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Uganda to US: We don’t do kidnaps, abductions

Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa

Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was blunt and plain-spoken in his unflattering assessment of Uganda’s poor human rights record when he delivered on-camera remarks on April 4 while presiding at the release of the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

Uganda’s grades on human rights took a battering before, during and in the immediate aftermath of 2020/2021 election campaign period that put on public display the army and police’s use of high handed brute force to break up opposition campaign rallies, arrest politicians and their supporters deemed to run counter to Covid-19 rules limiting gatherings to 200 people.

The killing by security forces of about 60 people during protests last November sparked by the arrest of Robert Kyaggulanyi Sentamu, the flag bearer of the opposition National Unity Platform, in Luuka district in eastern Uganda, hugely dented the country’s human rights.

The kidnaps and disappearances and testimonies of some of the victims continue to shock the nation and the international community. In Blinken’s speech, Uganda featured prominently in a very unenviable spotlight.

He said the report we’re releasing today shows that the trend lines on human rights continue to move in the wrong direction. We see evidence that in every region of the world this is happening.

We see it in the genocide being committed against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang; the attacks on and the imprisonment of opposition politicians, anti-corruption activists, and independent journalists in places like Russia, Uganda, Venezuela. 

After a week or so, the government of Uganda has elected to respond to the report. Below is the government statement titled; Response to the United States country report on human rights practices in Uganda

INTRODUCTION

The Government of Uganda (“the Government”) has had the opportunity to study the report titled ‘2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Uganda’ (“the report”) that was released on 30th March 2021 by the State Department of the United States of America.

The report raises a number of concerns and allegations that are of concern to the Government. This is because it contains several distortions, a lot of hearsay and generalizations and, at the very least, it is a blatant display of limited knowledge about the reality on the ground in Uganda.

From the outset, it is important to underscore the following:

(a) That the Government values the partnership it has with the United States in many areas and is committed to the continued strengthening of that partnership in all the areas, including in area of human rights.

(b) That the Government strongly believes that the sustenance of the relationship depends on the upholding of the universally accepted principles of mutual respect, non-interference and respect for sovereignty. The Government will, therefore, always welcome

engagement with the United States and other partner countries on any matter, provided there is adherence to these principles, which in Uganda’s view, are sacrosanct.

(c) Safeguarding the fundamental human rights and freedoms of Ugandans is a constitutional responsibility of the Government. The Government attaches utmost importance to this responsibility and is steadfastly committed to upholding these rights.

(d) The Government’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights of the people of Uganda is drawn from the country’s bad experience and lessons from its past history of dictatorship and human rights violations. The Government clearly does not do so because of any undue pressure or to please anyone outside, but because it firmly believes that it is important for our country and people.

2. Nonetheless, because of the importance that the Government attaches to its rightful place in the world, it avails itself of the opportunity to respond to some of the key allegations contained in the report in order to set the record straight:

1. Violation of Covid19 pandemic regulations

In 2020, the period covered by the report, Uganda like many countries around the world grappled with the consequences of the COVID19 pandemic. The Government in its approach to the pandemic has prioritized the protection of human life. Since without the right to life it is impossible to enjoy any other right.

The report deliberately ignores the conditions under which the elections were held. A total lockdown was declared on March 18, 2020 because of the pandemic given the rate and speed of infection at the time and the fact that how to manage it was unknown then.

To ensure that the country responded adequately and mitigated the impact of the pandemic, the Government, through the Ministry of Health, developed guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to align and standardize its response to prevent and curb the spread of the pandemic.

These SOPs applied to all the people in the country irrespective of one’s gender, status, pursuits, etc. Despite the regrettable fatalities, Uganda is proud of its record in preventing deaths and limiting the spread of the pandemic.

To date, out of over nine hundred fifty-seven nine hundred and twenty (957,920) individuals tested, Uganda has forty-one thousand and sixty-two (41,062) confirmed cases, forty thousand six hundred and eighty-five (40,685) recoveries and three hundred and thirty seven (337) recorded deaths.

The Government firmly believes that the primary duty of any government is to its citizens. The one thing, therefore, that the Government did not compromise, and cannot compromise on, more so in the midst of the pandemic

is the security and well-being of the people. Since the outbreak of the pandemic the Government took strict measures to ensure that everyone complies and respects the law no matter who they are, including a nationwide lockdown.

