Statement on the recent Human Rights Concerns in the country - October 26th 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017 - 08:45

Uganda Human Rights Commission

Statement on the recent Human Rights Concerns in the country

Thursday 26th October 2017

A. Human Rights concerns arising from the process of tabling in Parliament the motion to lift the Presidential age limit

During our last press briefing on September 25th 2017, we pronounced ourselves on the human rights concerns arising out of the incidents of violations of human rights and freedoms that had occurred in anticipation of and following the tabling of a motion for a Bill to amend the Constitution to lift the presidential age limit. In the statement the Commission strongly condemned the threats of violence issued by both the proponents and opponents of amending Article 102(b) of the Constitution of Uganda to lift the age limit. The Commission also condemned the threats of and real violence that characterized public debate inside parliament and outside — both in Kampala and other areas across the country. We castigated the high handedness and discriminatory tendencies of the security agencies and the violent actions of some political actors and members of the public who were involved in the scuffles.

We also emphasized the cardinal role of citizen participation in good governance, facilitated by their constitutional rights and freedoms of speech, expression, association and peaceful and un-armed assembly as well as demonstration as provided for in Articles 29 and 38 of the Constitution that must be respected and upheld by the state. Furthermore we called on citizens to exercise their rights responsibly by fulfilling their constitutional duties including observing the relevant laws to the letter and respecting other people's rights.

Unfortunately, we have observed that the concerns we condemned then are now on the rise. The violent scenes that played out in Parliament as honourable Members of Parliament fought with security agents the day the motion was tabled were highly regrettable. Fighting in Parliament was uncalled for but the sight of individuals who were neither MPs nor Parliamentary Commission staff fighting with MPs on the floor of Parliament was so unbecoming that it potentially undermined the sanctity of the August House. On top of this, the fracas resulted in injuries to a number of people including MPs, some of whom were treated or admitted to various health facilities in and around the city. The Commission dispatched a team to the various health facilities to visit the MPs and discuss the human rights issues related to the incident. Unfortunately, the violence connected to the proposed amendment of Article 102 (b) has now spilled over from Parliament to the streets of Kampala, its suburbs and some areas upcountry.

We strongly condemn the verbal and physical violence that characterized Parliament in those days. We reiterate the need for security agencies to observe and respect human rights in the performance of their functions as required of them under Article 221 of the Constitution and to preserve the sanctity of Parliament as an independent arm of government. We appeal to the MPs to exercise restraint while debating and resolving contentious issues of national interest.

The Commission also noted that the move by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to suspend live television broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings was a curtailment of the right to access information which is provided under Article 41 of the Constitution and violates provisions of the Access to information Act, 2014. The Uganda Communications Commission should refrain from issuing orders that negate the rights of citizens as provided for under our laws.

B. Human Rights concerns over the violence spreading in the country following consultations on the Bill to lift the Presidential age limit

The Commission notes with concern that the tabling of the Bill on lifting of the presidential age limit has triggered off a series of incidents of violence and human rights violations as MPs attempt to hold consultations with citizens on the matter, but are dispersed by police and other security agents. These incidents have happened in Kampala, Mukono, Kayunga, Mbale, Kumi, Lira, Rukungiri, Arua, Mityana, Sheerna, Kaliro, Jinja among other districts. The Commission condemns the violence meted out by both the proponents and opponents of the constitution amendment including the attacks on the homes of MPs, the booing, shouting down and walking out on MPs advancing their perspectives during consultations in their constituencies.

Some of the salient incidents include:

1.    Allegations of insecurity and mob action against some members of Parliament regarding their position on the Magyezi Bill

The Commission has noted media reports of grenade and bomb attacks at the homes of some members of parliament (Hon Kyagulanyi Robert, Hon Moses Kasibante and Hon Allan Ssewanyana). Media platforms have also been awash with disturbing pictures of mobs attacking and trying to set ablaze homes of some members of parliament such as Hon Abiriga of Arua Municipality, Moses Balyeku and lgeme Nabeta in Jinja for their alleged positions on bill to lift the presidential age limit. Other Members of Parliament suspected to hold differing views on amending Article 102(b) have also in cases similar to mob justice been roughed up or manhandled and threatened with violence by sections of the public.

The Commission condemns all acts of violence and threats to security of persons and the disruption of peace in the country. We call upon the police to expeditiously investigate all incidents that threaten peace in the country and bring the perpetrators to book. The Commission reiterates its call to all citizens to tolerate divergent views as they debate issues of governance.

