Statement on the recent Human Rights Concerns in the country

Monday, September 25, 2017 - 16:45

 

Uganda Human Rights Commission

 

 

Statement on the recent Human Rights Concerns in the country

Monday 25th September 2017

The Uganda Human Rights Commission which is the constitutional body charged with the protection and promotion of human rights in the country is concerned about incidents of violations of human rights and freedoms arising out of two major issues pertaining to the country at the moment. These are: The clashes in position on the proposal to amend the Constitution to lift the Presidential age limit as well as the persistent unresolved murders of women in Nansana and Entebbe in Wakiso district.

  1. Human Rights concerns noted in the run up to the anticipated tabling in Parliament of a motion for lifting the Presidential  age limit on Thursday 21st September 2017

The Commission is concerned about the incidents of violation of human rights of sections of the public as witnessed on Thursday 21st September 2017, in reaction to the anticipated tabling of the proposal to lift the Presidential age limit provided under Article 102(b) of the Constitution of Uganda.

The Commission previously voiced its concerns in a statement issued on 22nd August 2017 regarding the heightened public debate and interest on the Land Amendment Bill that was tabled before Parliament in July 2017 as well as the proposals to lift the presidential age limit which had not yet been tabled before Parliament at the time. In providing guidance to the nation then, the Commission underscored the importance of citizens’ participation in matters of governance.  The Police was cautioned against curtailing peaceful assemblies of people wishing to express themselves on matters of governance, instead of facilitating all sides to hold such gatherings. The police was further cautioned against double standards when it allowed pro-removal but dispersed the anti-removal of age limit demonstrations and called for their neutrality.  In the same statement, the Commission strongly urged citizens wishing to exercise their freedoms of expression, association, assembly and demonstration to comply with the guidelines and laws that govern public gatherings to avoid unnecessary clashes and violation of other peoples’ rights.

However, the political debate on the proposed lifting of the presidential age limit has steadily gained momentum across the country and taken center stage over the past two weeks leading to Thursday 21st September 2017 when a motion to the effect was anticipated to be tabled in Parliament. A Member of Parliament was expected to move a motion seeking leave of Parliament to introduce a private member’s Bill to amend the Constitution and remove the presidential age limit. On the other hand, MPs opposed to the lifting of the presidential age limit had also vowed to block the motion using any means at their disposal. Consequently, chaos ensued most of the day on Thursday as individuals and groups clashed with security agencies that were either preventing or dispersing protests that occurred country wide.

The Commission strongly condemns the threats of violence issued by both sides through televised and radio as well as posts on online platforms that had been doing the rounds and which culminated into the chaos and mayhem that were witnessed on Thursday in Kampala and some areas across the country. The Commission reiterates its condemnation of all acts of intolerance among the citizens and calls for respect for divergent views.

The high handedness of both the security agencies and some members of the public, who were involved in the Thursday scuffles, were to say the least appalling. The Commission is on record for repeatedly emphasizing the critical role that citizens play in good governance. This role is facilitated by their constitutional rights and freedoms of speech, expression, association and peaceful and un-armed assembly as well as demonstration under Articles 29 and 38 among other rights, which must therefore be respected and upheld by the State. Citizens too are enjoined to exercise these rights responsibly and observe the relevant laws to the letter.

However, the incidents of last Thursday in which we witnessed heavy security deployment especially at Parliament were unprecedented. The heavy presence of security police and soldiers at Parliament and in other busy areas of Kampala, compounded by the acts of violence and hooliganism by some members of the public, posed a serious threat to the sanctity of Parliament, maintenance of public order in the country and ultimately the peace of the people in Uganda. The Commission particularly condemns the incidents highlighted below which violated the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and which must be avoided in future:

