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. 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), marred the elections that also fell short of international standards. 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.
The national police maintain internal security. While the army is responsible for external security, the president detailed army officials to leadership roles within the police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture; and arbitrary detention by government agencies. The government was also responsible for harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; detainment of political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; lack of independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; significant acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons (LGBTI); and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated with government restrictions. The government restricted and failed to cooperate with most domestic and international NGOs, especially those focused on governance and human rights (see section 2.b.). The president repeatedly accused civil society of accepting funding from foreign donors interested in destabilizing the country.
On February 13, 19 NGOs received hand-delivered letters from the UPF asking for information about their services, details of their staff members, sources of funding, and immigration status of foreign workers. Under current law the government requires all NGOs to provide this information to the government-run NGO Bureau when they register. On February 23, the NGO Forum, an organization that represents NGOs in the country, wrote a letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs objecting to this new directive. At year’s end the ministry had not responded to the letter, and the 19 NGOs had not submitted the requested information. On August 7, the Ministry of Internal Affairs started a month-long national exercise to reverify all NGOs in the country. According to the ministry, there were more than 10,000 NGOs with expired permits in the country. On September 7, the NGO Forum wrote to the Ministry of Internal Affairs asking for an extension of the reverification deadline, noting that many rural NGOs had limited internet access and found it difficult to complete the requirements in such a limited time but the Ministry of Internal Affairs refused to extend the deadline. On November 16, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that it had shut 12,000 NGOs that missed the reverification exercise, requiring them to restart the lengthy registration process if they wished to continue to operate. The ministry said that only the 2,200 NGOs that completed the reverification exercise would be permitted to operate.
On August 8, the government’s anti-money-laundering agency, the FIA, sent a letter to banks asking for financial information and three years of bank statements for 13 NGOs. All the NGOs targeted were governance, anticorruption, or environmental activism NGOs and were vocal critics of government activities. Among the NGOs was the DGF, the largest pool of donor funding for governance-related activities in the country. Civil society leaders and opposition politicians claimed that the request amounted to “blackmail” and was an attempt to stall the organizations’ activities, an allegation that the government denied.
The government was often hostile to concerns of local and international human rights organizations, and government officials dismissed NGO claims of human rights abuses by security forces. On June 28, media reported that 149 civil society organizations under the umbrella body, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda, had petitioned the government to release reports on and prosecute culprits of 35 unsolved break-ins in their offices since 2014. Civil society leaders also noted that, in addition to electronic equipment and cash, thieves sometimes stole documents that had no financial values. In the second break-in during the year, on August 12, Rainbow Mirrors, a civil society organization advocating for the rights of transgender sex workers, reported on social media that unidentified persons broke into their offices. The organization filed a complaint with the police, which did not report details of investigations by year’s end.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The UHRC is the constitutionally mandated institution with quasi-judicial powers authorized 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 pursues suspected human rights abusers, including in the military and police forces. It visits and inspects places of detention and holds private conferences with detainees on their conditions in custody. It investigates reports of human rights abuses, reports to parliament its annual findings, and recommends measures to improve the executive’s respect of human rights. The UHRC reported that the executive did not always implement its recommendations. On August 16, the UHRC Chair stated that security agencies had not yet paid more than 8.2 billion shillings ($2.2 million) that the UHRC had awarded to victims of torture since 2001. According to local media, the chair said the delay occurred because the Ministry of Finance had not released 5 billion shillings ($1.3 million) to the attorney general for compensation fees and had not responded to letters from the president requesting the release of these funds. According to the UHRC 2018 annual report, a 2016 policy change that made each institution, rather than the attorney-general, responsible for compensating victims had caused delays, since the various institutions, particularly the UPF and the UPDF, had not budgeted for these large awards. On March 30, President Museveni signed the Human Rights (Enforcement) Act 2019, which changes the existing policy and makes individual perpetrators responsible for compensating victims. By year’s end courts had not yet convicted any individual or institution under this law. Some human rights activists and complainants said the UHRC lacked the courage to stand up to the executive in politically sensitive cases. According to local media, opposition politicians said the UHRC limited its actions pertaining to human rights violations to public statements and reports.
