Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. In 2021, voters re-elected Museveni to a sixth consecutive five-year term and returned the NRM majority to the unicameral parliament.
The elections fell short of international standards and included allegations of arbitrary killings and disappearances of opposition supporters, disenfranchisement and voter intimidation, harassment of the opposition, closure of social media websites, and lack of transparency and independence in the Electoral Commission.
The national police maintain internal security, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees the police. The president detailed army officials to leadership roles within the police and the executive, including government ministries. The law allows the military to support police operations to maintain internal security. The Ministry of Defense oversees the army. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
There were reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses, with only a few low-ranking officers purportedly punished.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government agencies; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for alleged offenses by a relative; serious abuses in a conflict, including unlawful civilian harm; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecution of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of Non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious flaws with citizens’ ability to determine their government through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and child, early, and forced marriage; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, albeit not fully enforced.
The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity, including for serious abuses, was a problem.
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion Article 29 in Uganda’s constitution protects freedom of conscience, thought and religion. Uganda has not recognized a formal state religion. Some religious minority groups have refused to participate in government programmes and, therefore, the district security councils depicted these groups as “cults” in a public report. ”Cult” is used to identify the leader of a religious assembly. Some NGOs with religious background have been denied registration with the motivation that the religious groups are based on commercial interests
The right to the freedom of expression the rights to freedom of expression and free press continue to be restricted by the Government. There have been increased efforts to control the work of journalists and media houses. Despite constitutional provisions that protect the freedom of speech, the working environment for journalists and media outlets is steadily deteriorating. A survey from 2012 showed that 85 percent of Ugandans think that the media should constantly investigate and report on governmental mistakes and corruption.
The police are one of the main violators of media freedoms in the country, and journalists that are perceived to be critical of the Government often face harassment, intimidation and physical abuse. Attacks on journalists are very rarely investigated as the police is generally protected from prosecution by other state agencies. The violations are not only confined to the police – a worrying trend that has begun to develop is that Uganda’s judiciaries have increased their efforts to undermine the importance of the media and access to information.
Judges have barred journalists from accessing courts and reporting on certain cases. They have even gone as far as detaining the journalists that try to do so, as well as confiscating their equipment. Similarly, Uganda’s media sector has faced increased repression and restrictions from the Government. With escalating government constraints and intimidation, many journalists and media houses, which have been openly critical of the Government, have been forced to self-censor their coverage.
During the election year of 2016, security forces carried out several attacks on the media and radio stations in the country. These all shared the common variable of expressing criticism against the Government. These, and previous, acts have led to a situation where media outlets live in fear of state repercussions, which underline the deterioration of press freedoms and freedom of expression in the country. During 2016 election, Museveni blocked different social media channels in the country as he intended to stop people from “telling lies” about his party.
In relation to the election, the police arrested two journalists for publishing a picture of a dead body that the newspaper identified as one of the Ugandan presidential candidate’s chief of security. The identified man had been missing for several weeks. The publisher and the editor were arrested for 24 hours without any contact from the outside as the police wanted to know the source of the published photograph.
The cybercrime law that came into force in June 2016 regulates public interesting matters of freedom of speech, which could be seen as an effort of a direct way to make citizens fear their voices online. There have been cases where journalists have been charged with “abetting terrorism”, and this legislation has been used when journalists report on situations where photographs are taken during violent situations Furthermore, the Anti-Terrorism Act from 2002 provides means for the president to call out a group as a terrorist organisation without any form of juridical procedure. The Act’s definition of a terrorist organisation is wide and could be applied on numerous organisation
The right to freedom of assembly and association Despite the presence of constitutional provisions that guarantee the right to freedom of assembly and association, the government of Uganda continues its crackdown on public meetings and civil society groups. The passing of new legislation is central to the government’s increasingly repressive stance. The right to hold public meetings and peaceful gatherings has been severely restricted by the Public Orders Management Act (POMA), which was signed into law in 2013. The Act requires groups and organisations to register with the local police before any gathering addressing political issues can occur.
This provision essentially extends the power of the police by granting them the authority to permit or prohibit any public meeting. The Act has been used by the government to undermine any attempts to voice opposition against the administration. Political parties of the opposition have been adversely affected, with demonstrations regularly blocked or delayed due to procedural technicalities. Likewise, peaceful protests held by students and youths have ended in mass arrests and detentions by police, who have deemed the gatherings unlawful under the POMA. Uganda has a relatively thriving civil society, with thousands of NGOs operating in the country. Despite this, these organisations are susceptible to legal and operational restrictions.
