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Uganda

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of disappearances by government authorities. Local media, opposition political parties, cultural leaders, human rights lawyers, and religious leaders reported that the military – particularly the Chieftaincy for Military Intelligence (CMI) and the Special Forces Command (SFC) – and police used unmarked Toyota Hiace vans, locally known as “drones,” to kidnap hundreds of NUP supporters in the periods before, during, and after the January 14 general election, and detained them without charge at unidentified locations. On March 4, the NUP released a list of 423 supporters who had gone missing after abductions by security agencies. Authorities released inconsistent information regarding the number of missing NUP supporters. On February 4, outgoing Minister for Internal Affairs Jeje Odongo stated the government was investigating allegations of the kidnapping of 44 NUP supporters, 31 of whom could not be traced. On March 4, Odongo denied allegations of disappearances by security agencies and declared the agencies had arrested and charged 222 individuals in connection with protests in November 2020. On March 7, President Museveni stated CMI had detained “177 suspects who were either granted bail by court or released,” and was still then holding another 65 suspects, while SFC had detained 68 suspects in Kampala, Kyotera, Mpigi, Mukono, and Nakasongola Districts. Museveni added, “The disappearances were a consequence of the essentially treasonable acts of elements of the opposition” and “their foreign backers who wanted to install a quisling regime in Uganda.” According to local media reports, security agencies released some of the missing persons, but NUP leaders reported that hundreds of NUP supporters remained missing at year’s end. Numerous NUP supporters released by the security agencies told local media that they experienced torture at the hands of security officers, who dumped the NUP supporters by the roadside in swamps, thickets, and forests upon their release.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The law stipulates that any person convicted of an act of torture may receive a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. The penalty for conviction of aggravated torture is life imprisonment. Nevertheless, there were credible reports security forces tortured and physically abused suspects. Impunity was a problem.

Human rights organizations, opposition politicians, and local media reported that security agencies tortured suspects as well as dissidents to extract self-incriminating confessions and as punishment for their opposition to the government, leading to several deaths. According to media reports, numerous NUP supporters released from detention by the security forces reported that security officers shot them in the legs, beat them with sticks and batons on their joints, and pulled out their toenails using pliers, while simultaneously ordering them to confess to participating in plots to burn fuel stations in Kampala. NUP member and local government official Cyrus Samba Kasato told local media on March 2 that CMI officers tied him by his hands to suspend him with his feet off the ground and then beat and slapped him for refusing to support the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government.

Local media reported that hazing was a common practice in prisons and sometimes resulted in death.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists reported that police officers and medical personnel carried out forced anal examinations on members of the LGBTQI+ community whom they arrested at what was alleged to be a same-sex engagement ceremony (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Local media reported that security forces beat some persons while enforcing regulations to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. On June 6, the president announced renewed restrictions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which included an indefinite closure of all schools, a ban on religious gatherings, restrictions on interdistrict public and private transport, and a closure of nonessential business, which he would later expand to include a ban on all nonessential travel and a night-time curfew. The president instructed police and the military to enforce the regulations. Local media reported several incidents in which police and military officers indiscriminately beat persons they found outside after the nighttime curfew with sticks, batons, and gunstocks, maiming some and killing others. On June 28, local media reported that Monica Musenero, the minister in the office of the president in charge of science, technology, and innovation, instructed the resident district commissioner of Butebo District to “spank” and “beat” persons breaching COVID-19 restrictions.

Impunity was a problem, and it was widespread in police, the military, the prisons service, and the executive branch. The security forces did not take adequate measures to investigate and bring to account officers implicated in human rights abuses, especially in incidents involving members of the political opposition. Authorities encouraged and gave political and judicial cover to officials who committed human rights abuses. Security agencies did not take timely or adequate steps to investigate the November 2020 security force killings of unarmed civilians. When a BBC investigation identified two official vehicles whose occupants were responsible for some of the killings, police officers instead summoned the journalists who reported the story for questioning, arguing they incited violence. While addressing a press conference on January 8, the Inspector General of Police, Martin Okoth Ochola, told journalists that police officers would continue beating journalists who insisted on covering violent protests “for their own safety.” The president gave contradictory public messages regarding human rights abuses; although he condemned arbitrary arrests, acts of torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment by the security agencies in a televised speech on August 14, he also commended the security forces for arbitrary arrests and disappearances on March 7. The president also stated that he had led a training session on February 15 with SFC officers in which he taught them to exercise restraint while enforcing crowd control measures, including not shooting at “rioters” except if the rioter threatened a civilian’s life.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in detention centers remained harsh and, in some cases, life threatening due to gross overcrowding, physical abuse of detainees by security staff and fellow inmates, inadequate food, and understaffing. The government operated unofficial detention facilities where it detained suspects for years without charge.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding remained a problem. On November 4, the Minister for Internal Affairs told parliament’s Budget Committee that the prison population was at least 70,000 inmates, which was more than the 22,000-inmate capacity that the prisons service reported in August. Most prisons did not have accommodations for persons with disabilities, and police often detained child and adult suspects together.