The Committee on Human Rights is the legislative team mandated to monitor and report on human rights concerns in all parliamentary business, monitor government’s compliance with national and international human rights instruments, study UHRC recommendations, and hold the executive accountable for the respect of human rights. On August 15, the committee opened an investigation into allegations that ISO kidnapped and tortured detainees at safe houses. Local media reported that, following reports from witnesses that security agents followed and intimidated them, the speaker of parliament asked the government to respect the rule of law and cooperate with the Committee. On September 4, Minister of Security Tumwine confirmed there were “several safe houses,” but said he would not permit the committee to visit them. On September 6, families of individuals detained in safe houses told the committee about difficulties obtaining information about or seeing their relatives, including a number who held for over two years. The following day ISO released to the police 60 detainees from custody in safe houses. On September 10, media reported that ISO barred members of the committee from accessing potential safe houses at four locations. Powers of the committee were limited to producing a report with recommendations, and tabling it to parliament, which would decide how to move forward.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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 penal code 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 penal code 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 kidnap and killings of women, but the 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, UPF and UPDF officers, teachers, and university staff. According to local media and local civil society organizations, rape victims often felt powerless to report their abusers, in part to avoid stigmatization. Civil society organizations and local media reported that, even when women reported cases of rape to the police, UPF 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 victims into withdrawing the cases, or simply dismissed the accusations and refused to record them. According to civil society organizations, UPF personnel lacked the required skills for collection, preservation, and management of forensic evidence in sexual violence cases. On February 18, local media reported that a male UPF officer attached to Kirinya Police Station raped a female suspect. According to local media, the officer on the night of February 9 pulled the suspect out of the cell and into the open yard used to store impounded vehicles, where he threatened her with death if she resisted and then raped her. Afterward he ordered her back to the cell. Local media reported that, after the UPF released the victim on police bond, she attempted for three days to report the rape to the same police station, but the officers at Kirinya Police Station refused to record the case. The victim then reported the matter to Kira Police Station, where the officers recorded the matter and had the errant officer arrested. The UPF said it was conducting investigations in order to charge its officer with rape in court but did not do so by year’s end.
Gender-based violence was also common according to local media and civil society organizations. On August 12, local media reported that a UPDF officer beat an 18-year-old pregnant woman after she declined his sexual advances. The UPDF said it had arrested the officer as it carried out its investigations but did not reveal any findings by year’s end. The local civil society organizations Action Aid, MIFUMI, and the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention operated shelters in regions across the country where victims of gender-based violence could receive counseling and legal advice.
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. According to the 2016 Demographics and Health Survey (DHS), the latest DHS, 0.3 percent of the female population under age 50 have undergone FGM/C. On January 21, local media reported that large “gangs” of at least 100 persons, armed with machetes and sticks, marched through Kween district, forcibly dragged girls out of their houses, and subjected them to FGM/C. Local media reported that the gangs beat up UPF officers who attempted to intervene. Deputy Minister for Gender, Labor, and Social Development Peace Mutuuzo said persons who aspired to political office in the 2021 local elections in Kween, Kapchorwa, and Bukwo regions, where FGM/C was prevalent, were funding FGM/C as a strategy for winning hearts and minds. The UPF said it had arrested 16 men and three women it suspected of involvement in forceful FGM/C. The speaker of parliament noted that the government allocated 200 million shillings ($53,333) annually to fight FGM/C, and Mutuuzo said her ministry used this money to sensitize communities against the practice.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to local media and NGOs, ritual child killings, violence against widows, and acid attacks were prevalent. Local media reported that traditional healers (witch doctors) kidnapped and killed children to use their organs for ancestral worship. Local NGOs reported cases in which wealthy entrepreneurs and politicians paid traditional healers to sacrifice children to ensure their continued wealth and then bribed police officers to stop the investigations. On August 23, local media reported that the UPF had started a manhunt for a man who attempted to kill his daughter as sacrifice in ancestral worship. Emmanuel Bwana reportedly blindfolded his 13-year-old daughter and drove her to an animist’s shrine, where they stripped her naked and started to perform traditional rituals. The animist, however, rejected the girl as sacrifice because she was menstruating. The UPF did not arrest the man by year’s end.
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, and in public spaces. Local media reported numerous incidents of male senior public servants in the legislature and judiciary who demanded sexual favors from female subordinates in exchange for job retention, promotion, and nomination for official trips. Local media reported that public attorney Samantha Mwesigye on March 10 petitioned the Office of the Prime Minister seeking action against her superior, Deputy Solicitor General Christopher Gashirabake, who, she said, sexually harassed her for 10 years. Mwesigye noted that she had received no assistance despite having written to the Solicitor General several times over the years and had instead been advised to “use peaceful means” to resolve the issue instead of instituting a sexual harassment committee to carry out investigations as mandated by law. On May 20, the Solicitor General said he had finally formed a committee to investigate Mwesigye’s allegations. The committee concluded on August 21 that it had cleared Gashirabake of the sexual harassment allegations having found no evidence to prove that he had victimized Mwesigye. On September 2, local media reported that Mwesigye missed her August salary after the judiciary took her off its payroll. According to local media, the judiciary said Mwesigye went off the payroll automatically after she absconded from work for 30 days.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Local NGOs 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. Local NGOs reported that the government occasionally paid significantly less compensation to women than men in exchange for land it repossessed, while in some cases, it forcefully evicted women without compensation. 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 have no judicial recourse to protect their rights.
