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28 June 2023
The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Uganda, on how it implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. During the dialogue, Committee Experts commended improvements to prison conditions, while raising issues concerning the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Law and the impartiality of the 2021 Presidential Election.
An Expert said that the measures taken to improving the conditions of the detention centres were a welcome development.
Another Expert said credible information had confirmed the adoption of the Anti-Homosexuality law had intensified the hostile climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. They had been denounced for “suspicion” of homosexuality, been detained and healthcare professionals had refrained from distributing safe sex materials for fear of being targeted as “promoting homosexuality”. The law clearly confused sexual orientation and the so-called protection of children. What measures had been taken to repeal the law, and to ensure acts of persecution against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons stopped entirely?
Another Committee Expert asked how the internet shutdown in 2021 on the eve of the election, was compatible with human rights standards or the Covenant? Further, reported campaign spending was disproportionate and excessive, giving unfair advantage to more well-resourced parties. The incumbent party even reportedly gave cash to voters, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the voting process. How would the State party ensure free and fair elections?
Arthur Kafeero, Deputy Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, said in opening remarks that Uganda had enacted several laws to domesticate the provisions of the Covenant including the Parliamentary Elections Act, the Political Parties and Organisations Act, a code of conduct for political parties and organisations, and most recently, the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023. The latter act had elicited diverse reactions and it was important for the Committee to understand the circumstances that led to its passing. A widespread campaign to promote homosexuality amongst children in schools was discovered — its methods and content too difficult and graphic to explain. The Government responded with the Act to protect children and youth in the country, in line with its responsibilities to the Covenant. Free and fair elections continued to be held and improved, through an initiative to register citizens to vote and participate in public affairs. The Government ensured the right to peaceful assembly and protected the freedom of expression, despite challenges posed by fake news, media, and incitement.
In the ensuing discussion, the delegation, in response to Experts’ questions said that it was unfortunate the Committee had received reports that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people were being targeted by violence. This was not the case. No politician persecuted any person based on sexual orientation. The Anti-Homosexuality Act punished acts, not identity and not orientation. Under colonial law these were known as unnatural acts. The current government had simply expanded the coverage of the law to protect children.
The delegations said it was important to note that the health restrictions imposed during the pandemic saved lives. Some political leaders deliberately defied the guidelines and called on their supporters to follow, which was a display of impunity. They held rallies and disrupted traffic, putting the lives of civilians at risk. While this was occurring, the internet was being used to spread violent messages encouraging hate and insurrection. The Government decided to shut down the internet as the violent messaging was a threat to democratic processes.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Kafeero thanked the Committee for the conversation on the human rights situation in Uganda. The repeated theme of State institutions being compromised was unfortunate, as all State institutions were law-based and remained accountable to Ugandans. The delegation remained committed to working with the Committee in the future.
Tania María Abdo Rocholl, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their cooperation as well as civil society organisations for their contributions. Important issues discussed during the dialogue included the right to peaceful assembly, persons deprived of their liberty, slavery, the administration of justice and the right to privacy.
The delegation of Uganda was made up of representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs; the National Bureau for non-Governmental Organisations; the Uganda People’s Defence Forces; the Uganda Police Force, the Uganda Prisons Service and the Permanent Mission of the Uganda to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Human Rights Committee’s one hundred and thirty-eighth session is being held from 26 June to 26 July. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m., Wednesday 28 June to begin its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Cyprus () CCPR/C/CYP/5 ).
The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Uganda (CCPR/C/UGA/2).
Presentation of the Report
ARTHUR KAFEERO, Deputy Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, said since the last meeting with the Committee, Uganda had enacted several laws to domesticate the provisions of the Covenant, including the Parliamentary Elections Act, the Political Parties and Organisations Act, a code of conduct for political parties and organisations, and most recently, the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023. The latter act had elicited diverse reactions and it was important for the Committee to understand the circumstances that led to its passing. Uganda had one of the youngest populations in the world, with 44 percent of its citizens under 14 years of age. A deliberate, well-orchestrated, widespread campaign to promote homosexuality amongst children in schools was discovered — its methods and content too difficult and graphic to explain. The government responded with the Act, which built upon the existing colonial legislation, to protect children and youth in the country, in line with its responsibilities to the Covenant to protect children from abuse. The Act did not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation or identifying as homosexual, which was clear in its language. The Act was a testament to the government’s commitment to safeguard democracy.
