Head of state and government: Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: ratified
UN Women’s Convention: ratified
Optional Protocol to UN Women’s Convention: not signed
Abuses by the armed opposition Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) increased during the first half of the year. The government asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of the war in northern Uganda. Rape of girls was widespread, and other torture persisted. The media continued to be attacked.
Throughout 2004, debate continued over the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) on moving the country towards a multi-party political system and on lifting the two-term presidential limit ahead of elections due in 2006. The government presented a White Paper containing its counter-proposals to the CRC’s recommendations in September.
In November the Constitutional Court held that certain sections of the hotly contested Political Parties and Organizations Act (PPOA) of 2002 were unconstitutional and infringed civil and political rights such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly.
Harassment of politicians continued. In November, four members of parliament from northern Uganda were reportedly beaten by soldiers, allegedly to prevent them holding consultative meetings on the constitutional proposals.
On 9 December, eight suspects from an alleged armed group, the People’s Redemption Army (PRA), were charged with plotting to overthrow the government. The previous day, the Constitutional Court had ordered that 25 suspects from the same organization be released on bail immediately. The 25 were charged with treason before the Military General Court Martial.
The war in northern Uganda
The first half of the year saw an upsurge in LRA attacks on civilians in Gulu, Kitgum, Lira and Pader districts.
- In February the LRA attacked Barlonyo Internally Displaced People Camp in Lira District, killing over 200 people. President Museveni visited the district and apologized for the lack of protection provided by the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF).
From July onwards, UPDF military interventions in Sudan and LRA defections led to a downturn in LRA attacks. The government renewed the Amnesty Act for a further three months in August. The Act offered full pardon for those involved in insurgency who abandoned acts of rebellion. In August President Museveni reversed the government’s previous position of excluding the LRA leadership from possible pardon by declaring that Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, had only one chance to seek amnesty.
On 14 November President Museveni ordered a seven-day ceasefire, suspending UPDF operations in a limited area of Acholi region to allow the LRA leadership to meet in an effort to end hostilities. The peace initiative was apparently instigated by Betty Bigombe, former Minister of State in charge of the pacification of northern Uganda.The ceasefire was renewed on several occasions until the end of the year.
Referral to the International Criminal Court
In January the Prosecutor of the ICC announced that he would take steps to investigate and prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the conflict in northern Uganda. This followed a request from the Ugandan government at the end of 2003 for the ICC to investigate crimes committed by the LRA. In July the ICC Prosecutor indicated that he would investigate crimes by both the LRA and government forces. The government pledged its support for the ICC investigations and published the International Criminal Court Bill to implement the ICC Statute in domestic law. The Bill had not been enacted by the end of 2004.
In November, during government efforts to resolve the conflict, officials announced that if leaders of the LRA were to stop fighting and engage in internal reconciliation mechanisms, the state could withdraw its case from the ICC. However, there is no evidence that once a state party has referred a situation to the ICC that it can “withdraw” the referral.
Violence against women
Reports of rape, including of young girls, were widespread and appeared to be on the increase. In Kabarole, in the west, 54 children were reportedly raped in the first quarter of 2004. In Gulu, the figure rose from 55 in August to 65 in September. Between January and June, 320 child rape cases were reported in the southern area in the districts of Rakai, Kalangala, Masaka and Sembalule, and 682 in Kampala, compared to 437 for the same period in 2003. Nearly half those facing capital charges were accused of raping children.
Support services remained inadequate, and in the absence of appropriate medication, the population, especially children and women, was highly vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
Reports of torture by law enforcement officers, security agents and the army persisted. Torture continued to be used to extract confessions and as a means of punishment.
- In April, a survivor of torture by security agents of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence was awarded financial compensation by the Uganda Human Rights Commission. The Commission held the government liable for violating the survivor’s rights to liberty and protection from torture and ill-treatment. The government had not settled the award by the end of 2004.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression in the media continued to be under serious attack.
- In June, six journalists were detained by order of the Chairperson of the Military General Court Martial. They were convicted of contempt of court on the same day. Together with a defence lawyer, they were accused of publishing stories about the trial of a former Army Chief of Staff, which the military court had ordered should be held behind closed doors. The accused were fined and cautioned.
In February, in a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court ruled the offence of “publication of false news” as void and unconstitutional, reaffirming that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. The Supreme Court ruled that the language in the Penal Code providing for the offence was too imprecise.
Freedom of association and assembly
On several occasions, police impeded the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of association by dispersing peaceful demonstrations, gatherings and rallies by opposition parties and groupings.
The Constitutional Court judgement of 17 November nullifying certain sections of the PPOA 2002 removed constraints on political parties’ right to hold public rallies in any part of the country. The Court also nullified Section 13(b), which barred a Ugandan citizen who had lived outside the country for more than three years from leading a political party or from being a political office-bearer.
Persecution of sexual minorities
The climate of hostility against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people persisted and discriminatory legislation against sexual minorities remained in force. Security agents continued to harass members of the LGBT community, causing gay rights activists at one of the main universities to fear for their personal safety.
- In October, a radio station was compelled to pay a fine for hosting a live talk show with sexual rights activists. The Broadcasting Council imposed a fine on FM Radio Simba, claiming that the programme was “contrary to public morality” and breached existing laws.
Death sentences continued to be imposed. There were at least 525 inmates on death row by December 2004. No civilians have been executed since May 1999, when 28 death row inmates were hanged at Luzira Prison. Three soldiers were executed by firing squad in March 2003. Top prison officers repeatedly called for executions to be carried out by privately employed hangmen, not Prison Department employees, if the government were to maintain the death penalty.
Despite calls for its abolition, the Constitutional Review Commission recommended that the death penalty be retained and should remain mandatory for the crimes of murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping with intent to murder, and rape of minors below the age of 15. The government responded in September by accepting the recommendations and noting that treason was not listed among the crimes carrying a mandatory death sentence.