The first casualties of the lockdown were over 15 million students and their teachers (about 200,000) who were ordered to return home. Next was 85,000 entertainment and recreational centers across the country – places that employed more than 400,000 people with many dependents.

On account of some of these actions, the economy contracted to a growth rate of 1.7% for the first time in 35 years, sending many people living on the margins into difficult circumstances.

Ideas over postponement of elections to a future date were mooted but the country’s decision-makers (Parliament, the Executive, etc) weren’t sure to what future date this would be, given the pandemic was raging and no single person in the world knew what the future held.

The Parliament, Cabinet, Electoral Commission and all the relevant political actors agreed to hold elections under minimum restrictive conditions to keep our democratic traditions. For some people, this was risky given the fragility of our health infrastructure and the apparent appearance of decisions on democracy trumping the health and lives of citizens.

Key among the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the disease was the regulation of crowds at rallies to not exceed 200 people. All these parameters were signed into law and agreed on by all political contenders as the bare minimum for proceeding with the elections. Some of the players, especially Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi of National Unity Platform (NUP) and Mr.

Patrick Amuriat of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) turned against this and publically declared that they would defy the measures and as it turned out they violated all the regulations in a display of impunity.

They all addressed rallies in crowded market places, in the middle of highways, defying the national electoral laws, clearly promoting lawlessness.

Uganda has in the past had a history of lawless politicians creating insecurity, with dire consequences for the country. These politicians acted under a sense of impunity and did great harm to the social and political fabric of the country.

It is this history that informs the uncompromising stance of the Ugandan state today on preventing any return to anarchy, and protecting the lives of Ugandans and their property.

Therefore, for the report to focus on media reports (mainly planted by sympathizers of the lawlessness) on the alleged violations of the rights of the law breakers, while ignoring their responsibility, is wrong; and is an unfortunate display of an attitude that the lives of the wider citizenry matters less than the rights of the law breakers.

Instead, the Government should be applauded for saving the people from the consequences of the reckless and selfish political actors, who for example, wore no masks to rallies, never heeded to the prescribed anti-COVID measures and openly encouraged their followers to follow suit, in some cases assaulting security personnel on duty and removing their masks.

The Government is alert to the history of political impunity in the country and was not, and is not, prepared to watch idly as the foundations of social cohesion and national unity, on which the country has built a consensus for governance and stability, is undermined.

No one is above the law and every crime is taken seriously, regardless of the status or political views of the perpetrator. This is the reason the Government closed down some aspects of social media and internet for a number of days - because for more than three years, some elements both in the country and the diaspora, supported by foreign interests, ‘tribalized/ethnicized’ what should ideally be a political conversation and came close to stoking tribal animosity.

These elements to this day, continue to tell diabolical lies about the country on social media creating mendacious fabrications with the stated purpose of undermining tourism, investment in the country and trade with the rest of the world.

Needless to say, these schemes are akin to the proverbial cutting off of the hand that feeds one, because if they wished to create jobs for the youth as they claim, they would be aware that trade and investment are the only avenues in modern times through which that goal can be realized.

The Government has not forgotten, and will not forget, what happened in a neighboring country where the local media, on one side, fueled the mass killing of people while the international media, on the other side, ignored or misunderstood what was happening leading to the worst genocide our region has seen.

*Allegations of missing persons, kidnaps and disappearances

The rights of Hon. Kyagulanyi are repeatedly referred to in the report. However, Hon. Kyagulanyi is a citizen of Uganda and like all other citizens has the corresponding obligation to not infringe on the rights of others in the enjoyment of his rights as our Constitution mandates.

From the beginning of the campaigns, Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi and Mr. Partrick Oboi Amuriat promised a ‘Plan B’, which according to them, was (and remains) a plan to commit violent acts, organize an insurrection, and “make Uganda ungovernable”.

During the campaigns, they repeatedly stoked fear and incited violence, which was a clear and present danger to the security and stability of the country and its citizens. We do not believe that any country that upholds democratic values would tolerate such a plan. Uganda certainly would not, because of its commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

It is against this background that the Government deployed the security forces in Kampala and the rest of the country. This was done to reassure the public that elections would be held and law and order would be maintained during the elections.

It was also a clear and necessary message to those that intended (and had plans) to disrupt peace to change course. The outcome of this deployment was an election whose peaceful, free and fair nature, has been acknowledged by most in the country and beyond.