The Government had made strides in combatting trafficking in persons, notably through the National Action Plan for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons 2019-2024. The Coordination Office worked with the International Organisation for Migration, to promote international cooperation in combatting human trafficking. Uganda continued to uphold the right to a fair trial in its justice system, where free legal aid had been made available to those unable to afford lawyers.
Free and fair elections continued to be held and improved, through an initiative to register citizens to vote and participate in public affairs. The Government ensured the right to peaceful assembly and protected the freedom of expression, despite challenges posed by fake news, media, and incitement. To that end, Uganda had made strides in expanding access to information and communication technologies, as well as ensuring media freedoms. Laws related to freedom of expression were not passed with the intention of targeting specific categories of people based on their political inclination. The implementation of journalist accreditation, conducted under the Press and Journalists Act, had undergone consultative processes with stakeholders in the media industry.
Freedom of association was cherished in Uganda and regulatory mechanisms had been implemented to ensure the proper functioning of non-governmental organisations. A recent act outlined guidelines required for the functioning of non-governmental organisations, and they were also designated as “accountable persons” under the Anti-Money Laundering Act to combat corruption. In the past five years, 61 non-governmental organisations faced suspension for non-compliance with 31 cases of them resuming operations. The Government combatted fraud through enhanced monitoring of financial transactions above a certain threshold and would continue to increase awareness on human rights, throughout the country.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said they had seen much improvement in Ugandan institutional frameworks, but there were issues which needed to be addressed. While domestication of the Covenant’s provisions in law was commendable, reports had indicated that implementation and enforcement were weak.
The State party had taken measures to prohibit child sacrifice and other customs that ran contrary to its obligations under the Covenant, but what actions would be taken to abolish the practice? The National Action Plan on Human Rights had still not been approved by the government despite being ready for cabinet approval since 2016. What was its current status and why was it not approved?
Low or inadequate wages resulted in high turnover for the Ugandan Human Rights Commission. How could the State party address this so that the Commission could discharge its mandate? How would the State party empower the Commission to address the backlog and ensure access to justice for victims of human rights violations? Reportedly, victims of human rights violations were facing serious challenges in claiming awards, with some waiting for 10 years for compensation. What measures would be taken to ensure that victims received reparations?
The adoption of the National Transitional Justice Policy in 2019 was a welcome step for victims in post-conflict situations, but limited progress had been made since its passing. Could the delegation provide a timeline for its enactment and implementation? The International Crimes Division of the High Court had not yet provided victims with compensation under the International Criminal Court compensation fund. What step would be taken to expedite justice?
Another Expert noted the country report listed policies and legal frameworks such as the 2018 zero-tolerance policy and the 2019 Anti-Corruption Policy. What were the achievements of the policies? How were the legislative amendments implemented? How many cases were initiated under their provisions? What were the activities of the Office of the Auditor General and the Inspectorate of Government? How many cases were initiated in the past three years and how many convictions were found. What sanctions were imposed? Could the delegation address the recent theft of roofing materials from poor neighbourhoods, in which high ranking officials were implicated?
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had expressed concerns about the high rate of gender-based violence and its social acceptance in Uganda, which the State party acknowledged in its report, as due to the deep-rooted cultural mindset of patriarchal society and African traditions. This was unacceptable, as gender-based violence was a world-wide phenomenon, not simply African. 56 percent of ever-partnered woman had experienced this in their lifetimes. What measures were undertaken to step up the capacity-building of law enforcement officers on gender-based violence issues, particularly to sensitize them when dealing with victims? What complaint procedures were available to victims?