Local media reported several deaths in prisons due to prison conditions and abuse by prison staff. On May 25, local media reported that a 62-year-old inmate at Masindi prison, Samuel Rubalire, died alongside 28-year-old prison warden Abel Owori after the two suffocated inside a septic tank. According to local media, prison authorities instructed Rubalire to enter a septic tank and unblock a sewerage channel, where he was overcome by gas. When Owori entered the tank to rescue the inmate, he also suffocated. A police spokesperson told local media that police were investigating the deaths but had released no findings of its investigations by year’s end.

The charity organization Justice Defenders reported in February that former detainees said prisons had inadequate water supply, prison wards were crowded, and prisoners slept sometimes without blankets on the floor and in the corridors by the toilet. Former Kitalya prison detainees, especially political prisoners, reported that prisoners slept on the floor on their side since there was not enough room to sleep on their backs. They also reported that prisoners developed frequent bouts of cough, scabies, lice, and diarrhea. Local government authorities in Kalangala District told local media on July 9 that overcrowding had led to an outbreak of COVID-19 infections at Mugoye prison.

Administration: Authorities did not always carry out investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment. Previous detainees told local media that CMI held up to hundreds of detainees in a basement at its headquarters and denied them access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: Local human rights organizations reported that the prisons service suspended monitoring visits as part of measures to combat COVID-19. The International Committee of the Red Cross visited 14 places of detention in accordance with its standard procedures. Findings from these visits on detainees’ treatment and living conditions were submitted to and discussed confidentially with authorities, including CMI, police, and the prisons service.

Improvements: On August 31, the prisons service recruited 364 extra warders, which increased the staffing levels to 10,716. The prison service also reported on August 17 that it made available 13,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to an earlier 2,000 doses, for high-risk inmates.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, which is punishable by life imprisonment or death. The law does not address spousal rape. The law defines rape as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl without her consent.” Men accused of raping men are tried under a section of the law that prohibits “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” The law also criminalizes domestic violence and provides up to two years’ imprisonment for conviction.

Rape remained a common problem throughout the country, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. Local media reported numerous incidents of rape, often involving kidnapping and killings of women, but authorities were often unable to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable. Local media often reported that perpetrators of rape included persons in authority, such as religious leaders, local government officials, police and military officers, health-care workers, and academic staff. According to local media and human rights activists, many rape survivors lacked faith in government institutions to bring their abusers to justice and declined to report the crime, while others remained silent to avoid stigmatization. Human rights activists and local media reported that, even when women reported cases of rape to police, officers blamed the women for causing the rape by dressing indecently, took bribes from the alleged perpetrators to stop the investigation and to pressure the survivors into withdrawing the cases, or simply dismissed the accusations and refused to record them. According to human rights activists, police personnel lacked the required skills for collection, preservation, and management of forensic evidence in sexual violence cases. Human rights activists also reported that some police stations lacked female officers on the staff, which discouraged rape survivors from reporting their cases. On March 16, local media reported that police in Moroto District arrested one of its officers, Moses Steven Ebu, on allegations of rape. According to local media, the survivor sought refuge at Camp Swahili Police Post after she was unable to find public transport home before curfew. Ebu allegedly raped her at the police post. On March 18, local media reported that police had arraigned Ebu in court and charged him with rape. The trial continued at year’s end.

Human rights activists also noted that government restrictions on movement to combat COVID-19 made it difficult for survivors to report rape or access postexposure prophylaxis after rape. Local government officials, academics, and journalists reported that gender-based violence was common and worsened during restrictions to combat COVID-19. Human rights activists reported that the restrictions increased poverty for many households, which raised tensions and conflict in domestic settings, particularly violence against women. The activists also reported that during the June to July COVID-19 lockdown, some survivor support centers closed and rendered many survivors unable to access help. On September 1, local media reported that military officer Samuel Ojara shot and killed himself after he had shot and killed a 20-year-old woman identified as Sharon Okello in what the police stated was an attempted rape.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and establishes a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted perpetrators, or life imprisonment if the victim dies; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. According to the 2016 Demographics and Health Survey, 0.3 percent of the female population younger than age 50 had undergone FGM/C. Local media and government officials, however, reported that the practice was common among some communities along the eastern border with Kenya. Government officials reported that some parents and cultural leaders in the Karamoja subregion used the school closures due to COVID-19 to force teenage girls to undergo FGM/C, which led many girls to flee into neighboring Kenya. Local government leaders also reported that some cultural leaders in Amudat District traveled to Kenya on the pretext of celebrating the end-of-year December-January holiday season and subjected girls to FGM/C. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated FGM/C incidents by enabling practitioners to carry out the practice in hiding. UNFPA also reported that the government had committed $55,000 to interventions against FGM/C in the Sebei subregion. The resident district commissioner in Amudat District announced on February 25 that the government had recruited a network of informers in communities throughout the district who would strengthen surveillance and enforcement efforts against FGM/C. UNICEF reported that it was working with 20 young men married to women who did not undergo FGM/C as social ambassadors to convince communities that FGM/C was unnecessary.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to local media and human rights activists, violence against widows was prevalent. The activists reported that widows in remote areas complained that their deceased husband’s families forced them to marry their brothers-in-law to compensate for the bride price paid to their families. The law does not explicitly provide widows with the opportunity to consent before marrying their brothers-in-law. Local media also reported that many widows in remote areas experienced sexual violence at the hands of their deceased husband’s family and lost their rights to property (see section 6, Discrimination).

