countries according to the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index;

Freezing of NGO assets

On 12 December 2020 the government froze the assets of four NGOs active in election campaigns encouraging the participation of women and youth – UWONET, the National NGO Forum, the Women International Peace Centre, and the Alliance of Finance Election Monitoring – on charges of financing terrorism.

Blasting Western governments

Increasingly anti-Western rhetoric has been present in the election campaign and statements by President Museveni;

Unregistered voters

One million young eligible voters were not registered by the Uganda National Electoral Commission, which claimed to lack the material resources to register them.

Corruption

The UN Human Development Index ranks Uganda 159th out of 189, and whereas according to Transparency International, Uganda ranks 137th out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Gay Rights

Uganda has one of the world’s harshest laws against homosexuality and whereas discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people persists.

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