Birth Registration: The law accords citizenship to children born inside or outside the country if at least one parent or grandparent is a citizen at the time of birth. Abandoned children younger than age 18 with no known parents are considered citizens, as are children younger than 18 adopted by citizens.
The law requires citizens to register a birth within three months. Lack of birth registration generally did not result in denial of public services although some primary schools, especially those in urban centers, required birth certificates for enrollment. Enrollment in public secondary schools, universities, and other tertiary institutions required birth certificates. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: The law provides for compulsory education through the completion of primary school by age 13, and the government provided tuition-free education in select public primary and secondary schools (ages six to 18 years). Parents, however, were required to provide lunch and schooling materials for their children, expenses that many parents could not afford. Local media and civil society organizations reported that early and forced marriages and teenage pregnancy led to a higher rate of school dropouts for girls than for boys.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits numerous forms of child abuse and provides penalties of 2,400,000 shillings ($640) or five-year imprisonment or both for persons convicted of abusing children’s rights. The law defines “statutory rape” as any sexual contact outside marriage with a child younger than the age of 18, regardless of consent or age of the perpetrator, carrying a maximum penalty of death. Victims’ parents, however, often opted to settle cases out of court for a cash or in-kind payment. Corporal punishment in schools is illegal and punishable by up to three-year’s imprisonment. The law also provides for protection of children from hazardous employment and harmful traditional practices, including child marriage and FGM/C. Despite the law a pattern of child abuse existed in sexual assault, physical abuse, ritual killings, early marriage, FGM/C, child trafficking, infanticide, and child labor, among other abuses. Local media reported that in the vast majority of schools beating with a cane was the preferred method of discipline. A 2018 UNICEF report stated that three in four children had experienced physical violence both at home and in school. Government statistics also showed that more than one in three girls experienced sexual violence during her childhood, and that most did not report the incidents because they feared they would be shamed or embarrassed. Local media reported in February that traffickers at Arapai market in Soroti district auctioned off children, whose purchasers thereafter often forced them into sexual exploitation and begging (see section 7.c.).
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but authorities generally did not enforce this law. The DHS 2016 reported that 34 percent of women ages 20-24 married before age 18. Local media and civil society organizations reported that some parents in rural areas forced their teenage daughters into marriage after they got pregnant while others did so to earn dowries. Several local governments passed ordinances to outlaw early marriages. The Buyende District local government requires local government leaders to see birth certificates for the couple before registering marriages in order to confirm that the couple had reached the age of consent.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, the sale and procurement of sexual services, and practices related to child pornography. It sets the minimum age for consensual sex at 18 years. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however, and the problem was pervasive. On February 29, local media reported that the UPF arrested a 71-year-old German philanthropist, Bernhard Bery Glaser, on allegations that he sexually abused girls at his gender-based-violence shelter in Kalangala district. The UPF reported that Glaser kept 30 girls at the shelter and forced them to take turns sleeping in his bedroom. Local UPF personnel told local media that they approved transfer of the girls to the shelter despite having received prior reports from the community over a five-year period suggesting wrongdoing at the shelter. The government charged Glaser with aggravated defilement and trafficking on April 2. The trial continued at year’s end.
Child Soldiers: The LRA, an armed group of Ugandan origin operating in the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, continued to hold children against their will.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Local media and civil society organizations reported numerous incidents where animists killed children as sacrifice in ancestral worship.
Displaced Children: Local civil society organizations and media reported that poverty and famine drove families in the remote northeast Karamoja region to send many children to Kampala to find work and beg on the streets. Civil society organizations reported that traffickers often manipulated families in Karamoja to sell their children to traffickers with promises that the children would obtain a good education or a profitable job. Instead, traffickers forced the children to beg on the streets of Kampala or other major cities and gave them almost none of what they earned. Kampala City authorities worked with civil society organizations to return Karamojong street children to their families, but often the families soon returned the children to the streets because they partly depended on their collections to maintain their households.
