Human rights activists have reacted angrily to President Museveni’s intent to enforce the death penalty, more than two decades after the last execution.
While presiding over at the pass out of 919 prisons officers at Luzira Prisons Training Academy on January 18, Museveni said that the increasing criminality in the country will force him to reconsider his position on the death penalty.
"I have not been assenting to hanging of convicts because of my Christian background but being lenient is causing people to think they can cause harm and get away with it," Museveni said.
From the human rights perspective, Museveni’s statements are a step back in as far as the fight against abuse of human rights and dignity is concerned.
“The greatest manifestation of human dignity is life, you can’t talk of promoting dignity when you are taking away a life,” Mohammed Ndifuna, the executive director of Human Rights Network (Hurinet) said on January 19.
Ndifuna was speaking during a joint press conference by civil society organisation (CSOs) at the Uganda National NGO forum offices at Kabalagala on the outskirts of Kampala.
The press conference was called for the CSOs to give their look at events that were witnessed in the year 2017, and their forecast of the New Year.
“There are many instances, some of them of course are outside Uganda,of people who were executed and later it turns out that they were innocent,” Ndifuna said.
“What Museveni is talking about is a retrogressive step,” he added.
According to the Ugandan law, there are 28 offenses that are punishable with a death penalty. Notable among these is murder, treason and terrorism.
The president spoke against a backdrop of increased cases of mysterious murder across the country that claimed lives of about 20 women in areas around Kampala.
In the greater Masaka sub-region, there is a notorious group locally known as Bakijambiya group that has since March last year been wreaking havoc in the area, claiming dozens of lives. According to Ndifuna, hanging such criminals may not solve the problem.
“They are not arresting the persons responsible for these deaths,” Ndifuna said. “There are those that have confessed to being responsible for 90 per cent of the murders in the country but no one is arresting them. We hope they [government] are not going to use execute political opponents,” he added.
AGE LIMIT BILL
The CSOs also criticised the events that characterised the tabling and passing of Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi’s Constitutional amendment Bill that led to the scrapping of the presidential age limit and also extended the term of elected leaders by two years.
“The invasion of parliament by armed security agents on September 27, 2017, arrest of some members of parliament, civil society activists and journalists to facilitate the amendment of Article 102(b) of the Constitution, set the country on a very uncertain political path. We continue to reiterate our original position that the amendment of Article 102(b) was a selfish act and not in the interest of the country,” NGO forum’s Richard Ssewakiryanga said.
“This provision provided the much-needed constitutional safeguards against a repeat of our history characterized by violent transfers of power. Ugandans must find time to build political consensus on the key features of our democracy,” he added.
Ssewakiryanga said, the amendment requires all Ugandans including MPs to reflect on the deeper implication of this action. He criticised the government for using its agencies to stifle free speech through acts of repression which also led to a siege on some CSOs that were suspected to be opposed to the scrapping of the presidential age limit.
“The siege on some civil society organizations, and media agencies, the arrests of some civil society leaders and activists across the country and the unnecessary investigations of another 27 organizations were not only an affront to the freedoms of association and expression but also an expression of the most rudimentary forms of repression. Such actions blemish the sanctity of our aspiration to build a democratic society,” Ssewakiryanga said.
Additionally, offices of some eight NGOs were broken into and a number of their information storage facilities taken. While many of these cases were reported to police, the police are yet to update the NGOs on the progress of their investigations.