Keep Election Campaign Free of Abuses - Prosecute Past Political Violence; Stop Intimidation of MediaSOURCE: Human Rights Watch
The Ugandan government should ensure that in the lead-in to the
forthcoming election, those responsible for any violence are held
accountable and that the media can operate free of harassment, Human
Rights Watch said today, as the campaign for the 2011 presidential
election kicks off. Politically motivated violence and intimidation of
the news media have characterized the campaign periods in the past two
presidential elections, with new episodes of violence against government
opponents in recent months.
"Voters and the news media need to feel safe to debate ideas and to
express themselves if Uganda is going to have a free and fair election,"
said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "It's up to
the government to work to prevent abuses that would undermine this
crucial campaign period."
The 2001 and 2006 election campaigns were marred by intimidation of
the media and the opposition, including arbitrary arrests, partisan
prosecution of opposition members, and physical attacks by state actors.
All parties participating in the elections should not be using
violence, and should strive to ensure that their supporters do not use
violence. Politically motivated abuses that occurred in previous
elections have rarely been investigated or prosecuted, setting a
troubling precedent for 2011, Human Rights Watch said.
This year, Human Rights Watch documented how government authorities
have tried to suppress independent political reporting. That was
especially true of members of the intelligence organizations and
resident district commissioners, officials directly appointed by the
president to each district, Human Rights Watch found.
Human Rights Watch found that Ugandan journalists broadcasting in
local languages outside Kampala, the capital, where there is limited
international scrutiny, are vulnerable and sometimes feel they must
censor their own reporting to keep their jobs. The government has also
used media and penal laws to harass journalists in Kampala who criticize
state policies. Last year, the government's media regulatory bodies, in
the absence of any court orders, confiscated transmission equipment
from stations broadcasting politically sensitive commentary.
Violence by state actors has not been confined to election periods,
with some abuse of opposition supporters reported in 2010. During the
campaign period, freedom of assembly is particularly crucial as voters
engage in rallies and demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said.
Opposition members protesting the composition of the electoral
commission were arrested at demonstrations in January 2010 and again in
June. Four were seriously beaten by police and had to be hospitalized.
An ad hoc group known as the Kiboko (stick) squad has assaulted
opposition supporters, claiming to protect businesses from looting, most
recently in June. Police stood by and observed the beatings.
The government's intolerance for freedom of assembly is also
reflected in the proposed Public Order Management Bill, which would
require prior police approval before groups of three or more individuals
can gather to discuss "principles, policy, actions or failure of any
The lack of accountability for human rights violations by members of
the police and military is a troubling backdrop to the elections. Human
Rights Watch and other organizations have documented unlawful detention,
torture, and extrajudicial killings by security forces and other ad hoc
government-aligned security groups.
Uganda's military and political leadership has shown little
commitment to curbing violations within their ranks, especially by
high-ranking officials implicated in politically motivated violence. For
example, the High Court, ruling on civil electoral petitions in 2001
and 2006, determined multiple instances of election-related violence -
in some cases by Cabinet ministers and their supporters. Police and the
public prosecutor have failed to follow up with investigations or
During the 2006 elections, ruling party members, and security
organizations such as Local Defence Units physically assaulted
opposition party members, and members of the Ugandan army allegedly
threatened opposition candidates planning to campaign in one region. In
the 2001 elections, the Kalangala Action Plan (KAP), an informal group
created by the ruling party without a mandate, and headed by Maj. Ronald
Kakooza Mutale, then a senior presidential adviser, arbitrarily
arrested and detained people despite having no legal authority to do so,
and violently attacked opposition supporters. No one has ever been held
accountable for these abuses.
"This is the government's opportunity to avoid the violence and
recriminations of past campaigns," Peligal said. "Unless it takes a
strong stand, the government may appear to condone intimidation and
violence, and undermine the credibility of the election."
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