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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Uganda

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Uganda, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

The country has remained highly militarised, partly because of the conflict raging in the north for over 20 years. However, two agreements were signed with the Lord's Resistance Army, on May 2 and June 29, 2007, which resulted in an improved security situation on the ground, especially in camps for displaced persons. These agreements have nonetheless been criticised by some civil society organisations for being vague with regard to the impunity of perpetrators of the most serious crimes, including doubts regarding the cooperation of Ugandan authorities with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has issued four arrest warrants against suspected rebel leaders responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The arrest warrants had not been executed in late 2007.

In recent years, more progressive laws were adopted on access to information (Access to Information Act, 2005), prisons (Prisons Act, 2006) and magistrates (Magistrate's Court – Amendment – Act, 2007). In contrast, and despite a recommendation by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which considered the report of Uganda in 2005, no legislation criminalising torture has been adopted.1 Moreover, human rights NGOs and the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) continued to denounce cases of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated with impunity by security forces, including those by the military intelligence command and the repression of violent crimes unit.

Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly

Though it has not been used this year to hinder the work of NGOs, the NGO Registration – Amendment – Act,2 which was adopted in 2006, remains a threat to the autonomy and independence of civil society organisations that criticise State actions.

Moreover, the exercise of freedom of assembly was threatened due to the prohibition of any gathering in the central district of Kampala, following demonstrations organised by opposition parties that took place in the first half of 2007. Other areas of the country have been declared "forbidden zones" by the Minister of the Interior pursuant to the adoption on November 2, 2007 of Statutory Instrument No. 53. In these regions, it is unlawful for any person to hold meetings, and a number of events have been banned or repressed because of this. For example, in April 2007, the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) organised a demonstration to call for the protection of the equatorial rainforest of Mabira that was likely to be sold to an investor. The demonstrators did not follow the agreed upon route, and punishment was harsh and disproportionate; police forced demonstrators to get back to the authorised route, which resulted in the death of three participants.

Attacks against defenders of LGBT rights

Again this year, NGOs and human rights defenders were confronted with violence and discrimination for defending the rights of sexual minorities. Indeed, the Criminal Code still considers homosexuality a crime under sections 140, 141 and 143 and, in July 2005, the legislature passed an amendment to the Constitution making marriage between people of the same sex a punishable act. Since then, defenders of gay rights have been increasingly repressed. Thus, in November 2007, Ugandan and Kenyan defenders for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT), including representatives of the NGO Sexual Minorities in Uganda (SMUG), an NGO beacon in the field of gay rights in the country, were prevented by the police to speak at "Speakers Corner" of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kampala from November 23 to 25, 2007. "Amakula", a general organisation based in Kampala, has also been the subject of discrimination due to the screening of a film addressing the issue of homosexuality during the CHOGM.

Muzzling freedoms of expression and of the press

In 2007, the media and journalists were especially targeted with repression. In addition to the legislative arsenal, which continues to limit their freedom (including the Law on Electronic Media in 1996, and the Anti-Terrorist Act of 2002), a systematic determination by the Government to silence any critical coverage of the conflict in the north has emerged. For instance, on March 1, 2007, three journalists, Mr. Sam Matekha, from Radio Simba, Mr. Wokulira Sebaggala, from Radio Sapientia, and Mr. Charles Sekajja, from Ddembe FM, were attacked by police while covering the trial of members of the Peoples' Redemption Army3 before the Supreme Court.

The Anti-Terrorist Act is also a threat in that it criminalises any attempt by a journalist to meet or speak with persons or groups regarded as terrorist; the penalty for those who violate the law is the death penalty. The law also prohibits the disclosure of any information which might prejudice an investigation on matters of terrorism. This particularly affects the ability to cover the conflict in northern Uganda as well as abuses committed by the security forces and thus constitutesa serious obstacle to any denunciation of human rights violations.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See Conclusions and Recommendations by the Committee Against Torture, United Nations document CAT/C/CR/34/UGA, June 21, 2005.

2 For more details, see Annual Report 2006 of the Observatory.

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