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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for constructive dialogue

18 April 2011

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda expresses its concern about the human rights violations resulting from the State’s response to the “Walk to Work” protests, organized on 11 and 14 April 2011 in various locations across Uganda. The intervention of the security forces resulted in infringements of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person, and the freedoms of association, assembly and expression.  

The “Walk to Work” protest was organized by political opposition leaders against escalating fuel and food prices and increasing inflation in Uganda. In the course of events, the response by state security forces to the protests led to violent incidents in Kampala, Mukono, Jinja, Wakiso, Masaka, and Gulu districts. According to information collected by OHCHR, the Uganda Police Force and the Uganda People’s Defense Force used teargas, rubber and live bullets against protesters who were walking peacefully, these measures also affected pedestrians who were not involved in the protest. As noted by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, teargas was also fired into schools, health centres and homes, particularly affecting women and children. This constitutes disproportionate and excessive use of force.
OHCHR monitored that, as a consequence of the violence on 14 April, 42 persons were admitted to Mulago Hospital in Kampala, including 15 children and 3 expectant mothers, due to injuries and/or suffocation by tear gas. At least 3 of them were injured by gun fire, two with rubber bullets and one with live ammunition. In addition, the former presidential candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigyie, was injured in his right hand by a rubber bullet allegedly shot by Military Police. In Gulu District, three persons lost their lives during the incidents; one of them was a man who died in his workshop in Layibi after allegedly being shot at by Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). According to information received, UPDF promised compensation for the family of the victim. OHCHR also regrets that at least 5 policemen and one soldier were injured during the events in Kampala and Gulu Districts.

OHCHR calls upon the State authorities to refrain from the disproportionate use of force during protests and to ensure respect for the people’s rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression according to the 1995 Constitution and to its international obligations. OHCHR urges the State to conduct thorough, prompt and impartial investigations into the human rights violations committed by the security forces. The Office also believes that the use of force to restrain such protests may further escalate violence and encourages the authorities to seek a constructive approach to the problems the protests are about. The State, in line with its responsibilities, must create conducive environment in which citizens can express their legitimate concerns freely, rather than resorting to criminalizing them, which has failed.

On 11 April, thirteen leaders of the opposition, including former presidential candidates, Dr. Besigye and Hon. Norbert Mao, were arrested and charged with “incitement to violence” and “disobeying lawful orders”. They were released on bail by courts that same evening. On 14 April, at least 220 persons were arrested countrywide, including leaders of the opposition, among them, Hon. Mao and 6 Members of Parliament. In the efforts of State and society to consolidate democracy, OHCHR also urges the Government to uphold the right to political participation for all, in particular members of the opposition. Therefore, OHCHR encourages the state authorities, leaders of the opposition and civil society at large to engage in dialogue to enhance mutual understanding and trust. Such dialogue should be held in the interest of addressing legitimate concerns and demands of the population about the increased costs of living. To this end, the Government should inform the public about current and future measures.

OHCHR reiterates its readiness to assist the authorities and all stakeholders in this process.