Institutionalized Children: Local NGOs and the UHRC reported that the UPF often detained child and adult suspects in the same cells and held them beyond the legal limit of 48 hours prior to arraignment. The UHRC attributed this to the absence of juvenile cells at police stations and the continued failure to ascertain the correct age of suspects. According to local media, the UPF also raided several shelters for vulnerable and homeless children where it accused the management of sexually abusing the children.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community had approximately 2,000 members centered in Mbale District, in the eastern part of the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. It provides for access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Local media and activists for persons with disabilities reported that persons with disabilities experienced social prejudice and discrimination in social service delivery and in access to public spaces. According to local media, persons with disabilities said that taxes hampered their access to telecommunication technology. NGOs for persons with disabilities reported that a 2018 tax that levied a daily 200 shillings ($0.05) fee on social media use made communication expensive for deaf people, who used video online apps to communicate. Local media reported that some parents with children with disabilities hid them from the public out of shame, while some physically restrain them from moving by tethering them to tree trunks. Local civil society organizations reported that the government neither ran any support programming for persons with albinism, nor made an effort to establish the number of those with albinism or their concerns.
There were reports that the authorities used violence to displace an ethnic community from disputed land. According to local media and opposition politicians, authorities continued to evict members of the Acholi community from the disputed village of Apaa as they had in prior years. Media reports noted that at least 2,100 Acholi whom the UPDF and the Ugandan Wildlife Authority had evicted since 2017 remained displaced, with no access to farming land. On several occasions the government announced that all residents should vacate Apaa village to make way for a wildlife reserve but reversed the decision after uproar from the community’s leaders. The president then instituted a committee to devise a peaceful solution to the issue, but the committee did not report its findings by year’s end.
Indigenous minorities continued to accuse the government of marginalization that disabled them from participating in decisions affecting their livelihood. The UHRC reported that the government denied recognition to several ethnic minorities, leading them to “experience a sense of exclusion and marginalization.” The UHRC also reported that the government denied ethnic minorities access to adequate social services, particularly healthcare and education. The UHRC reported that the government continued in its refusal to compensate the Benet and Batwa people, whom it displaced from lands it designated as forest reserves. It noted that primary schools in the western part of the country forced pupils from minority ethnicities to study in the languages spoken by the dominant ethnicity in the region.
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal according to a colonial-era law that criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and provides for a penalty of up to life imprisonment. Although the law does not restrict freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly for those speaking out about the human rights of LGBTI persons, in practice the government severely restricted such rights. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services.
LGBTI persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, harassment, violence, and intimidation. Authorities perpetrated violence against LGBTI individuals and blocked some meetings organized by LGBTI persons and activists. Local civil society organizations reported that public and private health-care services turned away LGBTI persons who sought medication and some led community members to beat LGBTI persons who sought health care. Local civil society organizations reported that some LGBTI persons needed to pay bribes to public health-care providers before they received treatment. On October 23, the UPF subjected 16 homosexual and transgender people to forced medical examinations in an effort to “gather evidence” to support criminal charges against them for having participated in activities “against the order of nature.” On May 17, the UPF blocked a public meeting by LGBTI activists and persons to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. UPF officers arrived at the designated venue an hour in advance and turned away guests, saying it was “an illegal assembly.” According to local civil society organizations, the UPF on August 20 arrested 33 transgender persons who were attending a training on sustainable development goals. On August 21, the government charged the 33 with holding an illegal assembly but later released them on bail. The case continued at year’s end.
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, discrimination and stigma were common and inhibited these persons from obtaining treatment and support. Local civil society organizations reported the stigma resulted from limited public knowledge about the methods of HIV transmission as well as “the belief that having HIV is shameful.” Civil society organizations reported that stigma pushed persons living with HIV to exclude themselves from social services and employment opportunities, including care programs. Local media and civil society organizations reported numerous incidents of parents who abandoned children living with HIV; and of persons, particularly men, who abandoned spouses who were living with HIV. The UPF, the UPS, and the UPDF regularly refused to recruit persons who tested positive for HIV, claiming their bodies would be too weak for the rigorous training and subsequent deployment.
In cooperation with the government, international and local NGOs sponsored public awareness campaigns to eliminate the stigma of HIV/AIDS. Government and HIV/AIDS counselors encouraged the population to test for and share information about HIV/AIDS with their partners and family. Persons with HIV/AIDS formed support groups to promote awareness in their communities.
Mob violence remained a problem. Communities often resorted to mob violence due to a lack of confidence in the UPF and the judiciary to deliver justice. They attacked and killed persons suspected of robbery, murder, rape, theft, ritual sacrifice, and witchcraft, among other crimes. Mobs often beat, lynched, burned, and otherwise brutalized their victims. On June 26, local media reported motorcycle taxi drivers in Kampala attacked two men they suspected of attempting to steal a motorcycle. According to media reports, the motorcycle taxi drivers took turns driving over one of the suspects while others beat the second with sticks and stoned him. The UPF said they managed to disperse the mob and take the suspected thieves to the hospital, but one died soon after admission.