  1. The heavy military deployment around Parliament and the attendant inconveniences caused to the Right Honourable Speakers of Parliament; Members and  staff of Parliament as well as the clients and guests of Parliament
  2. The siege of Offices of Action Aid Uganda in Kansanga, Kampala and Great Lake Institute of Strategic Studies (GLISS) in Ntinda, Kampala by police; the barring of employees of those organizations to get out of the premises for a prolonged period that extended to the wee hours of the night of Wednesday 20th September 2017, releasing some at an ungodly hour, while others forcefully spent the night in the cordoned off office premises without clear explanation from the police.
  3. The siege of the home of the Lord Mayor of Kampala Erias Lukwago and his subsequent violent and undignified arrest in which his suit was ripped apart by police and non-uniformed men, bundling him into a caged police vehicle.
  4. Police invasion and disruption of the meeting of KCCA Councillors that was being chaired by the Deputy Mayor Sara Kanyike at the KCCA premises
  5. Police and other security agencies some of whom in addition to guns were seen wielding sticks violently dispersing crowds that attempted to demonstrate against the proposed amendment of the Presidential age limit both in Kampala and in other parts of the country and the mass arrests that followed.
  6. Police violently dispersing demonstrating students at Makerere University which resulted in the alleged death of one student who was shot while others sustained injuries.
  7. Incidents in which some members of the public turned rowdy and violent; defying orders of police, resisting arrest and engaging in physical fights and running battles with uniformed police and other covert security agents.

Whereas the Commission appreciates the duty of the State and specifically that of the Police to provide security for persons and their property, the heavy security deployment around Parliament on Thursday was unnecessary as it was bound to infringe on the independence, immunity and sanctity of the House. 

The Commission later learnt through a press release issued by the police that its actions against the above named NGOs were based on an intelligence tip off concerning the activities of the affected organisations which were allegedly going to breach peace and security in the country. This notwithstanding, the police had a duty to provide a clear explanation to the managers and employees of the affected organisations about its operation and to desist from unduly affecting their rights in the process.

The Commission further contends that much as the police have the duty to keep law and order and therefore powers to arrest suspects, the Constitution under Article 221 obliges them to observe and respect human rights and freedoms in the performance of their functions and to specifically respect Article 24 which calls for the respect for human dignity of citizens and refrain from treating them in an inhuman or degrading manner. The Commission has repeatedly raised the dangers of police allowing stick- wielding men to beat up people in the name of enforcing the law, some of whom may not even be part of the police force. We reiterate our earlier calls for the Uganda Police Force to ensure that only those authorized and identifiable officers are involved in law enforcement.

The Commission is also aware that the above rights and freedoms are regulated under the laws of Uganda such as the Public Order Management Act of 2013 among others.  However, we have repeatedly called upon the security agencies to facilitate citizens to enjoy these rights and freedoms and to exercise restraint by applying proportionate force in order to ensure the observance of respect of human rights during their work of controlling and managing crowds as is required of them under Article 221 of the Constitution. We reckon that this will go a long way in facilitating the enjoyment of rights and freedoms by the citizens so long as their activities are peaceful, particularly their participation in issues of governance as provided for under Article 38 of the Constitution, and it would enable the State to fulfill its human rights obligations to its citizens.

On the other hand, the Commission strongly urges citizens wishing to exercise their freedoms of expression, association, assembly and demonstration to comply with the guidelines and laws that govern public gatherings to avoid unnecessary clashes and rampant violation of human rights and to uphold the rule of law in the country.

The Commission therefore appeals for calm and tolerance of divergent views among politicians and members of the public and strongly urges all security agencies to refrain from acts of high handedness. We call upon political leaders from all sides to refrain from making public utterances that incite hatred, violence and intolerance, but instead promote civil debates and dialogues on all issues of governance in our country.

Lastly, the Commission urges the police to detain those arrested during the said incidents in gazzeted areas and allow them access to the next of kin, lawyers and personal doctors as stipulated under Article 23 (5) (a), (b) and (c) of the Constitution.  Police should expedite the due process to enable them receive justice within the stipulated period.

