Uganda 2022Ugandan authorities continued to criminalize protest without legal basis. The state used preventive detention and criminal charges to deter criticism and the authorities ordered the closure of an LGBTI umbrella rights group. The president gave district security committees greater powers to authorize evictions, increasing the risk of forced evictions. Plans to construct the East African Crude Oil Pipeline threatened to harm the environment and adversely impact communities’ livelihoods and health. The country hosted almost 1.5 million refugees, with 100,000 arriving in 2022.
BackgroundOn 1 July, Uganda engaged with the UPR and accepted 139 of its 273 recommendations, including implementing the national human rights action plan and advancing the rights to health and education for girls. It failed to support key recommendations aimed at protecting human rights.1 On 20 September, the Ministry of Health declared an Ebola virus disease outbreak after a case of the Sudan ebolavirus was confirmed in Mubende district, central Uganda. There were 142 confirmed cases of infection, 56 confirmed deaths while 96 people had recovered by the end of the year.
Freedom of expression, association and assemblyThe government did not accept UPR recommendations to end the intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, civil society actors, bloggers and journalists. Between 12 and 23 May, police placed opposition leader Kizza Besigye under house arrest after he attempted a protest walk in the capital, Kampala, against the high cost of living. On 23 May, the police arrested and detained him for several hours after he left home to resume his protests in Kampala. They said they were preventing him from carrying out an offence. As head of the Forum for Democratic Change and the People’s Front for Transition (a political pressure group), he had been speaking at one of a series of protests against inflation and the cost of living when arrested. On 6 June, he was released on bail. On 14 June, police re-arrested him for protesting against the economic situation in downtown Kampala. He was released on 1 July on cash bail of UGX 2.5 million (about USD 650) after spending two weeks in pretrial detention on charges of inciting violence. On 30 May, police arrested MP Anna Adeke and deputy mayor of Kampala Doreen Nyanjura, alongside four women activists Wokuri Mudanda, Susan Nanyojo, Mariam Kizito and Alice Amony, in Kampala, for protesting against Kizza Besigye’s detention and the rising cost of living. They were charged with inciting violence and holding an illegal protest, and remanded at Kampala’s Luzira Maximum Security Prison before being released on bail on 7 June.2 The court at the Law Development Centre, Kampala, adjourned their cases at least four times before dropping all charges against them on 5 December. On 13 October, President Museveni signed into law the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill 2022. It contains restrictive provisions relating to unauthorized access, interception, recording or sharing information or data, and imposes severe penalties such as fines of UGX 15 million (about USD 3,900) and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years. Leaders or holders of public office can also be dismissed or forced to vacate office upon conviction.3
Right to a fair trialOn 6 June, the High Court of Uganda in Kampala ruled that Kizza Besigye’s bail conditions, set by Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court, were harsh and excessive, reducing his bail from almost UGX 30 million (about USD 7,820) to UGX 3 million (about USD 782) (see above, Freedom of expression, association and assembly).
Arbitrary arrests and detentionsPolice ignored a court order made on 4 January to release activist and author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. The week before, Special Forces Command officers had arrested him at his home in Kampala without an arrest warrant and threatened him with violence. He was detained in Kitalya prison in Kampala in connection with Twitter posts which the police claimed were intended to disturb the peace of Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the president’s son.4 On 11 January, 13 days after Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s arrest, police arraigned him to a closed session before the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court, where he said he had been tortured while in incommunicado detention. The police released him on 26 January, after the court granted him bail on medical grounds. In February, he fled Uganda. On 10 March, security forces raided Digitalk TV offices in Kampala and arrested novelist Norman Tumuhimbise, journalist Farida Bikobere and seven other staff members in connection with Norman Tumuhimbise’s social media post about the launch of his two novels. They were held in incommunicado detention and on 16 March seven of them were released unconditionally. On the same day, Norman Tumuhimbise and Farida Bikobere were charged in court with offensive communication and cyberstalking President Museveni, contrary to sections 25 and 26 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011, respectively. They were also accused of using their online platform “to disturb the peace and quiet of the President”. They were remanded in Luzira Maximum Security Prison and released on 21 March on UGX 500,000 (about USD 130) cash bail each. They said they and their seven colleagues were tortured in detention. Their case was ongoing at the end of the year.