2.    Police use of excessive force in dispersing crowds

The Commission is deeply troubled by the persistent use of live bullets by police while dispersing crowds despite our repeated calls to them to exercise restraint and to use reasonable force as required of them under the UN Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials as well as the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. We also note that police use of excessive force against some members of Parliament and members of the public generally to disperse gatherings agitating to express themselves has recently become the norm rather than an exception. The common use of tear gas, violent handling of suspects by police in order to disperse crowds have led to some people sustaining physical injuries, while others have been fatal and led to death.

The clashes between police and members of the public which happened on 18th October 2017 in Rukungiri when Dr Kizza Besigye and other senior members of

FDC attempted to hold a rally there resulted in the death of a one of Edison Nasasira and left several injured and hospitalized. We strongly condemn the use of live bullets by police to disperse crowds that are un armed and again remind them of their duty to observe human rights as they carry out their work which is provided for under Article 221 of the Constitution.

The Commission has severally noted that the right to peaceful assembly is provided for in the 1995 Constitution of Uganda and in regional and international treaties ratified by Uganda. The UHRC has also reminded the Police of its role contained in Articles 20, 21, 212 and 221 of the Constitution of Uganda and in the international instruments to respect, fulfill and protect without discrimination the enjoyment of people's rights and freedoms. We therefore once again demand that in enforcing the law, the Police and other security agencies must strike a correct balance between public order and the exercise of the rights and freedoms by individuals and groups. Security agencies should ensure impartiality and nondiscrimination in order to serve the promotion of the rule of law and only impose restrictions that are acceptable and justifiable in a free and democratic society.

3. Partisan tendencies of the Police in handling matters related to the removal of age limit

The Commission has previously condemned the double standards of police in dealing with activists opposed to the lifting of the age limit. Police has handled some meetings in a partisan manner; dispersing consultations of the opponents of the removal of term limits while providing security for the proponents of age limit removal. None of the consultative meetings of the proponents has been dispersed or has suffered use of excessive force by the Police.

The Commission has noted with concern the unclear role that the Uganda Police has assumed in regulating consultations regarding the Age Limit Bill. The Commission has been following media reports of statements and press releases issued and in some instances actions by the police on this matter such as the banning of the red ribbons, harassment of people clad in red even at the Mandela National Stadium when the national team was hosting the team from Ghana; banning of (Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi) Bobi Wine's music shows, consultations carried out jointly by members of parliament; dispersing public rallies and gatherings and dispersing activities of various groups such as press conferences and meetings in homes of some opposition members of parliament among others.

Another glaring example is the unfortunate incident in which school children were reportedly assaulted by Boda Boda 2010 members suspected to be closely working with the police as they travelled to Entebbe to attend a police function. The children's alleged crime was wearing the red ribbons that have now been associated with the anti- presidential age limit Bill. Another incident is the ruthless arrests of three unarmed suspected opponents of the Age limit debate by gun welding operatives along Mbarara streets, which police justified to be a preventive measure after it had learnt that the trio were planning to attack four Mbarara Members of Parliament (Honourables Yaguma, Tusiime, ltungo and Kajungu) for their alleged support of the lifting of the term limits.

The Commission strongly condemns the display of such highhandedness and violence meted against the children by this group of non- uniformed people which seem to have usurped powers of the police. The Commission is on record repeatedly urging police to desist from allowing unofficial militias to take over its constitutional duty of preserving law and order.

On the other hand the Commission has witnessed incidents where the police have allowed gatherings where people have adorned the yellow colour, consultations of MPs holding pro-lifting of the age limit rallies and meetings.

We continue to condemn the double standards of Police in this respect and urge them to maintain their neutrality and professionalism in handling this highly political matter that has evoked unprecedented national interest. Whereas the Commission recognises the role of the police in ensuring peace during public gatherings as provided for under the Public Order and Management Act (2013), we call upon the police to act professionally and in a nonpartisan manner. The Commission has previously urged and indeed once again calls on the police to facilitate the citizens to enjoy their rights and freedoms of speech, expression, association and assembly as well as demonstration as provided for under Articles 29 and 38 so long as they are peaceful and un armed.

4. Detention of suspects beyond the mandatory 48 hour period

There are reports of detention of suspects apprehended by police following dispersing of numerous rallies held across the country to discuss the lifting of the presidential age bill beyond the mandatory 48 hour period as provided for under Article 23(4)(b) of the Constitution. The Commission has through its regional offices spread country wide intervened and caused the release of some of such suspects on police bond. A case in point was the release from Mbarara Central Police Station on Friday 20th October 2017 of 15 such suspects on police bond after the intervention of the UHRC Mbarara Regional office.