Current legislation requires all NGOs to register with the state, a provision that has been utilized by the government to delay or hinder work done by organisations that have been deemed not-friendly to the government, or sympathetic to the opposition. This obstruction is a trend that has been affecting NGOs that are working on sensitive issues such as violations of human rights, oil revenue transparency and land acquisition compensation. Reports abound that such groups face harassment, threats and abuse, and several have claimed that their offices have been broken into and vandalized.
In the beginning of 2016, Museveni signed a Non-Governmental Organisations Act (NGO Act). The act has been criticized for introducing further restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly and association, especially since it includes the vague phrasing that NGOs may “not engage in any act which is prejudicial to the interests of Uganda or the dignity of the people of Uganda”. The bill puts pressure on NGOs, especially since it does not provide a clarification of the meaning of “dignity of the people”. If the bill remains in this format, there will be risks of more consequences in the future
The right to political rights For the past 30 years, one party has effectively ruled Uganda. The National Resistance Movement (NRM) is the dominant party in the country while several other smaller parties make up the opposition. Despite the claim of a multi-party system, opposition parties have been hindered by harassment, regulatory restriction, and a lack of access to state media coverage, which effectively neutralises them as a political threat. Efforts have been undertaken by the ruling party to consolidate support and to silence any perceived dissident.
Fundamental to these policies is the party’s close affiliation with the military, which provides powerful support for the President and the NRM. Both the 2011 and the 2016 election results were heavily contested by opposition parties who claimed that Museveni used large amounts of the taxpayers’ money to run his campaign. Related reports claim that the money also was used to bribe voters, candidates and electoral officials. During the 2011 election, numerous incidents of violence, hate speech and extrajudicial killings directed towards HRDs were reported.
Also journalists reported about attempts that had been made to silence them. The crackdown on political protests, press freedom, and general criticism of the administration later continued during the 2016 election. Furthermore, the 2016 election was criticised for not complying with the international democratic standards of being free and fair.19 Out of 176 countries, the Corruption Perception Index ranked Uganda as number 151 in 2016. This visualises the lack of accountability and transparency in the political system. Compared to previous years, the index reveals a trend of increasing corruption in the country The right to protection against discrimination
Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The law provides for government agencies to investigate, inquire into, and prosecute unlawful killings by the security forces. Human rights campaigners, however, claimed these agencies were largely ineffective.
The constitution established the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) to investigate any person or group of persons for abuses of any human right (see section 5). The Police Disciplinary Court has the power to hear cases of officers who breach the police disciplinary code of conduct. Military courts have the power to hear cases against officers that break military law, which bars soldiers from targeting or killing nonmilitants.
Opposition activists, local media, human rights activists, and religious leaders reported that security forces killed some individuals the government identified as dissidents and those whom it accused of criminal activity. Members of parliament and civil society organizations reported that the military carried out extrajudicial killings while carrying out law enforcement operations in the Karamoja subregion and among fishing communities. On February 28, local media reported that police officers at Nakyakolede Police Post in Kasubi, Kampala, had killed Hussein Kakumba, age 14, while interrogating him for alleged theft.
According to local media, Kakumba’s guardian reported Kakumba to police on allegation of stealing 1.1 million shillings ($299). According to a police statement, Kakumba died of his injuries at Mulago National Referral Hospital after the commander of the Nakyakolede Police Post, Michael Amuge, assaulted him while interrogating him concerning the missing funds. Police stated they launched a murder investigation into Amuge’s conduct but officials did not report any findings by year’s end
Disappearance There were numerous reports of disappearances by government authorities. Local media, opposition political parties, and human rights lawyers reported that the military – particularly the Chieftaincy for Military Intelligence (CMI) and the Special Forces Command (SFC) – and police continued to hold individuals, often opposition supporters, at unidentified locations without charge.
The opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) party reported that while an unspecified number of its supporters remained unaccounted for, the security forces continued randomly detaining them without trial. On August 10, parliament’s Committee on Human Rights reported that according to UHRC figures, seven opposition supporters remained missing, five of whom security agencies detained in 2020 and two in December 2021.
The UHRC reported in June that it investigated reports of 69 disappearances and successfully ordered the release of 64 detainees. The UHRC also recommended that the Uganda Police Force investigate all cases of forced disappearance and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted. Military and police forces repeatedly denied holding persons without trial and noted that all persons they detained had either been released or arraigned in court. In September NUP officials reported that plainclothes security officers riding in unmarked vans arrested and detained NUP supporters who had recorded videos mocking ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party officials; some of the NUP supporters remained unaccounted for (see section 2). On November 30, the NUP reported that it submitted to several government offices, including the UHRC, a list of 24 persons who went missing between 2019 and 2022.