  1. Human rights concerns from the rampant, unresolved murders of women in Nansana and Entebbe in Wakiso District

The Commission is horrified by the recent unrelenting incidents of murder of women in Wakiso district which have caused anxiety and fear. A total of 23 women have so far been found murdered in Nansana and Entebbe since May 2017 and some of the victims have been further violated in the most gruesome, cruel and inhumane manner, with police finding evidence of strangulation, rape, as well as sticks or metals and soil inserted in the victims’ private parts. Even though 44 suspects have so far been arrested with half of them charged in courts of law, the worrying trend shows that the murders are persisting.  

The murders which initially were considered as isolated incidents have reached an unprecedented level that has left all people in Uganda and particularly the women in those areas in great fear for their lives; and the lives of their loved ones. The unresolved murders have also left the authorities that are obliged to protect the citizens puzzled and frustrated as they struggle to unravel the mystery.

The Commission commiserates with those that have lost their loved ones; the survivors that are grappling with the trauma of what might have been; and condemns in the strongest terms this gruesome violation of human rights and the targeting of women. Apart from the obvious violation of the right to life provided for under Article 22 (1) of the Constitution of Uganda, that the victims have suffered, the Commission is concerned that many other rights especially those of their dependants have been unduly negatively impacted. Most victims have left behind families and in some cases children whose livelihood is now at stake since some have lost breadwinners and therefore their rights such as education, food and shelter among others have been disrupted.

 The government has made interventions and efforts to address the insecurity in these areas and the Commission acknowledges them all. However, the Commission wishes to see the matter given the prominence and priority it deserves as the situation is clearly getting out of hand, considering that even one preventable death of a citizen is bad enough. The Commission recognizes that the residents of the affected areas have been gripped with tension and fear as a result of the looming danger and therefore strongly urges the Police to fulfill its obligation of protecting the life and property of all persons in the country and to step up its duty to prevent and detect crime as provided for under Article 212 of the Constitution of Uganda.  On the other hand, the victims too, deserve justice so the Commission calls on the government to pursue the perpetrators with zeal until they are convicted by courts of law and serve their due sentences.

The Commission also calls on the residents of the affected areas and the entire country at large to be more vigilant and alert in identifying suspicious elements in their communities and to report them to law enforcement agencies in fulfillment of their duties and obligations as citizens of Uganda as provided for under Article 17 (f). The Government should also intensify preventive measures that are human rights-based in order to enable citizens effectively play their part in contributing to their security.

Furthermore, the Commission is concerned about the insensitivity with which police and other authorities have in some instances handled this delicate issue such as the profiling and labelling of victims even before investigations have been completed as if to find fault and to hold them responsible for what befell them. Some Police officers have made insensitive remarks about some victims which have had the effect of insinuating that the victims who were thought to be sex workers, persons with mental disability or estranged from their partners had brought it upon themselves or did not deserve to be protected from the marauding murderer(s). The Commission calls on the authorities making statements on the murders to desist from compounding the indignity already suffered by the victims especially in such circumstances where they are unable to defend or explain themselves.           

Regarding the suspects so far arrested and those that are yet to be apprehended, the Commission would like to urge the security agencies, the affected communities and all Ugandans to respect the principle of presumption of innocence in accordance with Article 28 (3)(a). So far the Commission has established that many of the suspects were held unlawfully for long periods of more than a month without being taken to court and some were allegedly tortured. Whereas the Commission appreciates the pressure on security agencies to handle the crisis, we would like to caution that there is nothing that warrants violation of human rights in the name of protecting other rights. The concerned security agents should respect human rights in the process of arresting the suspects, detaining and arraigning them before court within the stipulated periods.

The Commission also calls on the victims’ families, the residents of the affected areas and Ugandans at large to remain calm; not to take the law in their hands but to let the police and other responsible agencies do their job and to support them where necessary. The Commission reminds the country that it is a constitutional duty of every citizen to cooperate with lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order. What our country is facing now is a crisis that needs the cooperation and efforts of every person in Uganda for a lasting solution to be got, so that people can regain their peace. We shall continue to monitor the situation to ensure observance of human rights and fulfillment of duties as the country tackles these pertinent issues of great concern.

For God and My Country

Med S.K Kaggwa

Chairperson

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