The law enforcement agencies in Uganda are a product of our history. They recognize the sanctity of life and have always upheld human rights in the execution of their constitutional duties, balancing the needs of security, with ethical concerns for the rights and wellbeing of all Ugandans. That is why the country remains peaceful and stable.

We therefore take exception to the characterization of ordinary security arrests in this report as “kidnaps and forced disappearances”. It is important to underline that anyone suspected of wrongdoing in Uganda is guaranteed due process.

Any government worth its name deals with insurgencies, insurrections, mobs and riots first by down grading the organizers’ capacity to destroy public facilities and secondly, to stop rioters from killing and maiming lives, as the planned and orchestrated riots of November 18 and 19, 2020 in Uganda were.

As an example, according to media reports on January 06, 2021, over 350 people termed as “insurrectionists” were arrested in Washington DC area after the attack on the US Capitol building. Five people died in this incident.

These extremist groups were no different from the mobs and looters that held Kampala hostage on those two November days. Many of the people arrested have either been charged in courts and/or released while others remain in custody under investigation.

According to the same media reports, at the inauguration of President Joseph Biden recently, the security forces deployed around Washington and its precincts numbered over 21,000 people. These were troops and agencies of all

manner and training and one assumes they were deployed to ward off any potential rioting and looting in Washington city. Why should the authors assume Uganda should do less when dealing with its own potential sources of insecurity and protecting the lives and property of her citizens? The same intimidation unleashed online by the extremist elements in opposition against

 

Comments

-10 #1 Wainanchi 2021-04-21 12:13
Loud and clear!! Roger out!!!!!
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+3 #2 Victor Rubaihayo 2021-04-21 12:36
That defence is so stupid, bcoz we have a big place called American Embassy in kampala, do we know what they are the in nsambya on nsuch a big place, or we think its like ugs case where we rent a room and call it an embassy
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+6 #3 Lysol 2021-04-21 21:57
Denial always comes before a fall. The wicked smile Kutesa is like a dying horse kicking.

The corrupt killer regime will not last another five years.
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+3 #4 Lakwena 2021-04-22 08:01
Bloated with dishonesty and blinded by corruption, these guys and girls think Ugandans and the international communities are a bunch of idiots.

In other words, where there is the rule of law, good/clean governance and the observance of human rights; there would be no such as thing as hearsay distortions, a lot of and generalizations.

E.g., in as far the observance of human rights and governance through the the Rule of Law is concerned; by yesterday the International Human Rights Observers/Watch report, rates Uganda as the worst especially in the region.

And Rwanda was rated as the best in the region, in as far as the rule of law in concerned.
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+2 #5 Lakwena 2021-04-22 08:07
If e.g., our "Problem of Africa, Author and Master of Abduction and Violence" Gen Tibuhaburwa, stood before the whole wide world and told them off point blank that; he knows who extrajudicially murdered Boxer Zebra, what is hearsay, distortion and generalization about such a gloat and impunity?

In other words, since 25th January 1971, the era of pure evil through terror, abduction, disappearances organized murder, extortion, etc is still with us.

Therefore no number press conferences and/or amount of denial by dressed bloody criminals in high offices of this country like Kuteesa will cleanse the blood and inhumanity to humanity.
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0 #6 Lakwena 2021-04-22 08:18
Quoting Victor Rubaihayo:
That defence is so stupid, bcoz we have a big place called American Embassy in kampala, do we know what they are the in nsambya on nsuch a big place, or we think its like ugs case where we rent a room and call it an embassy


Rubaihayo, talk about a government renting a room for an Embassy! I have never come across a country that rent shacks as police stations.

No wonder a party, NRM that has been in power for the last 35 years and counting; does not have even a Grass Thatched Hut for its Headquarter.
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0 #7 kasede 2021-04-22 12:19
Quoting Victor Rubaihayo:
That defence is so stupid, bcoz we have a big place called American Embassy in kampala, do we know what they are the in nsambya on nsuch a big place, or we think its like ugs case where we rent a room and call it an embassy


You might not know this: Uganda has some of the best Embassy buildings abroad, the envy of other African Matokestan.But, thank Idi Amin for that.

The problem there is our staffing of these Embassies. Some officials in there carry loaded guns 24/7 in order to protect themselves fom fellow staff members.
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