Government restricted domestic and international NGOs focused on governance and human rights, including by freezing two organizations’ bank accounts. Accusing them of working to destabilize the government by opposing the government’s plan to rescind Article 102 (b) of the constitution, on September 20, the UPF raided the Kampala offices of human rights NGOs ActionAid and Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS) and raided Solidarity Uganda’s (SU) office in Lira District. Police had secured a search warrant from a magistrate granting them access to the offices’ premises and documents. NGO staff described the raids as “cordon and search operations,” during which staff were prevented from leaving the compound for several hours while police conducted a room-by-room search. According to local media, police confiscated documents, telephones, and computers from the three offices and arrested one SU employee. On September 22, the UPF accused the organizations of “receiving foreign funding to support illegal activities, foment civil unrest, and destabilize the government.” On October 3, authorities directed commercial banks to freeze the business bank accounts of ActionAid and GLISS, and those of GLISS’ staff, as part of an investigation into alleged “conspiracy to commit a felony and money laundering.” On October 11, the NGO Bureau directed 25 NGOs (including GLISS, SU, and ActionAid) to provide a substantial volume of documents, including work plans, and certified copies of bank statements since 2014 within seven days of the directive. Affected NGOs complained that this directive created an onerous burden and violated the 2015 NGO Act’s stipulation that registered organizations would not have to provide additional documentation prior to the renewal of their operating permit, without due cause, which was not provided. The government continued the freeze on the accounts at year’s end.
Authorities denied LGBTI-related organizations official status due to discriminatory laws preventing their registration, however, and NGOs that worked in the areas of governance, human rights, and political participation were sometimes subject to extra scrutiny. The government was often unresponsive to concerns of local and international human rights organizations, and government officials often dismissed NGO claims of human rights abuses by security forces.
In March, HRW reported security forces used excessive force during the November 2016 raid on King Mumbere’s palace, killing more than 100 persons (see section 1.a). HRW called for the suspension of the operation’s commanding officers and an independent investigation into the security forces’ actions. On March 15, Media Center Executive Director Ofwono Opondo said HRW’s report lacked depth and ignored the deaths of security officers prior to the raid.
Some human rights activists faced intimidation in the course of their work. In May local human rights organization Chapter Four stated police in Kasese arrested its researcher three times for recording statements from persons affected by the raid on the king’s palace. According to Chapter Four, police held the researcher for one or two days each time and then released him without charge.
On August 18, the HRAPF stated that police had closed their investigation into the June 2016 break-in at its office without making any arrests, despite having received security camera footage showing the intruders inside the office. According to the HRAPF, the police concluded the break-in, during which the robbers killed the security guard, was a common robbery.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The UHRC is a constitutionally mandated institution with quasi-judicial powers 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, which had 21 branches nationwide, pursued suspected human rights abusers, including in the military and police forces. The UHRC’s 2016 annual report, released on May 25, recorded 848 human rights cases, an increase of 16 percent from 2015. According to the report, the increase was attributed to increased public awareness of the UHRC’s complaint mechanisms. For the seventh straight year, the highest number of complaints, 73 percent, was against the UPF, of which approximately 40 percent concerned torture and mistreatment. Seven percent of all complaints were against the UPDF, with more than 60 percent of those cases related to torture and mistreatment. By violations, the highest number of cases, 51 percent, involved deprivation of personal liberty by detention beyond 48 hours prior to arraignment--a 77 percent increase from 2015. The second most common violation, 45 percent of cases, was torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, a 10-percent increase from 2015. The UHRC attributed these increases in torture and personal liberty cases to security forces’ heavy-handed responses to opposition activities during the 2016 general elections, as well as postelection violence in Kasese and Bundibugyo Districts. The UHRC noted that torture remained prevalent despite the 2012 Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act. Additionally, the UHRC found that detention beyond 48 hours prior to arraignment remained a problem due to alleged absenteeism of some court magistrates, delays by prosecutors to approve charges submitted by police, lack of resources for police to transport suspects to court, and, at times, police corruption or abuse of office.
According to human rights activists, many victims of torture to whom the UHRC had awarded compensation never received their payment from the government. In 2016 the UHRC awarded an estimated one billion shillings (275,000) in compensation to victims of human rights violations, of which it allocated 40 percent to victims of torture. The UHRC reported the government paid out 35 percent of the total compensation it awarded in 2016. The UHRC stated that in November 2016, the president directed the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development to ensure that the five billion shillings ($1.4 million) in outstanding compensation awards owed to victims of human rights violations, be fully paid by the end of the country’s 2017-18 financial year (June 30, 2018).
Many human rights activists asserted the UHRC lacked the political influence and government support to investigate or identify senior-level officials accused of committing abuses. In May the UHRC summoned senior officials from the Office of the IGP, the UPS, the UPF, the Ministry of Defense, and the UPDF to respond to torture allegations; however, while senior officials from the other agencies attended, the IGP did not attend the meeting or send a representative. According to the UHRC’s 2016 report, the only recommendation the government enacted from its 2015 report was to amend the Children Act, which the UHRC initially recommended in 2011. The UHRC noted that the government also partially implemented 63 percent of its 2015 recommendations, many of which the UHRC had been recommending for several years, including training for parliament on international human rights principles, to ensuring new legislation was in compliance with relevant laws, and translating the constitution into four of the country’s 40 official languages. The government took no action on 36 percent of the 2015 recommendations.
In 2016 the UHRC received 20.6 billion shillings ($5.7 million) in total funding, of which 13.8 billion shillings ($3.8 million) was from the government, and 6.8 billion shillings ($1.9 million) from development partners. Despite having received a 34 percent funding increase compared with 2015, the UHRC’s total funding for 2016 was 6.4 billion shillings (1.76 million) less than its budget request of 27 billion shillings ($7.4 million). The UHRC stated it lacked sufficient funds to implement its mandated activities fully.
The International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High Court, established by judicial decree in 2011, has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, human trafficking, piracy, and other international crimes defined in domestic law. Lack of resources and personnel hindered the ability of the ICD to conduct investigations and prosecutions of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the country. The ICD arraigned Commander Thomas Kwoyelo in 2011 on charges of breaches of the Geneva Conventions, but the start of his trial was repeatedly delayed. In 2014 Kwoyelo’s complaint against the government for indefinite detention was accepted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and, according to Kwoyelo’s lawyers, the request remained pending at year’s end.
The former commander of the Allied Defense Forces, Jamil Mukulu, was arrested in Tanzania in 2015 and extradited to the country on charges of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions for his role in a 1998 attack on a student dormitory that killed more than 100 persons. The state prosecutors failed to produce Mukulu for trial during the year.