The Opposition in Parliament has petitioned the United States Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Lisa Petersen on the state of human rights in Uganda.
Petersen, the US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie E. Brown, and other officials on Thursday held a private meeting at Parliament with the Leader of Opposition, Mathias Mpuuga, and the National Unity Platform (NUP) Party president, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu.
After the meeting, Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of Opposition said that the US Assistant Secretary had come to ascertain what he described as voices and claims of human rights violations in Uganda.
“Uganda is not operating as an island, we are part of a global family for democracy and therefore our actions filter through the family of humans and therefore the US being a key partner in our democratization process, it gets interested in matters that relate in our democratization,” said Mpuuga.
Mpuuga said that the secret meeting with the US officials had been attended by a section of Shadow Ministers and Opposition political party whips.
Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, the National Unity Platform (NUP) President added that during the meeting, they were able to paint a clearer picture to the diplomats of what they have been seeing in the media and other sources of constant human rights abuse, disrespect and undermining of the rule of law.
He added that they reiterated their call for action against perpetrators and more sanctions by the US administration in regard to human rights abuses.
Kyagulanyi added that even after their interface with the US Secretary, they will continue to push for more action from the international community on the ruling government due to the human rights abuses.
“We have done this on international platforms and we had to take the opportunity to do the same here where there is visible evidence,” Kyagulanyi stated. “We call for isolation of the regime in Uganda. We continue to call for making the rule of law, respect for democracy and human rights a pre-condition for cooperation with Uganda. We continue to call upon international development partners to not be seen to associate with a clear military dictator.”
He further said that government’s response on torture is surprising since there is clear constant abuse of human rights.
Asked whether the Opposition considers having talks with the ruling government, the former presidential candidate said that this is not an option since it is only free men and women who engage in dialogue and not prisoners.
He said that they cannot talk about dialogue amidst abductions of their supporters and gross human rights abuse.
The Opposition has since the 2021 general elections campaigns complained severally about the abduction of their supporters and subsequent torture in detention.
In the past months, there have also been several reports of torture of citizens by security operatives, detention without trial, and missing supporters.
The most recent case of torture is that of novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. He was reportedly tortured by officers from the elite Special Forces Command-(SFC) for allegedly insulting president, Yoweri Museveni and his son, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba via his social media pages.
Shortly after his release from custody, Kakwenza undressed before cameras exposing torture marks on his back and thighs allegedly inflicted on him by security operatives on Muhoozi’s order.
However, the Acting Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Wilson Muruli Mukasa said that government does not know and doesn’t intend to know the political inclination of all the suspects in custody.
“Nobody is above the law and any attempt to politicize the handling of offenders would be in breach of the spirit of the constitution and the impartial administration of justice,” said Muruli Mukasa. “It would also promote impunity. Those suspects the Hon Members of the opposition claim to speak for and indeed all the suspects in custody are entreated to have recourse to the remedies provided for in our laws in pursuing the management and conclusion of their cases.”
This statement came amidst a two weeks boycott of plenary sittings by Opposition MPs in protest of torture of suspects and abductions and delayed action and response from the government regarding increasing cases of torture of citizens. The MPs could then seek to censure the Minister of Security, Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi but their motion failed after failing to raise the requisite signatures.
Amidst all this, the House tasked its Human Rights Committee to inquire into the torture of suspects by security operatives, detention without trial and missing persons on the instructions of the Deputy Speaker, Anita Among.
Investigations by the committee are still going on.