The Commission also noted the detention of Dr. Kizza Besigye, Ingrid Turinawe and Patrick Amuriat who were arrested in Rukungiri and later transferred to Nagalama Police station where they were detained longer than the mandatory period. The Commission dispatched a team on a fact-finding mission to Naggalama Police station on Tuesday this week. The Commission is making arrangements to have its concerns appropriately addressed with the Police leadership.

The Commission has noted that detention of suspects beyond the stipulated 48 hours has been exacerbated countrywide by the current sit down strike by Prosecutors and many places of detention are currently overcrowded with suspects due to the fact that courts are virtually not operating. The industrial action by prosecutors has therefore denied the suspects access to a fair and speedy trial before a competent court as provided for under Article 28(1) of the Constitution, inadvertently violating their right to personal liberty also provided for under Article 23 (1) (a) (b) (c). The Commission further notes that failure to produce suspects before courts of law and the resultant congestion of detention places have led to the desperate move by police to release suspected criminals back into the vulnerable society due to lack of room and other logistics.

The Commission therefore calls on government to urgently address the current impasse to enable the Prosecutors officers resume work immediately and to find a durable solution to the intermittent industrial action by prosecutors which has hampered the administration of justice in the entire country.

The Commission also urges government to handle the issue of intermittent industrial action by different public servants holistically to guard against such actions negatively impacting on the enjoyment of human rights.

5. Intolerance for divergent views

The Commission has noted that there are increased incidents of intolerance for divergent views among the members of the public across the country in discussing the lifting of the presidential age limit bill. Such acts of intolerance have in some instances resulted in violent clashes sometimes involving stonethrowing people and ultimately leading to human rights violations ranging from injury to persons and destruction of property among others.

The Commission once again condemns all acts of intolerance and violence. We therefore reiterate our earlier calls for respect of divergent views. We further urge the police to be nonpartisan and apprehend all perpetrators of violence from both sides of the debate.

C. UHRC interventions during the period

The Commission is mandated to protect and promote human rights in the country. Consequently we continuously perform different functions provided under the Constitution through our countrywide network. Below are highlights of the Commission's interventions during the month of September:

  1. In an effort to administer justice especially to the indigent members of the public, the Commission received a total of 190, out of which a total of 165 were registered as complaints of human rights violations reported to its various regional offices in the month of October. On the other hand the Commission handled 95 cases at its tribunal level.
  2. In order to raise awareness of human rights and responsibilities among the public, the Commission carried out a number of interventions using its regional network through human rights barazas, kraal outreaches in the Karamoja sub region, trained the police and carried out radio talks shows.
  3. In addition to monitoring human rights concerns arising from the current debate on the bill to lift the presidential age limit, the Commission monitored and made interventions in other emerging human rights issues in the country. For instance the Commission noted some incidents of unrest after government handed over part of the disputed land in Amuru District (Zoka Forest) to Adjumani District basing on the land demarcations of 1958. The Commission together with the police carried out joint sentisation of the residents in the area calling for peaceful co-existence and transition.
  4. The Commission has also opened a file and commenced investigations into the mysterious death of a suspect a one Ajedra Vicky who died while in custody at Okokoro Police Post in Maracha district, where she had been detained on 19th September 2017. Our office of Arua continues to monitor the situation
  5. The Commission also noted cases of suspects being detained beyond the mandatory period in at Police stations in Buliisa, Kyankwanzi and Kiryandongo in Hoima subregion. In Kyankwanzi for example, the delays were mainly attributed to the absence of the justice infrastructure such as courts which requires the files to be taken to Kiboga for sanctioning which is a distance away. The Commission calls upon the Judiciary to ensure that the relevant infrastructure is in place in the new districts so that justice can be easily accessible at the grassroots. We also urge the police to play its role and allow suspects to enjoy their rights in accordance with law, the absence of the necessary infrastructure notwithstanding. For example the suspects have a constitutional right to be released on police bond.

In conclusion, the Commission reiterates its commitment to protecting and promoting human rights in accordance with its constitutional mandate. We therefore call on political leaders, police and other security agencies as well as citizens take serious note of the human rights concerns we have raised and expeditiously take action to rectify and punish their omissions and commissions for the good of peace, democracy and stability of our country. We shall continue to closely monitor the human rights situation in the country and advise accordingly.

For God and My Country

Mr. Meddie Mulumba

For: Chairperson