The establishment of special courts dealing with gender-based violence was taken into account. How many courts were there and how many cases were dealt with? What were their outcomes? How many convictions occurred, what were the sanctions and how many acquittals occurred? What services were available to victims? The 2022 Marriage Bill criminalised marital rape in certain circumstances, but implied that marital rape outside of those circumstances was not a crime. Could the delegation address this?
The excessive use of force in Uganda was concerning, and the Police Amendment gave broad discretion to police to disperse assemblies. How was this in line with the Covenant? There were reports of extrajudicial killings while disarming cattle rustlers in Karamoja, which resulted in the deaths of 12 people. How many investigations were launched to investigate these killings and to law enforcement officers and military personnel accountable? What measures would the State party take to step up training of law enforcement officers on the use of firearms and to prevent impunity?
Another Expert asked if the State party planned to adopt sweeping legislation that was comprehensive and intersectional in nature on non-discrimination? How had discrimination been combatted concretely for disability or albinism? The State party said that it had settled 30,000 cases; could more information be provided?
Discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community was exacerbated during the pandemic, in combination with the new anti-homosexuality law, which was in flagrant violation of the Covenant. The law could punish what it defined as homosexuality from ten years to a death sentence. Children could be imprisoned under it. It punished even “thinking” about engaging in homosexuality. Had the act already been enforced? What measures would be taken to de-criminalise homosexuality, to put an end to hate speech, and to end the violence rape and harassment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex population in Uganda?
A Committee Expert noted progress made toward advancing its policy on gender equality and property rights, including the National Land Policy and Succession Amendment Act. What measures would the State party take to implement these laws fully? How was the National Land Policy implemented, specifically? The delayed passage of the Marriage and Divorce Bill was concerning. Why had it seemingly been delayed indefinitely? Further, reports had been received of widows falling victim to land or inheritance grabs. How would the State party ensure their rights?
The Anti-Terrorism Act was concerning as it lacked safeguards and could be used to spy on citizens without the possibility of redress. What measures were being taken to ensure the independent oversight of law enforcement in the context of counter-terrorism measures? How would access to legal remedy for victims of interception and surveillance be improved?
The bank accounts of non-governmental organisations had been frozen unlawfully, according to the High Court ruling. Could more information be provided? Though a recent law revision restricted the death penalty to the most serious crimes, it did not seem to affect sentences handed down under the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces Act. Why was this? How was the Anti-Homosexuality Act at all compatible with the Covenant if it could prescribe the death penalty for so-called “aggravated homosexuality”?
The ”Kigula” decision supposedly allowed for the commuting of death sentences to life in prison after three years on death row, yet some inmates had remained on death row for up to fifteen years, with some lacking access to such redress due to a lack of attorneys. How else might resentencing work? Did Uganda plan to ratify the Second Optional protocol to the Covenant?
Another Expert noted that the report took a strong stance against torture, indicating that all offenders would be sanctioned. However, reports had been received that torture was a routine practice by security forces for political opponents and during detention. How many cases of torture were currently under investigation, had been concluded and resulted in sanctions? How were arrests of human rights defenders, sex workers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, political opponents being addressed? Despite a 48-hour time limit of detainment without a formal charge, reports had been received that lengthy and arbitrary detention occurred regularly, sometimes for months without a formal charge or being brought before a court. The Committee received 271 complaints related to the practice. How would the State party safeguard against arbitrary detention?
Enforced disappearance of political opponents was practised regularly by security forces. Victims’ testimonies had reported being tortured within so-called “safe-houses” or unregistered detention centres. 64 complaints of enforced disappearances were received in 2022. While victims of enforced disappearances were referred to the police, legal guarantees were ambiguous. What were they? How many security agents had been brought to trial, convicted or sanctioned? Did the State party plan to create an independent inquiry mechanism to investigate enforced disappearances during the 2021 elections?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said the Uganda Human Rights Commission had a lower budget this year. The Government reiterated its support for human rights and took them seriously. The Commission was fully staffed and continued its work. As with other agencies, the Commission was affected by the pandemic and economic losses but would be refunded when the economic situation improved.
The Uganda Police Force integrated sexual and gender-based violence into its training modules. The Marriage and Divorce bill remained before parliament. Consultations were still underway, and no timeline could be provided at present.