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, but authorities did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual harassment was a widespread problem in homes, schools, universities, workplaces, public transport, public spaces, media, and in the music and entertainment industry. Local media reported numerous incidents of senior executives, public servants in the legislature and judiciary, and music producers who demanded sexual favors from female subordinates in exchange for job retention, promotion, and nomination for official trips. On May 7, parliament called for the prosecution of philanthropist Bryan Kirumira, also known as Bryan White, after parliament’s Committee on Human Rights found that he sexually harassed women he employed in his charity, the Bryan White Foundation. The committee found that the military and police provided Kirumura with protection, which intimidated survivors and deterred them from seeking justice. The public prosecutor had not brought any charges against Kirumira by year’s end.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Human rights activists reported that although persons with disabilities had the right to access reproductive services, the absence of health workers with the ability to communicate with blind and deaf patients meant that many persons with disabilities did not receive all the information they needed regarding reproductive health services. LGBTQI+ activists reported that members of the community were able to provide informed consent before receiving reproductive health treatment. LGBTQI+ activists also reported that police officers carried out forced anal examinations against some members of the LGBTQI+ community (see section 1.c. and section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.)

Local media and human rights activists reported that cultural practices in some remote areas impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services. On May 21, local media reported that some women in Amudat District complained that their husbands prevented them from accessing reproductive health services because they wanted to have as many children as possible. Human rights activists reported the COVID-19 lockdown led to closure of some reproductive health service providers and prevented many women from accessing reproductive health services. The activists also reported that women in remote areas where there were few health-care providers found it difficult to access reproductive health information. LGBTQI+ activists reported that some public health officials declined to provide health services, including reproductive health services, to LGBTQI+ persons.

Human rights activists reported that some police Family and Child Protection units often ran out of postexposure prophylaxis for rape survivors and many public health-care facilities lacked emergency contraception medication.

Maternal mortality was 375 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and local civil society organizations. Media attributed the high rate to a lack of access to skilled medical care for pregnant women, a preference for traditional birth attendants over skilled medical workers, and unsafe abortions. Human rights activists reported that travel restrictions to combat COVID-19 prevented many women, especially in remote areas, from accessing neonatal and prenatal health care. According to the WHO, adolescent birth rates were high, at 111.4 per 1,000 girls for the period 2011 to 2020. According to human rights activists and the WHO, statutory rape, child sexual exploitation, a high rate of school dropouts that led to and was also caused by teenage pregnancies, limited knowledge of contraception among teenagers, and school closures due to COVID-19 countermeasures were among the causes.

There were social and cultural barriers related to menstruation and access to menstruation hygiene that impacted girls’ ability to participate equally in society including many limits on girls’ access to education. Local media reported many girls lacked access to menstrual hygiene materials, including sanitary towels. This caused many to suffer stigmatization and bullying, which led many to drop out of school. Local media and child rights activists reported that girls who became pregnant while in school almost always dropped out of school. According to child rights activists, public and private schools dismissed and declined to readmit girls who became pregnant while in school. On March 26, local media reported that the government had adopted a new policy directing that all girls who become pregnant while in school would undergo mandatory maternity leave at three months of the pregnancy and would return to school six months after delivery. The new policy also directed that a boy responsible for the pregnancy would simultaneously drop out of school until the girl returned. The government also advised that girls change school after giving birth to avoid stigmatization (see section 6, Children).

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Human rights activists reported numerous cases of discrimination against women, including in divorce, employment, education, and owning or managing businesses and property. Many customary laws discriminate against women in adoption, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Under customary laws in many areas, widowed women cannot own or inherit property or retain custody of their children. Traditional divorce law in many areas requires women to meet stricter evidentiary standards than men to prove adultery. In some ethnic groups, men can “inherit” the widows of their deceased brothers. The law does not recognize cohabiting relationships, and women involved in such relationships had no judicial recourse to protect their rights.

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