Ahead of elections in Uganda next week, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, is urging authorities to ensure the parliamentary and presidential contests are free and peaceful amid deteriorating human rights conditions in the country.
The rights office noted that the arrest of opposition candidates and their supporters are among several “worrying” developments ahead of the vote.
In the run-up to the election, numerous human rights violations have been reported, including of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and participation, as well as arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture, OHCHR said.
“We are deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 14 January and the challenges this situation may pose not only for voting day itself, but also for the post-electoral period,” Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said on Friday.
Eleven candidates are vying to unseat President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for the past 35 years. The contenders include reggae singer and opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine.
At least 55 people were killed between 18 and 20 November during riots and protests over the arrest and detention of Mr. Kyagulanyi, leader of the National Unity Platform (NUP), and Patrick Oboi Amuriat, candidate for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
“The harassment, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention of opposition candidates and supporters have been a worrying development during the electoral campaign”, Ms. Shamdasani said.
She added that Mr. Kyagulanyi has repeatedly been blocked from holding campaign events, while Mr. Oboi Amuriat was arrested on the campaign trail last Saturday and released on bail that afternoon. Security forces reportedly beat journalists covering the event.
The UN human rights office also voiced concern over COVID-19 restrictions implemented in relation to the elections, including fears that they are being used to curtail political participation.
Last June, the Electoral Commission of Uganda issued rules for low-contact elections, or “scientific elections”, which prohibit mass rallies and provide for digital campaigns. They were later revised to allow campaign meetings with up to 200 people.
In December, the Commission suspended general election meetings in 16 districts characterized as having high transmission of the virus.
Ms. Shamdasani said although human rights law may allow for restrictions to mass gatherings and campaigning for public health reasons, “we have increasingly observed that the COVID-19 restrictions have been enforced more strictly to curtail opposition electoral campaign activities in a discriminatory fashion.”
She reported that security forces blocked an NUP campaign event on Dec. 30, 2020 for violating COVID-19 measures, arresting 90 people.
“Such developments increase concern that the COVID-19 measures are being used as a ground to restrict public freedoms and political participation during the electoral process,” Ms. Shamdasani said.
Ms. Shamdasani ended by calling on the Ugandan authorities to protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to ensure a free and peaceful election process. (Source: UN News)