It was worth repeating that the Anti-Homosexuality Act came about following the unearthing of the aforementioned campaign. Previously, there was no problem, but now Uganda had been obligated to act. It was a more important to question why anyone would promote homosexuality at all, let alone among children.
The number of prisoners resentenced after the Kigula ruling was 21. Four sentences were pending in civilian courts and six in military courts. 15 appeals were underway before military courts and 73 in civil courts. Many cases were pending.
Child sacrifice was illegal in Uganda. In the recent past, there had been no reported child sacrifices. Previously the Human Rights Commission was not funded by development partners, but by the government. The tribunal would address the backlog of cases and was on a positive trend. After the Government decentralised ministries, payments of 1 billion shillings were paid to victims of human rights violations, out by the individual ministry’s budget.
It was unfortunate the Committee had received reports that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people were being targeted by violence. This was not the case. No politician persecuted any person based on sexual orientation. The Anti-Homosexuality Act punished acts, not identity and not orientation. Under colonial law these were known as unnatural acts. The current government had simply expanded the coverage of the law to protect children.
Women had been empowered to be present in schools and the political realm. The more women were educated, the more they would understand their rights and inheritance laws. Ugandan law reserved the death penalty for the most grievous offenses, but there had been no executions recently. The Government categorically dissociated itself from allegations of enforced disappearances. These had been submitted to the Human Rights Commission but not to the police, and the Commission had investigated, but could not find the alleged disappeared persons. These reports seemed more akin to a propaganda campaign.
The Professional Standards Unit investigated and punished detention that exceeded 48 hours. Victims were encouraged to complain. The Government condemned the phenomenon, but it was uncommon, and the Government did not encourage the practice. Operations in Karamoja dealt with armed civilians. Through various operations, many weapons had been confiscated from armed civilians. The armed forces maintained strict human rights standards during these operations.
There had been a terrorist attack in Western Uganda which led to the deaths of many school children. Uganda was a large refugee hosting country because it was a peaceful one. The country would work transnationally to combat terrorism. The National Action Plan was an important document and was often consulted to create a human-rights based approach to planning. The State party hoped to have a concrete report shortly.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert took note of the responses of the delegation on the Anti-Homosexuality Law and expressed disappointment that no action would be taken on its repeal. Credible information had confirmed that the adoption of this law had intensified the hostile climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. They had been denounced for “suspicion” of homosexuality, been detained, and healthcare professionals had refrained from distributing safe sex materials for fear of being targeted as “promoting homosexuality”. The law clearly confused sexual orientation and the so-called protection of children. What measures had been taken to repeal this law, and to ensure acts of persecution against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons stopped entirely?
Another Expert specified that employees of the Human Rights Commission were the least paid out of all government agencies, so it did not seem like a simple question of budget. Furthermore, reportedly members of the Commission could be former parliament officials. How was its independence ensured?
Another Expert asked for more details on how laws against domestic violence were enforced. As it remained the highest-rate crime in the country with 56 percent of partnered women suffering, it was clear that victims did not feel comfortable going to the police. How was this being addressed?
United Nations guidelines required that an investigation be undertaken every time a firearm was discharged. Was this recommendation respected? Were there any records of trials in these instances or on excessive force? It was encouraging that more than one billion shillings had been disbursed, but how many people still needed to be compensated? The use of arms by civilians was a difficult situation, but if that was the case, investigations into those deaths would have been necessary to justify the force used by the police. Was any more information available on the interventions in Karamoja?
A Committee Expert said the Committee had received credible reports of torture of political opponents, including, Bobi Wine and Francis Zaake, and the writer Kwakwenza who sought refuge in Germany after suffering ill-treatment and torture, following tweets he had written. Could the delegation address these cases? The response regarding enforced disappearances was insufficient. The government was liable to respond to such allegations
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation reiterated that Uganda was a democratic country and dissociated itself from accusations of alleged detention. The Human Rights Commission had conducted an investigation into the alleged safe houses and detention centres, which revealed that they did not exist. Allegations of enforced disappearances had therefore been debunked. It was unfortunate that certain people acted politically and created witch hunts in these instances.
