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.”