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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The law provides for several agencies to investigate, inquire into, and or prosecute unlawful killings by the security forces. Human rights campaigners, however, claimed these agencies were largely ineffective. The constitution established the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) to investigate any person or group of persons for abuses of any human right (see section 5). The Police Disciplinary Court has the power to hear cases of officers who breach the police disciplinary code of conduct. Military courts have the power to hear cases against officers that break military law, which bars soldiers from targeting or killing nonmilitants.
Opposition activists, local media, and human rights activists reported that security forces killed some individuals the government identified as dissidents and those whom it accused of terrorism. On March 13, local media reported that National Unity Platform (NUP) opposition party member Fabian Luuk died at Kiruddu hospital from injuries he sustained during torture while in detention. NUP leaders alleged that military officers arrested Luuka and three others at a checkpoint in Luweero District, after they discovered the four carrying NUP membership cards, while traveling to Jinja district to work as laborers at a sugarcane plantation. According to NUP leaders, military personnel beat the four individuals, killing two of them, Agodri Azori and Obindu, before abandoning Luuka at Nakawa food market in Kampala. The fourth victim, hailing from Terego County, remained unaccounted for. Local media reported that images of Luuka’s body showed “electrocution and burn marks to his arms and legs, severe necrosis of his thigh and legs, along with apparent rotting of tissue.” On March 11, the outgoing Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga stated she had directed parliament’s Committee on Human Rights to investigate Luuka’s death, but the committee had not released a report by year’s end.
Police killed some persons violating COVID-19 curfew regulations. On June 28, local media reported that police arrested Abdrashid Walujjo, one of its officers, after he shot and killed 13-year-old Ester Naula on her way from buying street food after curfew. Police stated Walujjo would be prosecuted for murder, but his trial had not started by year’s end.
Hazing was a common practice in detention facilities and sometimes resulted in death. On July 14, local media reported that Joe Okot Otara, an inmate at Anaka Prison in Nwoya District, died while working alongside fellow inmates at a private farm. Police told local media that a postmortem found Otara died of “cardiac arrest, which resulted from a coronary artery occlusion.” The postmortem, however, noted that Otara bore bruises “on the left clavicle, chest, abdomen, both knees and legs as well as on the anterior plane of the body.” Local media reported that a former fellow inmate said that upon arriving at the farm, four inmate prefects, with encouragement and support from prison wardens, started beating the new inmates working at the farm, including Otara, and left him for dead. According to local media, the former detainee reported that prison wardens surnamed Dratia, Ogwang, and Mazoro ordered hazing for new inmates. The Anaka prison commander, Isaac Aruo, however, denied allegations of torture and said Otara sustained his injuries from a seizure he experienced before death.
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.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, security forces often arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, especially opposition leaders, politicians, activists, demonstrators, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons, and members of the general population accused of violating COVID-19 restrictions. 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.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires that judges or prosecutors issue a warrant before authorities make an arrest unless the arrest occurs 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 for capital offenses within 360 days (120 days if charged with an offense triable by subordinate courts) or release them on bail; however, if prosecutors present 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. Most defendants endured significant delays through the judicial process before the courts could conclude their cases. Security forces often held opposition political members and other suspects incommunicado, under house arrest, or both.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention, particularly of dissidents, remained problems. Police and military on numerous occasions arrested and harassed opposition politicians, their supporters, and private citizens who engaged in peaceful protests and held public rallies. Police arrested some journalists for covering stories related to abuses in connection with the compilation and announcement of election results, government procurement, and land rights (see section 2). Police also raided an LGBTQI+ shelter and arrested occupants, accusing them of violating COVID-19 regulations on social distancing (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). On January 18, opposition politician and NUP presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, reported that police and military officers had, since election day on January 14, surrounded and blockaded his house, jumped over his fence and pitched tents in his compound, and effectively placed him under house arrest. He said the officers blocked him from leaving his house to access his garden or from receiving visitors, beating a member of parliament who attempted to enter his compound. A police spokesperson denied that security agencies had placed Kyagulanyi under house arrest and said the deployment of security forces around his residence was for Kyagulanyi’s own protection. Security officers enforced Kyagulanyi’s house arrest until January 25, when a court ordered the security agencies to remove their personnel. On December 13, Kyagulanyi reported that police and military personnel surrounded his home ahead of a planned December 14 campaign stop to support the NUP candidate in Kayunga District elections. Security personnel departed his home on December 15, and the election took place on December 16.
Pretrial Detention: Case backlogs due to an inefficient judiciary, inadequate police investigations, the absence of plea bargaining prior to 2015, insufficient use of bail, the absence of a time limit for the detention of detainees awaiting trial, and COVID-19 countermeasures contributed to frequent prolonged pretrial detentions. On August 31, the prisons service reported that the population of pretrial detainees accounted for 53 percent of the country’s then inmate population of 65,147 in the prison system. In June the Supreme Court reduced in-person attendance in court to 10 percent of normal levels. By August this had risen to only 20 percent, slowing pretrial detainees’ path through the system.
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, citizens rarely exercised this right.
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. Human rights activists and local media reported that on several occasions, security agencies defied court orders to release detainees or arraign persons they detained without charge, and that security agents intimidated judicial officers from making rulings that granted reprieve to political detainees. The activists also reported that due to a lack of judicial independence, the judiciary unnecessarily delayed human rights petitions by denying them hearing dates or prolonging the hearing sessions.