The proliferation of arms in Karamoja had a long history. Recently a disarmament operation resulted in the confiscation of 40,000 arms. Where there had been cases of “high handedness” investigations took place and the officers responsible were sanctioned or imprisoned. Just recently, several officers were handed down prison sentences.
The election was a highly charged time and took place within strict health guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, either through electronic or, when appropriate, in-person voting. Some political leaders defied the election commissions and health guidelines, inciting violence and riots, which regrettably resulted in loss of life. The incidents were premeditated and violent, but security officers responded. Some families of victims were financially compensated and some sought legal redress. The Government considered the cases appropriately resolved. A presentation of the investigation was made to the parliament in April 2021.
The Anti-Homosexuality Law did not discriminate against any persons. The law had been challenged in court and results were awaited. However, following the promotion of homosexuality in schools, the public called for immediate protection for children. The State party implored the Committee to respect the country’s democratic processes. A law criminalising same-sex relations preceded this current law—since before the country’s independence—and there was no similar outcry. There was no discrimination between anyone who identified as homosexual. No one was being denied access to public services.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said that if the Committee found that any responses were insufficient during the dialogue, it was mandated to repeat itself, to carry out its duty.
Another Expert asked what role the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had in domestic law? The ratification of the Covenant involved an obligation to adhere to certain human rights standards. The reason why so much attention was paid to the Anti-homosexuality law was because it mandated the death penalty for consensual homosexual sex in a private context. What remedy did homosexual Ugandan citizens have before a court and how were their human rights protected?
Another Expert recalled that many other countries had asked Uganda to effectively decriminalise homosexuality prior to the creation of the 2023 law. Not only did the State party ignore all recommendations, but the law now persecuted this group.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the Constitution of Uganda recognised international law and treaty obligations in its foreign policy. It was not the intention of the delegation to spend so much time on the Anti-homosexuality Act. It was of little interest. The delegation reiterated that the law criminalising same-sex relations predated the independence of the country. The trigger for this law was a widespread campaign of promotion among children as young as eight years old. Outcry was pervasive. Regardless of what would happen to the law, which was before the courts, it was not worthwhile to talk about it more.
The Witness Protection Bill was before the parliament for consideration, but ultimately the Government supported it. Uganda was a dualist State, meaning International Law and ratified Treaties were domesticated through passing laws, which were drawn up based on their components. The country had domesticated the Covenant through various laws, meaning courts could cite laws without citing the Covenant specifically. The National Action Plan on Human Rights was under consideration, though delays to its approval had occurred due to the integration of recommendations.
The funding cuts had been implemented throughout the Government, not only the Human Rights Commission. It would be refunded when the economy was more favourable and was priority for the Government. The backlog of cases reduced from 1,750 in 2021 to 1,040 in 2023. The Ugandan Police force had a compensation budget of over 1.3 billion shillings, and of that over 701 million shillings had been disbursed in payments to complainants. Payments were prioritised to those who had been waiting the longest.
Training was provided to prosecutors and investigators on how to handle sexual and gender-based violence cases, and handbooks were also distributed. In 2018, over 1000 sexual and gender-based violence cases were heard throughout the country. Training would continue in the future. In 2018 and 2020, a pilot programme to fast track sexual and gender-based violence cases was implemented and the conviction rate in 2020 was 8.5 percent. Penalties were handed down and victims were compensated. However, perpetrators were often poor and could not pay penalties. The Government offered other forms of compensation, such as shelters.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert noted the measures taken to reduce prison overcrowding, but said numbers remained high, primarily due to pre-trial detention. Some people in pre-trial detention had been there for up to five years. Measures taken to improving the conditions of the detention centres were a welcome development, but a lack of budget prevented better infrastructure. Problems persisted, including imprisoning minors with adults, a lack of adequate nutrition, and dilapidated structures. What was the Government doing to address this?
