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Uganda

Executive Summary

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

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, monitored internet communications without appropriate legal authority, pressured internet platforms and technology companies to restrict content, punished internet users who expressed divergent political views, prohibited online anonymity for some individuals, and disrupted communications prior to elections or planned demonstrations.

Human rights activists, journalists, and opposition politicians reported the ruling party’s communications arm sponsored fake online accounts to attack opposition politicians and activists on social media. On January 11, local media reported that authorities had banned the social media platform Facebook after the company suspended accounts associated with the Ministry of Information’s Government Citizens Interaction Centre. Facebook declared the center had violated the platform’s use policy by engaging in “inauthentic behavior” and seeking to manipulate public opinion in favor of the ruling NRM party ahead of the January 14 elections. On January 12, President Museveni stated he banned Facebook for “being arrogant” and added, “If it is to operate in Uganda, it should be used equitably.” On January 12, the Uganda Communications Commission wrote to internet service providers and instructed them to immediately suspend any access and use of any social media platforms, including messaging applications. On January 13, the evening before the elections, the commission directed internet service providers to shut down all internet access, which lasted until January 18. On January 20, local media reported that outgoing Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa told a meeting of the diplomatic corps that the internet shutdown had prevented incitement of violence during the elections. On February 10, authorities restored access to social media platforms except Facebook, whose ban continued at year’s end.

In April Unwanted Witness Uganda, a digital-rights and free expression group, and Article 19, an international human rights organization focused on freedom of expression and freedom of information, brought a case against the government and service providers for social media blocks during the 2016 election period. The court held that the restrictions were permissible under the constitution, which permits the limitation of constitutionally protected fundamental rights and freedoms.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted artistic presentations, including music lyrics and theatrical performances. Academics and human rights activists reported that authorities prevented the appointment of opposition-leaning academics to senior positions at public universities.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government did not respect this right. The government used COVID-19 restrictions to block and disperse political opposition gatherings and rallies while allowing similar gatherings of ruling party NRM supporters to continue uninterrupted.

According to local media, on January 26, police officers fired teargas and bullets to disperse a procession organized by the opposition Forum for Democratic Change politician John Bosco Ozuma to celebrate his electoral victory. In contrast, ruling party politicians such as Minister for Security Jim Muhwezi held processions to celebrate their victories without interruption by the security agencies.

On March 15, police officers arrested Kyagulanyi and nine NUP officials as they held a procession in Kampala to demonstrate against the security forces’ continued detention without trial of NUP supporters. Kyagulanyi and his colleagues were released without charge the same day.

Freedom of Association

While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government restricted the operations of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), especially those that work on civil and political rights (see section 5). Government regulations require NGOs to disclose sources of funding and personal information about their employees and impose onerous registration and reporting requirements. They enable the NGO Bureau and its local-level structures to deny registration to any organization focused on topics deemed “undesirable” or “prejudicial” to the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” The regulations also provide the NGO Bureau broad powers to inspect NGO offices and records and to suspend their activities without due process. The NGO Bureau imposed registration, permit renewal, and administrative fees that local NGOs declared were exorbitant. Human rights activists reported that NGOs operated in an environment of fear, harassment, and intimidation by security and other officials. They reported that government officials used the laborious registration process to delay issuance or renewal of permits to NGOs, then penalized NGOs for operating without permits. On February 3, local media reported that Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija confirmed that President Museveni had, in a January 2 letter, directed the ministry to suspend the activities of the EU-funded Democratic Governance Facility, which supported operations of many prodemocracy NGOs and some government programs. In the letter, Museveni accused the fund of subverting his government under the guise of improving governance. The fund remained suspended at year’s end. On August 20, the NGO Bureau suspended 54 mainly prodemocracy and human rights organizations for allegedly failing to comply with registration requirements. The NGO Bureau reinstated approximately 25 of the suspended organizations in December.

