Following escalating attacks against leading presidential candidate Bobi Wine and his supporters in Uganda, a U.S. Senator has introduced a sharply-worded resolution calling for targeted sanctions against human rights abusers and those trying to prevent the country from conducting free and fair elections on Jan. 14.
The resolution introduced today by Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who is a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls on the Ugandan government to improve the pre-election environment and to create conditions for credible democratic elections, and to allow unimpeded election observers.
Menendez called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. departments, and other agencies of the U.S. government to continue to denounce the Museveni government’s “efforts to undermine democracy,” to hold the Ugandan government “accountable for respecting the rights of its citizens” and to consider “targeted sanctions and visa restrictions on actors involved in undermining credible, transparent elections, or for perpetrating or abetting human rights abuses..”
The resolution called for the Ugandan government to “guarantee the ability of domestic and international election observers to monitor the January 2021 polls without hindrance…” The Menendez resolution comes following two letters last week, one by Rep. Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the other by Secretary Pompeo, also denouncing the election violence by Ugandan ruler Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s security forces.
“The United States government must be clear in its rejection of the pre-election environment created by the Museveni administration, which appears on track to keep depriving Ugandan citizens of the opportunity to determine their own future, After years of unchecked human rights abuses and attacks on democratic institutions, this resolution reaffirms Congress’s unwavering commitment to promote and defend human, civil, and political rights and multiparty democracy in Uganda,” he added
Since 1996, national elections in Uganda have not met internationally accepted standards for free and fair polls, Menendez added. “President Museveni has remained in power for more than three decades after his National Resistance Movement removed presidential term limits and age-limits for the presidency.”
Menendez’s resolution calls for the immediate lifting of “uneven and partisan restrictions on political activities, including the uneven, partisan, and violent application of COVID–19 restrictions on opposition political gatherings and rallies, and to safely allow opposition parties to hold political rallies, meetings, and demonstrations at times of their choosing…” It called for the government to “safeguard press and academic freedom, in accordance with the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in Paris December 10, 1948…”
The resolution itself notes that the “Ugandan authorities have used coercive measures, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and intrusive surveillance technology to intimidate and silence political opposition in the country,” and that even though the Constitutional Court in March annulled section 8 of the repressive Public Order Management Act of 2013, which obligates Ugandans to seek clearance from the inspector general of police for meetings of more than three people, the “Ugandan authorities continue to obstruct lawful assemblies by the political opposition, often through violence…”
The resolution also notes that “the Museveni Administration has used arbitrary and partisan legal action, enabled by its control of the courts, to intimidate and silence members of the political opposition” and that “Ugandan authorities have not been held accountable for human rights abuses, including those perpetrated against prominent members of the political opposition, including members of parliament..” It noted that officials of the Museveni regime have “not been held accountable for acts of gross corruption, which have been documented by Human Rights Watch….despite the existence of anti-corruption laws…”
It notes that the “escalating array of repressive measures before the January 2021 elections, including placing uneven and partisan limits on the campaign activity of leading opposition candidates and arresting some candidates, which have triggered protests and the subsequent use of force by the security apparatus to put down the protests…led to the deaths of at least 28 people in November 2020..”
The actual death toll from the Nov. 18 massacre, following protests after the arrest of leading presidential candidate Bobi Wine, has been estimated at anywhere from 85 to 100.
The Menendez resolution noted the attack on NGOs, including the deregistration of more than 12,000 mostly local NGOs in November 2019 and freezing of their bank accounts.
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The resolution noted the attacks on independent media, stating, “…independent media outlets in Uganda have been placed under increasing duress by the Museveni Administration through regulatory and other administrative and legal actions designed to intimidate journalists who report independently..” It noted that “journalists working for foreign media outlets are now required to re-register with Ugandan authorities or risk criminal penalties and some foreign journalists have been deported from the country..”
The resolution said the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has also been used to harass people with large social media followings by subjecting them to “onerous administrative regulation” and by imposing burdensome taxes on social media users; blocking access to social media; and, prosecuting some individuals who have criticized the Museveni administration on social media platforms.