Corporal punishment was abolished but caning in prisons was reportedly still practised. Could the delegation address this? While new legislation on trafficking in persons was commendable, what were its results? What statistics were available on the number of trafficking victims referred to appropriate services or complaints lodged, and sentences handed down, during the past five years? Had victims been provided with compensation? Could the delegation elaborate on how the Government was protecting victims of sex trafficking abroad, including cracking down on recruitment agencies?
Children in Uganda were reportedly subject to the worst forms of child labour in the world, including sex trafficking and forced labour in mines. What was the State party doing to address this? Could the delegation provide statistics related to victims of child labour and sex trafficking?
How was the internet shutdown in 2021 on the eve of the election, compatible with human rights standards or the Covenant? What was the legal basis of the shutdown? Further, reported campaign spending was disproportionate and excessive, giving unfair advantage to more well-resourced parties. The incumbent party even reportedly gave cash to voters, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the voting process. How would the State party ensure free and fair elections? Forced evictions of minorities and indigenous peoples was concerning. How would the State party prevent this and provide victims with compensation?
Another Committee Expert highlighted that the justice system remained inaccessible to the vulnerable. Corruption was a major problem. What were the achievements of the Anti-Corruption plan? How many magistrates were investigated and what sentences were handed down? The Executive had overwhelming influence on the appointment and removal of judges. How could judicial independence be ensured? Did the State party consider its level of independence to be in line with international law and the treaties to which Uganda was a party? Which entity appointed prosecutors? Following events in March 2021 concerning the suspension of Justice Kisaakye during the investigation into the election, were judges subject to disciplinary action based on their lawful decisions?
The practice of re-arresting suspects released on bail was concerning. In 2017, a murder case saw four suspects taken to an unknown destination with their attorney, by plainclothes security officers. Such a conduct by law enforcement constituted a clear violation of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the respect for a lawyer’s execution of their duties. Could the delegation comment on these incidents? Uganda People’s Defence Force stipulated that only persons subject to military law who committed specific offences, were permitted to be tried before military courts. However, the law was still used to arrest, detain, and try opposition supporters during and after the 2021 elections. Would the Government abide by such judgements?
Another Expert expressed concern about lawyers, who were often subject to harassment, sanctions, file confiscation, and sometimes prevented from seeing their clients. These practices were especially common when defending certain causes, such as the rights of the indigenous. Access to legal aid was reportedly restricted. What measures were taken to protect lawyers and their profession? How would the Government ensure that the Legal Aid Bill passed? How would it ensure that access to justice was granted to all and not just those with sufficient means?
The Constitutional Court declared that sections of the Public Order Management Act gave the police too much power to prohibit peaceful assembly. During the pandemic, several regulations were passed to prohibit peaceful assembly. Demonstrations in support of the government were approved while those criticising it were prohibited. The police continued to repress peaceful demonstrations such as an International women’s day celebration in 2023. What measures would be taken to protect the right to peaceful assembly and bring those regulations in line with the Ugandan constitution and the Covenant?
A seemingly deliberate lack of clarity on the regulation and registration of non-governmental organisations resulted in an excessive monitoring of public space. What measures were planned to reform the non-governmental organisation registration system, so that they could work to monitor elections?
Another Committee Expert asked the delegation to comment on the law concerning “computer misuse” which had alarming restrictions on freedom of expression. Violations included fines and prison sentences. How was this law in line with the Covenant? Did the State party plan on repealing or amending such laws? Could the delegation address allegations that these laws had been used to silence criticism of the Government and silence opposition?
Uganda’s own laws on broadcasting mandated that candidates for public office were to be provided equal airtime, yet reports indicated this was not the case for opposition candidates. Could the delegation address this? Reportedly, journalists and human rights defenders were routinely targeted by the police and prevented from doing their jobs. How would the State party ensure their protection? How did the Human Rights Defenders Office, housed within the Human Rights Commission, operate? Had it registered any complaints? Could the delegation address the harsh restrictions on civic space?
Another Expert recalled that the Police Act allowed for search without warrant. How was the Act used to prevent the imminent crimes from the human rights lawyers and defenders, including political opposition member Robert Kyagulanyi before the elections, human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo in 2019, and public affairs officer Obed Katureebe in 2022?