On December 5, the UHRC acknowledged receipt of the list from the NUP and announced a nationwide search for missing NUP supporters. On December 6, the minister for justice and constitutional affairs stated that the government instituted a committee on human rights to investigate allegations of disappearance of opposition supporters. Neither the UHRC nor the cabinet committee had released findings of their search by year’s end
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses The constitution and law prohibit such practices.
The law stipulates that any person convicted of an act of torture may receive a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. The penalty for conviction of aggravated torture is life imprisonment. Nevertheless, there were credible reports security forces tortured and physically abused suspects. Impunity was a problem. In November the UN Committee Against Torture stated that it was “deeply concerned by reports that torture and ill-treatment continue to be widespread and frequently practiced in Uganda.”
Human rights lawyers, the UHRC, parliament’s Committee on Human Rights, opposition politicians, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and local media reported that security agencies tortured dissidents as well as suspects as punishment for their criticism of the government and its officials and to extract self-incriminating confessions, sometimes leading to death (see section 1.a).
In January the Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) reported that between 2020 and January it had received 121 suspects in custody who bore injuries on their bodies. Also in January the UHRC reported that between 2020 and January it recorded more than 500 complaints of torture and other cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
In December 2021, SFC officers arrested satirist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija at his home in Kampala. The day prior, Rukirabashaija had tweeted criticism of some members of the first family, describing the president as corrupt and his son, the then Commander of Land Forces General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as obese and effeminate (see section 1.e and 2.a).
On January 11, police arraigned Rukirabashaija in court and, in the absence of his lawyers and family, charged him with two counts of “offensive communication.” Rukirabashaija remained in detention until January 25 when the court granted him bail. In media interviews published in February, Rukirabashaija said his body bore 63 scars from torture he experienced at the hands of SFC officers.
He stated that, during his detention, SFC officers deprived him of sleep, forced him to dance, kicked him, beat him with sticks, and numerous times tore off his flesh using a pair of pliers. He said the officers then forced him to appear on camera and record an apology to the president and Kainerugaba. On February 9, Rukirabashaija went into exile after a court denied him leave to seek healthcare abroad. His trial continued at year’s end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions Conditions in prisons and detention centers remained harsh and, in some cases, life-threatening due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, physical abuse of detainees by security staff and fellow inmates, inadequate food, and understaffing. In November the UN Committee Against Torture stated that it “remains concerned at reports indicating that the practice [of using “ungazetted” or unauthorized places of detention or “safe houses”] still takes place in the country.”
Abusive Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding remained a problem in prisons, police cells, and unofficial detention facilities. In September prison officials reported that prisons with a capacity of 19,986 held 70,535 inmates. The UPS reported that lengthy pretrial detention as well as an inmate population rate that outstripped the rate at which prisons were able to expand were the leading drivers of overcrowding. In November the UN Committee Against Torture stated its “concern at reports indicating that overcrowding in prisons had resulted in limited access to bedding and sleeping space, poor health care and drug stock shortages in detention facilities.”
The Committee stated that “reports indicate that ill-treatment still occurs, especially beating of inmates by ‘katikiros’ (leaders appointed among inmates) and prison warders imposing solitary confinement and caning as disciplinary measures. The Committee [noted] the establishment of human rights committees mandated to monitor places of detention but [remained] concerned at reports that they are not functional and that their members have limited knowledge and skills regarding human rights violations.”
On June 22, Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo referred to the conditions in Gulu prison as “horrific,” noting that the prison was holding 1,365 inmates in a 247-person-capacity structure. On February 17, members of parliament’s Committee on Defense and Internal Affairs reported that inmates in prisons in Gulu and Lira Districts were packed so tightly that some lacked space to lie down.
This overcrowding enabled some prisoners to sexually abuse other inmates. Members of the Committee also noted that prisoners lacked access to toilets at night and instead used buckets, which often overflowed and exposed inmates to disease. The prisons acknowledged 29 of 261 prison facilities still used buckets as toilets but added that the prisons service was gradually working to eliminate the practice.
According to local media, some opposition members of parliament Page 6 complained on April 21 that some women inmates lacked access to sanitary pads and were bitten by lice while in detention. The prisons, however, stated all women prisoners had access to menstrual hygiene materials. The prisons also reported that lice infestation resulted from the admission of new inmates, who carried on their bodies and among their effects. In September the UPS reported that it trained and deployed 17 teams to carry out fumigation of prison facilities to fight lice infestation. Most prisons did not have accommodations for persons with disabilities, and police often detained child and adult suspects together.
Lastly but not the least, Arbitrary Arrest or Detention. Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, security forces often arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, especially opposition leaders; politicians; activists; demonstrators; and members of the general population accused of violating COVID-19 restrictions. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but this mechanism was seldom employed and rarely successful.