LGBTI people’s rightsIn July, during the adoption of the final outcome of Uganda’s UPR, the government did not accept recommendations to protect LGBTI people’s rights. On 3 August, the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO Bureau), an official body, ordered the closure of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella organization that operates to protect LGBTI people’s rights. The authorities claimed that SMUG had not registered with the NGO Bureau in line with the NGO Act 2016. In 2018, SMUG had challenged a decision by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau to refuse to register the organization under Section 18 of the Companies Act of 2012, citing its “undesirable and unregistrable” name. On 27 June 2018, the high court upheld the Bureau’s decision.5 The move against SMUG took place amid the continued shrinking of civic space and increased attacks against the LGBTI community. On 19 May, police had arrested and detained two staff members of SMUG for “promoting homosexuality” when they went to Ntinda Police Station in Kampala to report malicious damage to property at SMUG’s office. They were charged with assaulting the person they were reporting and transferred to Kira Road Police Station. They were released on police bond on 23 May, re-arrested on 7 June and presented at court on 8 June, where they were granted free bail. They were repeatedly summoned to court before their hearing was set for January 2023. On 8 October, President Museveni said that homosexuals are still considered social deviants in Ugandan society.
Forced evictionsOn 28 February, President Museveni banned all land evictions carried out without the district security committees’ consent, giving the committees greater powers to authorize evictions and thereby increasing the risk of forced evictions. Indigenous peoples are among those affected by the directive since it allows security organs increased powers to determine land disputes and may undermine the judiciary’s independence.
Environmental degradationUganda continued to participate in plans to construct the 1,443km East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) which would pass through human settlements and wildlife areas, agricultural land and water sources (see Tanzania entry). On 1 February, EACOP shareholders including TotalEnergies, the Uganda National Oil Company, Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation and China National Offshore Oil Corporation, announced the final investment decision and the launch of the major crude oil pipeline project. It represented a total investment of approximately USD 10 billion (over UGX 38 trillion). The Ugandan and Tanzanian governments defended the project as necessary for the development of both countries, despite several challenges from domestic and international climate justice activists and civil society groups. These alleged that the pipeline would harm the environment, displace local people, and adversely impact livelihoods, food security and the public health of communities, including Indigenous peoples. The findings of an environmental and social impact assessment conducted by the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment and the Norwegian Oil for Development programme in partnership with the Ugandan National Environment Management Authority, between 2010 and 2013, were consistent with the climate justice activists’ contentions. A lawsuit filed by Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian civil society groups at the East African Court of Justice, seeking a temporary injunction with a view to preventing the pipeline, remained pending after two years. If constructed, the pipeline would be the largest heated pipeline in the world, transporting an average of 10.9 million tonnes of crude oil a year from Lake Albert oilfields in western Uganda to Tanga Port on the northern coast of Tanzania for export.
Refugees’ and migrants’ rightsAccording to the government and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, Uganda hosted 1,495,688 refugees; almost 100,000 arrived in 2022 alone. With only 45% of its funding requirements having been met as of November 2022, according to UNHCR, the authorities were not equipped to respond adequately to the situation by, for example, promoting refugees’ socio-economic integration or addressing the urgent need for healthcare and medicine, water, sanitation and hygiene services, and education. In September, UNHCR warned that it might be unable to continue paying teachers who worked with refugee children. Substandard, unsanitary and crowded living conditions exposed refugees to risks, including disease and gender-based violence.
- “Uganda: Oral statement item 6: Consideration of UPR reports: Uganda. UN Human Rights Council 50th session, 13 June – 8 July 2022”, 1 July
- “Uganda: Authorities must stop criminalizing activists for protesting high cost of living”, 6 June
- “Uganda: Scrap draconian law aimed at suppressing freedom of expression online”, 14 October
- “Uganda: Further information: Activist author redetained and tortured: Kakwenza Rukirabashaija”, 19 January
- “Uganda: Enable Sexual Minorities Uganda to operate and protect LGBTI rights”, 29 August
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