What was the status of the CCTV system project? A 2010 Communications Act required the retention of metadata by telecom providers, which was invasive. How long would the metadate be stored and under what conditions?
The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act had ambiguous criteria requiring disclosure for HIV positive people. Was the State party taking steps to ensure that HIV status was only disclosed in authorized circumstances and were there plans to amend the legislation to specify the circumstances in more detail? Was compulsory HIV testing still required for victims of sexual abuse, pregnant women and their partners?
Responses by the Delegation
Uganda was proud of the Human Rights Commission, which was an independent body, and its members were appointed on merit. The current seven members represented the entire country. It had gender and political diversity. The Government was required to respond to the Commission’s findings and was functioning well.
The Uganda prison services distinguished itself as one of the leading facilities on the continent of Africa and was an example to follow for other countries in the region. In 2014, the service was ranked best on the continent with respect to criminal rehabilitation programmes. Over 75,000 people were currently detained in the prison system. Facilities were subject to regular visits by human rights workers, who made recommendations. Measures taken to address overcrowding included increasing holding capacity through construction of new prisons and renovation of existing ones.
Under the Community Service Act, those convicted of minor offences would not serve sentences in prisons. Plea-bargains had also played a role in alternative sentencing. Regulations were being drafted to implement parole for prisoners. The Government increased funding for prisons to improve their infrastructure. The Uganda Prison Service did not condone caning, whether committed by prisoner of prison employee. Those who were found to violate this regulation were punished. Human rights committees had been established in prisons to uphold human rights standards. The committees could receive complaints and met monthly to make recommendations to the administration.
Human trafficking was a trans-national problem. Uganda would continue to collaborate internationally to combat this scourge. 1,200 incidents of human trafficking were investigated in 2022. Of them, 526 involved exploitation and 63 involved victims trafficked abroad. 76 traffickers were arrested. The operating license of 24 recruitment were suspended. A dedicated ministry worked to create a memorandum of understanding with receiving countries. The National Child Labour policy and the National Action Plan on the Elimination of Child Labour, and the Action Plan for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons, were in place to address the phenomenon.
It was important to understand how the judiciary operated. It was independent, and its recruitment style was different than the other two branches of government. The Inspectorate of Judicial Officers received civilian complaints relating to magistrates or high courts, in cases of malpractice or suspected corruption. The recruitment and removal of judicial officers was a rigorous process. It was true that the President could appoint them, but removal could not occur simply by executive choice. A judicial officer could only be removed if they were unable to perform their duties, if they were infirm, had committed misconduct or were found to be incompetent. This process could only occur through a tribunal.
The appointment of judges was a process inscribed in the law. A judge had to express interest. The disciplining of justice was not targeted; if anyone was found to be out of line in their actions, they were subject to redress. It was premature to discuss the nitty gritty of specific cases that were underway. It was important to trust the justice system because it worked. If the justice was unhappy with the result, they could appeal. The murder case that was asked about was complicated and therefore taking longer, but justice would run its course.
The Law Society was an association of lawyers which championed their rights and held audiences with the Government. The delegation could not confirm that a lawyer was detained for simply representing a human rights defender. Could the Committee provide more details? The Legal Aid Bill was still under discussion because it needed to be revised. Budgetary concerns were serious. It was important to let the process happen and trust that the bill would pass into law in due time.
It was important to note that the health restrictions imposed during the pandemic saved lives. Some political leaders deliberately defied the guidelines and called on their supporters to follow, which was a display of impunity. They held rallies and disrupted traffic, putting the lives of civilians at risk. While this was occurring, the internet was being used to spread violent messages encouraging hate and insurrection. The Government attached great importance to freedom of expression and people needed free media to hold the Government to account. The majority of the media in Uganda was privately owned. The Government decided to shut down the internet as the violent messaging was a threat to democratic processes.
Information on election financing would be provided in writing but there were clear rules on expenditure. The Government had even expressed concerns about the commercialisation of elections, which had to be debunked.
