The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) which is the national human rights institution constitutionally established to protect and promote human rights in Uganda is deeply concerned about some of the recent developments in the country that directly or indirectly curtail the full enjoyment of human rights and freedoms including personal liberty, freedom of expression and assembly and media freedoms and responsibility, supremacy of the Constitution and the sanctity of human dignity for all, among others.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission is mandated to offer guidance on any emerging human rights issues in the country by pointing out human rights concerns that require urgent attention and action by government, members of the public and other stakeholders.
Today therefore the Commission will highlight human rights issues in four major areas of concern namely the arrest and detention of Dr. Kizza Besigye; excessive use of force by security agencies; the Constitutional Court Interim Order of 5th May 2016 and beating up of people by masked men in the presence of the Police. The Commission will also make recommendations to government, members of the public and other stakeholders in an effort to promote the rule of law and ultimately peace in our country.
a) Arrest and detention of Dr.Kizza Besigye of FDC
The Uganda Human Rights Commission noted the arrest of Dr Kizza Besigye the former presidential candidate on Wednesday 11thMay 2016 and his being charged with treason at the Nakawa Chief Magistrate’s Court in Kampala Wednesday 18th May 2016. The Uganda Human Rights Commission consequently calls upon all those concerned to ensure a fair and speedy trial.
b) Excessive use of force by security agencies on Wednesday 11th May 2016.
The Commission observed the incident of Wednesday 11th May 2016 in which Dr. Besigye appeared on the streets downtown and the crowds that followed him were violently dispersed by security personnel, some of whom wielded sticks. The crowds were also seen throwing stones at the security personnel, which is inconsistent with the responsibility that a person who claims rights carries under the Constitution.
The Commission notes that whereas section 28 of the Police Act allows the use of force by police officers in special cases, it also provides that the force must be proportionate to the danger the suspect has put them into. The Commission therefore calls upon the police to observe this provision and call other laws governing the management of demonstrations and public gatherings.
c) Constitutional Court Interim Order of Thursday 5th May 2016
The media ban according to the Attorney General (AG) and Deputy Attorney General, arose from the Constitutional Court Interim Order issued on the 29th April 2016 and will henceforth remain in force for four weeks. The Deputy AG told a press conference that the ban does not apply to FDC and Besigye alone but to the whole country including the media, citing the duty of government to ensure security, stability and order in the country. However, he clarified that the ban did not extend to coverage of defiance campaign activities in news bulletins as long as the content is censored to get rid of any material that may incite the public.
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Executive Director was also reported to have said that the ban may be extended to social media if it is used as an alternative tool for propagating the defiance campaign. The Commission noted that social media was switched off on Wednesday 11th May 2016, but is now functional.
The Commission is concerned about the mixed messages being sent out by government officials on the interpretation of the Constitutional Court Interim Order. The Commission notes that the media fraternity has also interpreted the court order in its own way, fearing that the ban is a move to gag the media. The Commission also observes that media reports including social media platforms on the defiance campaign could incite and inflame some sections of the public, leading to more violations of human rights.
The Commission is further concerned about the alleged assertion by the Deputy AG that Uganda is not bound by international treaties which is a departure from government’s earlier commitments when it ratified them. The Commission wishes to remind the country that the Constitution under Objective 28 of the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy provides that the foreign policy of Uganda shall be based on the principles of respect for international law and treaty obligations, as per Article 52 (H) of the Constitution.
The Commission also expresses its reservations about the decision by the Constitutional Court to hear the application from the AG banning activities of the FDC defiance campaign ex parte (in the absence of the respondents) as negating the right to a fair hearing as required under Article 28(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. The Constitution provides that in determination of civil rights and obligations or any criminal charge, a person shall be entitled to a fair, speedy and public hearing before an independent and impartial court or tribunal established by law and the principle of natural justice.
The Commission noted that although the Constitutional Court Interim Order of 29th April 2016 barred FDC, Besigye, their agents, officials, supporters or any other person acting under their authority from engaging in demonstrations, processions, public meetings, and media campaigns pending determination of the main constitutional application lodged by the Attorney General, the FDC categorically stated in media reports that they would defy the ban and the weekly prayers would continue.
The Commission also notes that whereas Government has the duty to protect all citizens and their property, and hence the Constitutional authority to limit enjoyment of rights and freedoms, the same constitution under Article 43 requires that such limitations are done out of absolute necessity.
It notes further that the FDC has been reported to have categorically said they would defy the court order. The Commission observes that there is need for all citizens to respect and promote the rule of law in the country. Such statements and acts of defiance may fuel disobedience and lawlessness and should not be encouraged to thrive. The Commission therefore, urges those who are dissatisfied with any decision to seek redress from the legally established mechanisms in order to avoid anarchy.
d) Masked men beating up people on the streets of Kampala in the presence of police on 14th April 2016.
Media reports indicated that masked men beat up people in the streets of Kampala on Thursday 14th April 2016 in the presence of the police without being restrained or arrested. The Commission however, noted that the Police disowned the masked gangs and said it had commissioned an investigation into the matter. The Commission notes that the public expects quick investigations whose findings should be made public. The Commission reiterates its earlier position on un-uniformed and un –identified men in the presence of the police to disperse riots as an illegal group which should not be allowed to dent the image of the police.
In view of the above concerns, the Commission recommends the following:
- The judiciary is urged to ensure a fair and speedy trial for Dr. Kizza Besigye.
- The police is obliged at all times to detain people in gazetted areas and allow them access to lawyers, families and other legally accepted facilities.
- Police should exercise restraint while controlling riotous crowds and act professionally at all times.
- Members of the public wishing to demonstrate should not resort to acts of violence.
- Police should not be seen to condone situations in which un-uniformed and masked men operate in their presence un- hindered. Police should expedite investigations into operations of the masked group and immediately publish their findings.
- The traditional media and users of the social media platforms are called upon to use them responsibly
- Government is reminded to observe provisions of Article 52 (h) of the Constitution and the regional and international treaties which it ratified.
- All citizens of Uganda are urged to respect and promote law and order in the country and to use the available lawful mechanisms to seek redress.
The Commission will continue performing its constitutional mandate by making further investigations into incidents of human rights violations and to use all available avenues to ensure the protection and promotion of rights and freedoms in the country. The Commission appeals to the public to remain calm and maintain the peace which will enable the country to move forward.
FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY