ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by Uganda’s decision not to renew its mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). We urge the government to rescind the decision and renew the mandate of the office.
On 3 February 2023, the government of Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed it would not renew the mandate of the OHCHR when it expires. In a letter to the office, the government implied that the country had sufficient capacity to monitor the promotion and protection of human rights in the country evidenced by its strong commitment to promoting and protecting human rights as well as the presence of a vibrant civil society and strong national human rights institutions.
‘The OHCHR, since its establishment in 2005, has been critical in monitoring and documenting the human rights situation in the country and has played an essential complementary role in providing technical advice and assistance to help ensure that the government implements its international human rights obligations. We see this move as part of an ongoing government-led offensive geared towards further shrinking civic space,’ said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
Civic space in Uganda
In Uganda,he right to freedom of expression, association and assembly have been under attack. Recently, Uganda’s deputy speaker of parliament directed the government to probe the ‘issue of homosexuality and save the children in schools’. Similarly, in January 2023, the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO Bureau) released a status report on Non-Governmental Organizations suspected to be involved in promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQI) activities in the country. The recommendations essentially call for action against the promotion of LGBTQI activities.
In the run up to, during, and after the general elections in 2021, ARTICLE 19 raised concerns regarding internet shutdowns, arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force against opposition politicians and their supporters. In 2022, Ugandan security forces arbitrarily detained former opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye at his house after he announced plans to mobilize protests over the soaring cost of living and the succession politics in the country.
In 2021, 54 NGOs were suspended by the NGO bureau, allegedly due to non-compliance with the NGO Act 2016. Similarly, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an NGO supporting the activities and programmes of sexual minorities, was forced to close in a move fuelled by homophobia. Further, the Uganda Human Rights Commision faces challenges in the delivery of its mandate, including but not limited to, budget cuts and staffing gaps, as well as threats to its leadership.
In the past, authorities have also curtailed free expression. For instance, Stella Nyanzi and Kakwenza Rukirabashaija have on separate occasions been forced to flee the country due to persecution on account of their expression on social media. Alternative DigiTalk TV journalists were arrested on 10 February 2022 by people said to be from the military on charges of ‘offensive communication,’ which has been arguably a result of criticism of the president. The previous year, police had beaten up journalists covering former presidential aspirant Bobi Wine delivering a petition to the OHCHR offices over human rights violations.
‘The continued human rights violations perpetrated by authorities, coupled with the reluctance to investigate and prosecute perpetrators, feeds the culture of impunity and further deteriorates the space for enjoyment of fundamental human rights. The renewal of the OHCHR’s mandate is even more critical at this time due to the prevailing situation and the urgent need to bring forth the long overdue reforms needed in Uganda,’ said Mugambi.
ARTICLE 19 therefore calls on the Ugandan government to rescind the decision and renew the mandate of the OHCHR; and to recognise its vital role and work constructively with the office as part of its efforts to promote and protect fundamental human rights.
For more information please contact Mugambi Kiai at [email protected], Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.