The president appoints Supreme Court justices, 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, Court of Appeal, High Court, and the lower courts, the judiciary did not deliver justice in a timely manner. At times the lack of a 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.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the government did not always enforce this right. Although the law provides for a presumption of innocence, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants have the right to prompt, detailed notification 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. Civilians charged in military courts were often denied the right to a public trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice, and to file an appeal in the civilian court system.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Authorities detained numerous opposition politicians and activists on politically motivated grounds. Authorities released many without charge but charged others with crimes such as illegal possession of firearms and inciting violence and lodged the complaints in military courts. According to human rights lawyers, the military courts were less independent and allowed authorities to hold the detainees indefinitely. No reliable statistics on the total number of political detainees or prisoners were available. Human rights organizations reported that prison authorities blocked them from visiting political prisoners and detainees as part of measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that authorities granted it access to places of detention. Former political detainees also reported that the UHRC visited them while they were in detention.
In December 2020 police and military officers arrested at least 96 NUP members while they were traveling with Kyagulanyi to a campaign rally in Kalangala District. Police stated they made the arrests to “restrain” the individuals “from holding massive rallies amidst the increased threats of coronavirus.” Kyagulanyi’s bodyguard, Edward Ssebuufu, also known as Eddie Mutwe, and his compatriot Ali Bukenya, also known as Nubian Li, later told local media on June 15 that police initially detained some of them at a military barracks and others at a police station in Masaka Town, where police officers poured cold water on the floor and instructed the detainees to sleep in the water. Ssebuufu said that police officers sprayed pepper spray into the cells where NUP suspects, still handcuffed, were held. He added that military officers forced him to strip naked as they mocked his anatomy. On January 4, police arraigned the NUP supporters at Masaka High Court, which granted them bail. The prisons service, however, did not start releasing the suspects until January 6. Prisons service officers then drove 49 of the suspects to a military court where the military charged them with illegal possession of ammunition in the absence of their lawyers and remanded them to Kitalya Prison. Bukenya told local media on June 15 that Kitalya Prison authorities transferred him to a section holding murder convicts after he told a visiting team from the UHRC that the detainees lived in poor conditions. These included frequent outbreaks of cough, scabies, lice, and diarrhea. He said the detainees missed breakfast whenever occasional power outages occurred. On June 14, the military court released the last of the 49 suspects on bail, but their trial continued at year’s end.
Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country
Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: Local media and opposition activists reported that authorities issued threats to and arbitrarily surveilled the country’s dissidents in the diaspora. After false news of President Museveni’s death spread on social media in early July, a police spokesperson warned bloggers living abroad that authorities would negotiate with their host countries and Interpol to extradite them to the country for prosecution.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through the regular court system or the UHRC, which has judicial powers under the constitution. The law also empowers the courts to grant restitution, rehabilitation, or compensation to victims of human rights abuses as well as to hold public officials involved in human rights abuses personally liable, including contributing to compensation or restitution costs. The UHRC’s powers include the authority to order the release of detainees, pay compensation to victims, and pursue other legal and administrative remedies, such as mediation. Civil courts and the UHRC have no ability to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses criminally liable. Bureaucratic delays hampered enforcement of judgments that granted financial compensation to victims. The government rarely complied with judicial decisions related to human rights. On August 9, a court awarded NUP member of parliament Francis Zaake 75 million shillings ($21,125) as damages in compensation for torture he experienced at the hands of police and CMI officers in 2020, but the government had not paid him by year’s end.
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. There were reports that government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization; accessed, collected, or used private communications or personal data arbitrarily or without appropriate legal authority; implemented regulations and practices that allow for the arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, including the use of technology arbitrarily or unlawfully to surveil or interfere with the privacy of individuals; and used technologies and practices including internet and social media controls, blocking or filtering of websites and social media platforms, sensors, biometric data collection, and data analytics. The law authorizes government security agencies to tap private conversations to combat terrorism-related offenses. The government invoked the law to monitor telephone and internet communications.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
Killings: On August 14, the president reported that the country’s soldiers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia had carried out retaliatory killings against an unspecified number of Somalis after their unit suffered casualties in an ambush. The president declared a military court would charge and prosecute the officers, and on November 13, local media reported the court, while sitting in Mogadishu, had found five soldiers guilty of murder and sentenced two of them to death and three of them to 39 years in prison.
In February the International Criminal Court found former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the northern part of the country from July 1, 2002, to December 31, 2005. In May the court sentenced Ongwen to 25 years’ imprisonment.
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.
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).
c. Freedom of Religion
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.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
f. Protection of Refugees
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 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.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated with government restrictions. The president continued repeatedly to accuse civil society of accepting funding from foreign donors interested in destabilizing the country and directed the blockage of funding and suspension of activities for some prodemocracy and human rights organizations. Human rights activists reported that the government took measures to “decrease foreign participation and bleed civil society organizations” by lengthening the registration approval process and increasing the annual visa fees for expatriate workers to 10 times their previous amount. Human rights activists reported that local government authorities declined to respond to repeated requests for approval of license-renewal documents from the NGOs Chapter Four, Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy Uganda, and Western Ankole Civil Society Forum.
Environment and land rights conservationists reported that police harassed and arrested human rights defenders working to protect the environment and communities’ access to land. On January 31, conservationist William Amanzuru reported that police had summoned him for questioning and charged him with robbery after his community confiscated 11 million shillings worth ($3,070) of charcoal. On May 24, police dropped their charges against Amanzuru.
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 executive did not always implement UHRC recommendations. On July 16, the president appointed a chairperson and four commissioners to the UHRC whose absence since the death of the previous chairperson in 2019 had prevented the UHRC from presenting its human rights findings to parliament. Nevertheless, the UHRC made public statements prior to and after the appointment of these commissioners, raising concerns regarding human rights abuses such as extra judicial killings of suspects by police officers, excessive use of force while implementing COVID-19 restrictions, and harassment of journalists.