The government also restricted the operations of opposition political parties (see section 3, Elections and Political Participation).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The law also allows authorities to carry out elections for local government officials by having voters line up behind their preferred candidate or the candidate’s representative, portrait, or symbol. Serious irregularities marred the 2021 presidential and parliamentary elections, including exclusion and intimidation of political opposition members and independent media, significant and widespread voting irregularities, enforced disappearance of opposition political supporters, and violence by security forces.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: During the year the country held its sixth presidential and legislative elections since President Museveni came to power in 1986. The Electoral Commission (EC) announced the president was re-elected with 58.4 percent of the vote, and NUP candidate Robert Kyagulanyi finished second with 35.1 percent. The ruling NRM party captured approximately 63.5 percent of the seats in the 529-member unicameral parliament. There were numerous irregularities in the lead up to, during, and immediate aftermath of the elections. The East African Community Observation Mission reported concerns regarding the EC’s inability to register all eligible voters, a “disproportionate use of force in some instances and accusations of biased enforcement against opposition parties and candidates,” and “actions taken against opposition parties and candidates when it came to accessing [broadcast journalism].” The group also raised concerns regarding the EC’s failure to deliver “timely accreditation and issuance of accreditation documents to domestic observers.” Authorities harassed and blocked some domestic independent election observers from observing the electoral process and limited the number of some foreign and diplomatic election observation missions. On January 13, government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo told local media that the government limited the number of accredited observers. Authorities on January 13 also shut down the internet for five days.

On election day, January 14, police officers raided a civil society election data center and arrested 27 NGO staff and volunteers on what a police spokesperson said were suspicions that the staffers had “ulterior motives, which might incite violence in this country.” Local media reported on January 27 that police had released all 27 without charge. Local media reported numerous incidents of ballot stuffing and showed several videos of individuals wearing military and police uniforms premarking and stuffing ballots. Police detained Kyagulanyi at his home between January 14 and January 25. Due to election disputes stemming from previous elections, in 2016 the Supreme Court recommended changes to electoral laws to increase fairness, including campaign finance reform and equal access for all candidates to state-owned media. The government had not yet enacted laws to comply with these recommendations.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition parties reported that security agencies interfered with party operations and arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition leaders and intimidated and beat their supporters, ostensibly to prevent incitement to violence (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.d.).

On January 5, local media reported that FM radio stations in the Teso subregion had denied access to at least five opposition presidential candidates during the election campaign. On January 18, local media and the NUP reported that police and military officers sealed off the party’s secretariat, which according to the party prevented any staffers from accessing it, thereby disorganizing the party’s preparations for a legal challenge to the election results. According to local media, a police spokesperson said, “It’s not a siege but simply a security operation to neutralize threats that were detected.” On the same day, police officers enforced a blockade at Kyagulanyi’s home, preventing his lawyers from entering so he could not record a statement in preparation for his presidential election petition. Local media reported on February 16 that security officers had vacated the NUP secretariat’s premises. Opposition political parties reported that security officers and executives at government-controlled media blocked opposition politicians from accessing media houses.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law mandates affirmative action seats in parliament and in local government councils be reserved for women, youth, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities, and the government implemented the law effectively. On June 8, President Museveni appointed the country’s first female prime minister, Robinah Nabbanja. Cultural factors, high costs, and sexual harassment, however, limited women’s ability to run for political office. Female activists reported the official fees required to secure a nomination to run for elected office were prohibitively high and prevented most women from running for election. Activists reported violence and harassment committed by members of the security agencies discouraged women from turning up to cast their ballots, so many preferred to stay in the safety of their homes. Activists reported that the number of women legislators holding open seats dwindled because of the affirmative action policy, which reserved a legislative position for women in each district. They reported that internal political party processes locked women out of contesting for open seats, limiting them to affirmative action seats. Activists also reported that media coverage mocked and trivialized women candidates as well as perpetuated the inequality and subordination of women.

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.

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