Outrage over enforced disappearances of political opponents in Uganda

Human Rights watch on Wednesday night urged Ugandan authorities to take “immediate steps” to end the ongoing abductions by suspected state agents and cease the unlawful detention without trial of opposition supporters.

Ugandan soldiers patrol near the house of Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine in Magere, Uganda. ©Sally Hayden / SOPA Images / Sipa via AP Images 
Soldiers walk towards the home of the opposition leader Bobi Wine whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, two days after Uganda’s presidential election, and he was effectively placed under house arrest. Uganda’s elections, on January 14, 2021, were the most tense in decades. (Photo by Sally Hayden / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

“The recent spate of enforced disappearances has only compounded the intense climate of fear in Uganda following the recent violent national elections,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should urgently investigate these disappearances and other abuses and hold those responsible, including members of security forces, to account.”

“The Ugandan authorities should act immediately to stop the egregious violations that have taken place since the elections, including by releasing those held incommunicado, shutting down all secret detention facilities, and holding those responsible to account,” Nyeko said. “The government should respect political plurality and end the harassment of opposition members.”

Arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and inhuman or degrading treatment and torture are strictly prohibited at all times under international, regional, and Ugandan law. The prohibition not only obligates governments to comply with the law, but entails a duty to investigate when suspected violations occur and prosecute those responsible. Enforced disappearances and torture may also constitute and be prosecuted as a crime against humanity if they form part of a state-sponsored policy or practice, or are part of a broader attack against civilians by state authorities.

On March 4, 2021, Internal Affairs Minister Jeje Odongo presented a list to parliament of 177 people in military detention who had been arrested between November 18, 2020, and February 8, 2021, allegedly for “participating in riots,” “possession of military stores,” and “meetings planning post-election violence.” On March 8, in a public letter to the media, President Yoweri Museveni said that 50 people are being held by the Special Forces Command, a unit of the Ugandan army, for “treasonable acts of elements of the opposition.”

On November 18, security forces had clamped down on protesters demanding the release of the then-detained opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine.

Human Rights Watch said The authorities “should investigate all cases of enforced disappearances to determine the whereabouts and status of all victims, release all those arbitrarily detained, and prosecute those responsible, adding that anyone lawfully detained should have immediate access to their family and lawyers, and anyone not yet charged and placed in pretrial detention, should be released in accordance with the law.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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