Uganda: Oral statement calls for action in implementation in UN Universal Periodic Review

ARTICLE 19 regrets that the Government of Uganda has not implemented its commitments, made during the first cycle, to review national laws that violate the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, to bring them into compliance with international human rights law, and to protect against and end impunity for attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, including LGBT activists.

While we welcome that the Uganda government have again supported broadly framed recommendations to improve this situation, we underscore that their implementation will not be possible without comprehensive legislative reforms, with the full and effective participation of civil society. We are therefore disappointed by the rejection of specific recommendations to amend those laws most often abused to stifle freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned at the crackdown on these rights around the 2016 Presidential and parliamentary elections, including:

  • A three-day Internet shutdown, followed by the blocking of social media and messaging services in advance of President Museveni’s swearing-in ceremony;
  • Violence and arbitrary arrests of opposition leaders, and intimidation and threats against journalists and media covering the opposition, including an interim court order gagging media reporting on the “defiance campaign”; and,
  • Unnecessary and disproportionate force to disperse peaceful assemblies, resulting in protesters being killed.

We remind the Ugandan government that the implementation of UPR recommendations accepted during this cycle require these practices not be repeated, whether in the context of future elections or otherwise.

The Human Rights Network for Journalists in Uganda documented 100 attacks against the media in 2016, the majority at the hands of police, and 143 attacks in 2015. These included shootings and serious assaults, threats, forced closures and suspensions, as well as arbitrary detentions and arrests. We welcome the commitment by the Ugandan Government to ensure a safe environment for journalists and the media, and urge the guidance of HRC resolution 33/2 to be followed to ensure full prevention, protection and prosecutions for attacks. In particular, those responsible for attacks where there is outstanding impunity, outlined in ARTICLE 19’s shadow submission, must be held accountable.

Laws on criminal defamation, among other provisions, are enforced to stifle freedom of expression, including against journalists, human rights defenders, bloggers, peaceful protesters, and others. We urge the Ugandan Government to reform Sections 179 and 180(1) of the Penal Code, the Press and Journalists Act and the Statutory Instrument No. 4 of 2014, and the Public Order Management Act, and remove the powers of the Uganda Communications Commission to block access to websites, social media platforms, ports, network protocols or IP addresses.

We are also concerned that legitimate activities of associations may be abusively curbed under the 2016 Non-Governmental Organisations Act, in particular section 44, which requires that NGOs “not engage in any act which is prejudicial to the interests of Uganda or the dignity of the people of Uganda.” This law must also be reformed.