Catholic Bishops under their umbrella body, the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) have penned a highly critical letter of the recent actions by security agencies and other government institutions which they said put to doubt the credibility of the forthcoming general elections.
The Kiyinda – Mityana Bishop, Rt. Rev. Anthony Zziwa who is also the UEC chairman issued the 13-page letter at a press conference held at the Uganda Catholic secretariat in Nsambya near Kampala.
“What perturbs us most is the fact that many of the victims died or got injured
in the hands of security agencies tasked with the duty to protect life and
property of citizens. We see this as abuse of authority,” the Bishops stated.
The bishops implored government to urgently address issues such as the increasing militarization of the electoral process, suffocation of press freedoms, commercialization of politics and the likely disenfranchisement of voters.
“The State must exercise restraint in the face of adversity, very well knowing that…a regime which governs solely or mainly by means of threats and intimidation or promises of reward, provides men with no effective incentive to work for the common good (including peace),” Zziwa said.
The pastoral letter which is going to be widely circulated and read to the Catholic faithful in their respective churches ahead of the elections next week, is also critical of increasing intolerance of divergent views which has sometimes ended in violent clashes.
To the bishops, the ever-growing intolerance which has been haunting the country from years after independence has led to other vices including intimidation and use of abusive and derogatory language all of which are currently widely experienced.
Whereas president Yoweri Museveni has already deployed heavily armed soldiers on the streets of several cities and townships, the bishops advised that government should desist from deploying the military as the first line of law enforcement on polling day.
They also call that the officers on duty exercise considerable restraint and avoid using lethal force on unarmed civilians.
The bishops are particularly alarmed by the targeted attacks on journalists by security officers, saying no amount of justification can explain the assault on the “eyes, nose and ears” of the people and that failure to deal decisively with the officers may herald the beginning of the descend into anarchy in the land.
The prelates also criticised the Electoral Commission (EC) ban on political campaigns in some 16 districts as just a ploy to curtail political activities.
” For an election or electoral process to be free and fair, it must be conducted in an atmosphere that enables every citizen entitled to vote to exercise his or her right without any form of intimidation, or coercion, or manipulation. Short of
that, an electoral process undermines the inherent rights of citizens to choose, rights derived from the very nature of the human person created in the likeness
of God,” Zziwa said.
“Every election, since independence, has paid less attention to human rights. Yet, human rights are inalienable, for the simple reason that nobody or institution has the power to grant them; they are rooted in natural law,” the Kiyinda – Mityana Bishop added.
They warned the EC to be very careful while handling the election results as any loopholes might lead the country into a cycle of post-election violence as seen in the past which saw bloodshed in the country.
Too the bishops, any acts of tampering with results through forgery and ballot stuffing, remain one of the biggest challenges of several elections and also a key driver of election-related violence.
For the post-election process, the catholic church has called for the initiation of a national dialogue and reconciliation regardless of who the winner will be.
This, according to them, will allow Ugandans to chart the future of their country.