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Uganda

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.

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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