Press releases Special Procedures
UN rights experts fear Uganda is using COVID-19 emergency powers to target LGBT people
27 April 2020
GENEVA (27 April 2020) – UN experts are alarmed that Uganda could be using COVID-19 emergency laws to target gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and urged the government to strictly limit the use of emergency power to public health issues.
“We are deeply concerned about a raid on an LGBT shelter in Kyengera on 29 March and the arrest and detention of 19 people perceived to be LGBT persons,” the UN human rights experts said.
The group of experts said they had been told local authorities raided the shelter based on the perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the residents, who were then charged for allegedly disobeying coronavirus regulations on physical distancing. It is feared the authorities are not using COVID-19 measures solely for the protection of public health.
“Emergency powers to combat crises, such as COVID-19, derive their strength and legitimacy from strict adherence to their object and purpose,” said the experts. Any emergency response linked to COVID-19 must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory. “When authorities use emergency powers for different purposes, they are acting arbitrarily. In this case, we are concerned about a possible violation of the prohibition of arbitrary detention.”
Using COVID-19 emergency powers for other purposes, such as targeting particular groups under the guise of protecting health, jeopardises the whole response system. Abuses must be prevented, investigated and punished to safeguard the common good, they said.
The experts also highlighted concerns that the detainees in this case allegedly have no access to their lawyer due to the COVID-19 measures, and are being exposed to a greater risk of violence and discrimination because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The right to access to legal assistance is a fundamental human right afforded to everyone,” they stressed.
The UN experts called on Uganda to include the detainees in the planned release of about 2,000 inmates to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in prisons.
“We strongly urge the Ugandan authorities to respect people’s rights and dignity during the crisis and to strictly limit the exercise of emergency power to the protection of public health in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said.
*The experts: Mr Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Mr Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Mr José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair), MsLeigh Toomey (Vice-Chair),Ms Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), MrSeong-Phil Hong and MrSètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Ms Meskerem Geset Techane (Chair), Ms Elizabeth Broderick (Vice Chair), Ms Alda Facio, Ms Ivana Radačić, and Ms Melissa Upreti, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; and Mr.Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page: Uganda
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