2021 Elections: Human Rights Defenders Decry Increased Targeted Attack

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Human Rights Defenders addressing the media in Kampala

Human Rights Defenders have expressed concern that the increased election violence in the country has left many suffer at the hand of human rights abusers with no help from duty bearers.

These under the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda (NCHRDU) told the media that eversince the Electoral Commission (EC) rolled out the 2020 general elections road map, many human rights defenders have been targeted by abusers with the aim of detecting them from exercising their noble duties.

According to the Human Rights Situation report on 2019, there was a notable increase in threats against human rights defenders from 21% in 2018 to 34% in 2019.

The report further indicated that the biggest attackers were government including the different security agencies, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs), the Local Defence Unit (LDU) among others.

NCHRDU Executive Director, Robert Kirenga said that with the election violence that was seen during the NRM primary elections which didn’t spare human rights defenders and election process bservers, there is fear that this violence may spill over in the general elections if measures are not put in place to curb it on time.

Kirenga said that in this election period coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, some human rights defenders have been arrested giving an example of the arrested of 7 lawyers on the orders of Kiryandongo DPC Joseph Bakaleke as they were investigating circumstances sorrounding forceful eviction of over 35000 people.

“Press freedom and expression rights especially during the electoral period continue to come under sharp attack. According to the Press Freedom Index, 2019, 165 cases of violations against journalists were reported citing the Uganda Police Force and the Uganda Communications Commission as the lead violators of expression rights and journalistic freedoms in Uganda,” Kirenga said.

He added that Women Human Rights Defenders have hugely been affected by the lockdown and the shift to digital/virtual working noting that with the unprecedented COVID-19, there is a huge spike in Gender Based violence countrywide and this hasn’t spared women human rights defenders especially in the countryside.

Human Rights Defenders addressing the media in Kampala

With all the above, the human rights defenders demand d that Parliament expedietes the Human Rights Defenders Bill to explicitly recognise the legitimate work of human rights defenders and provide them a protection mechanism.

“Parliament should as well review the vague provisions including the minimum broadcasting standards in the Uganda Communications Act 2013 to bring them in conformity with the 1995 Constitution,” Kirenga said.

Edward Serucaca a Jnr, Advocacy Officer at NCHRDU warned the security agencies to always prevail over their officers who abuse the rights of Ugandans as well as human rights defenders.

“Parliament passed the Hand Rights Act which has since empowered any torture victim to hold the individual perpetrators of human rights violation personally liable; we appeal to the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DDP) to allow and support private prosecution of errant officers,” Serucaca said.

He also appealed to development partners to continue funding human rights defenders adding that their service are too costly and demand alot of resources giving an example of observing general elections in the entire country.