Uganda was proud of its record with indigenous people. The idea that there were communities had their land dispossessed, was false. The country worked with the communities to ensure comfortable living standards which could sustain their lives and those of their families. The National Human Rights Commission monitored the processes, and the Committee was advised to read its report on the subject.
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces was a professional, accountable and efficient institution which was subject to heavy regulations and policy. The trial of civilians in military courts was made legal through the 2005 Uganda People’s Defence Forces Act. Anyone found possessing arms illegally was subject to military courts. Allegations of torture, imprisoning of children and corporal punishment were unfounded, after careful prison inspections. Suspects in the courts enjoyed due process and their rights were respected. The Ugandan constitution allowed those in detention to choose their representation. Legal representation for those detained was free. Allegations of intimidation against lawyers was unfounded.
Free and fair elections were important to Uganda. The country prioritised the right to life and deserved recognition for its low fatality rate. The Government practised saving lives while other leaders defied those measures and put the public in danger. The health guidelines were in place to facilitate the election, but also to protect lives. As the internet was used to disseminate messages of hate and violence, how could the Government not react? It had to ensure the security of the people.
Journalists were considered important actors in economic, social and political life and the Government was committed to protecting freedom of expression. The Constitution stipulated that all had the right to freedom of speech and expression. It was important for the Committee to understand that in 2021, the Military Disciplinary Committee sentenced seven soldiers to up to 90 days in jail after they were convicted of assaulting journalists during a protest outside the United Nations Office in Kampala. If that were not enough the head of the defence forces publicly apologised, which was indicative of how serious the situation was.
Non-governmental organisations were partners in development. The regulations in place supported their work and ensured compliance. It was unthinkable that a non-governmental organisation could operate without oversight in any country. Money had to be accounted for. Information indicated that the group responsible for the recent terrorist attack had received money from international actors.
The mandate of the police force was to maintain law and order, which necessitated tools like the Public Order Management Act, which was being implemented. Freedom of assembly had its limits and could not infringe on the rights of others. The main objective of the act was to register demonstrations to prevent disruptions to public order. It was a nuisance to be surprised by a traffic jam caused by a demonstration on a highway, for example. Most legal intuitions inherited colonial legislation, which did not always respect modern human rights standards. However, law and legal institutions were continually and gradually brought in line.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert thanked the delegation for its responses. The Committee would determine if they were convincing. It was concerning that a person would be detained while evidence was gathered against them during an investigation, when it should have happened the other way around. The reports of children under the age of 18 tried before military courts were reliable. It was concerning that the legal safeguards in military courts were less robust than in civilian courts.
Another Expert noted that responses were too general or unconvincing.
The constitutional court in 2023 declared that various sections of the Public Order Management Act were declared unconstitutional but the police did not respect the constitutional decision. This judicial decision was public.
An Expert welcomed improvements to prison conditions but it was important to acknowledge that challenges remained.
The Committee did not share the delegation’s opinion that the internet shutdown was a proportional and necessary response to the supposed problem. The internet was extremely important during the COVID period in question. Would the State party take steps to regulate campaign financing?
Another Expert expressed concern over perceived self-censorship in the State party which could impact civic space and public life negatively. Legislation regulating the use and scope of the internet needed to strike a balance to preserve freedom of expression. The Rabat declaration was an example in this regard.
Another Committee Expert regretted a lack of answers, which prohibited a constructive dialogue.
ARTHUR KAFEERO, Deputy Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee for the conversation on the human rights situation in Uganda. The Delegation endeavoured to respond to the questions. The repeated theme of State institutions being compromised was unfortunate as all State institutions were law-based and remained accountable to Ugandans. The delegation remained committed to working with the Committee in the future.
TANIA MARÍA ABDO ROCHOLL, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their cooperation as well as civil society organisations for their contributions. Important issues discussed during the dialogue included the right to peaceful assembly, persons deprived of their liberty, slavery, the administration of justice, the right to privacy. The Committee hoped to receive answers to their questions in writing to fulfil their mandate of assessing the implementation of the Covenant.
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