Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement party. During the year voters re-elected Museveni to a sixth five-year term and returned a National Resistance Movement majority to the unicameral parliament. Allegations of arbitrary killings of opposition supporters, disenfranchisement and voter intimidation, harassment of the opposition, closure of social media websites, and lack of transparency and independence in the Electoral Commission marred the elections, which fell short of international standards. The periods before, during, and after the elections were marked by a closing of political space, disappearances of opposition supporters, intimidation of journalists, and reports of widespread use of torture by security agencies.
The national police maintain internal security, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees police. The president detailed army officials to leadership roles within the police force and the executive, including government ministries. The law also allows the military to support police operations to maintain internal security. The Ministry of Defense oversees the army. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government forces, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government agencies; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including unlawful civilian harm; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecution of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious flaws with citizens’ ability to determine their government through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and child, early, and forced marriage; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government often restricted this right.
Freedom of Expression: The government restricted citizens’ ability to criticize its actions or to discuss matters of public interest. It also restricted some political symbols. Police and military arrested persons it found wearing camouflage clothing, red berets, and red insignia associated with Kyagulanyi’s People Power political movement and the NUP party, which security agencies stated were reserved for use by security forces (see section 1.e.). Military police officers wear red berets, which feature a different logo from those on the berets NUP supporters wear. On March 22, local media reported that CMI officers had on March 12 arrested NUP member James Mubiru in Kasubi Town for wearing a red beret. The military arraigned Mubiru before a military court on March 22 and charged him with possession of military stores. On August 31, the military court released Mubiru on bail, but his trial continued at year’s end.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: 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 police’s Media and Political Crimes Unit and the communications regulator, Uganda Communications Commission, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media. Journalists, opposition politicians, and human rights activists reported that authorities wielded control over editorial decisions at public broadcasters and at some private media outlets as well.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces subjected journalists and media houses to violence, harassment, and intimidation. On January 8, the inspector general of police warned journalists who insisted on covering violent protests that police officers would beat them “for their safety.” On February 17, military police officers beat with sticks and batons at least 20 journalists who gathered at the site of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kampala to cover Kyagulanyi delivering a petition. Several journalists were hospitalized with injuries to their heads, feet, and ankles, and others lost audio and visual equipment destroyed by military police officers. On February 18, a military court arraigned, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced seven military police officers who the court declared had assaulted the journalists to varying jail terms of up to 90 days. Some officers received an administrative reprimand.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to its guidelines and directly and indirectly censored media, including by controlling licensing and advertising, instructing editors to suspend critical journalists, and arresting and beating journalists. 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. Journalists, under government pressure, practiced self-censorship. According to local media, police officers in Jinja District on election day January 14 shut down Busoga One FM after the station broadcasted preliminary election results, which authorities stated incited violence and interfered with the electoral process. Police allowed the station to reopen on January 23.
Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel, defamation, and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials. According to human rights activists, on April 6, police interrogated online journalists Pidson Kareire and Darius Magara after they published a November 2020 report that questioned the competence of a road construction company. Police directed Kareire and Magara to report weekly to the police’s Criminal Investigations Directorate. Upon reporting on May 27, police officers detained them, arraigned them in court, and charged them with criminal defamation. The court remanded them to prison until June 17, when it released them on bail. Their trial continued at year’s end.
National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies. On June 24, police officers interrogated Monitor Publications Limited’s managing director Tony Glencross and managing editor Tabu Butagira as part of investigations into allegations of publication of false news, criminal libel, and incitement of violence. Police began the investigation following the newspaper’s May 31 report describing a BBC investigation that identified two official security vehicles whose occupants shot and killed unarmed civilians during the November 2020 protests. According to local media, police detectives said the publication “promoted sectarianism” and was “prejudicial” to national security.
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. Most refugees enjoyed unhindered access to asylum, freedom of movement, freedom of residence, right to registration and documentation, and access to justice, education, health care, and employment.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals fleeing South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (if the Congolese are from eastern DRC) who enter the country through a designated border point have automatic prima facie refugee status (status without determination of individual refugee status). The local Refugee Eligibility Committee, however, determines whether individuals fleeing from Rwanda, Somalia, Burundi, and other countries are eligible for refugee status. The committee was functional, but COVID-19-associated lockdowns, administrative matters, and the continued influx of asylum seekers continued to cause backlogs, although UNHCR and the government were working to address them. Although the country’s border had been closed since the onset of COVID-19, the government continued to accept most of the asylum seekers that entered informally.
Refoulement: There was one report of refoulement. UNHCR confirmed reports that the government returned 88 asylum seekers from the DRC to their country of origin and handed them over to DRC authorities in December 2020. The asylum seekers entered the country informally, amid COVID-19 restrictions and border closures, as three separate groups fleeing violence in eastern DRC. Despite assurances from the government that the asylum seekers would be permitted to remain in the country, they were returned to the DRC.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Some refugees continued to report that government officials demanded bribes from refugees to process or issue paperwork, including for refugees to acquire land. On September 13, local media reported on an incident in Nakivale Refugee Settlement where government workers allegedly charged refugees between 500,000 shillings ($139) and 1,000,000 shillings ($279) as registration fees for settlement on land belonging to the host community.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept third-country refugees for resettlement, but it assisted in the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their homes and supported the resettlement of third-country refugees to other countries by providing birth certificates and travel documents. A 2015 constitutional court ruling confirmed that certain long-term refugees have the right to naturalize, and in 2016 the government committed to begin processing naturalization cases for an estimated 15,000 refugees who had resided in the country for approximately 20 years. During the year there were no known cases of a refugee having completed naturalization.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who were not registered as refugees, with the government designating them “guests of the President,” and provided it to approximately 50 persons during the year.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment and confiscation of the convicted persons’ property for official corruption. Nevertheless, transparency civil society organizations stated the government did not implement the law effectively, and there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and many corruption cases remained pending for years.
Corruption:On September 1, parliament resolved that the auditor general carry out a forensic audit into four trillion shillings ($1.1 billion) of government expenditure to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 since the financial year 2019-20, after members of parliament and the auditor general found numerous cases of “unauthorized diversion of funds, irregular use of direct procurements, procurements without signed contracts, late delivery of goods, and payment before receiving goods.” A parliament select committee found that the Ministry of Health’s accounting for funds spent in the financial year 2019-20 was questionable because the ministry’s records showed its expenditure exceeded the amount it received by 7 percent. On March 11, the auditor general reported that an audit into financial year 2019-20 expenditure showed that 25 government agencies spent 144 billion shillings ($40.2 million) without adhering to procurement rules. The report added that 284 million shillings ($79,200) in other government expenditure remained unaccounted for, that the Office of the Prime Minister lacked sufficient evidence to prove it delivered 56 billion shillings ($15.6 million) worth of COVID-19 relief items, and that at least 18 percent of relief items distributed by the Office of the Prime Minister failed quality checks. The auditor general had not released details of the forensic audit by year’s end.