WORLD REPORT 1999 - Uganda

Human Rights Developments
The National Resistance Movement (NRM) of President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986, bringing to an end fifteen years of massive violations of human rights by the governments of Idi Amin and Milton Obote. The NRM government in 1998 governed through what it called the “movement system” of politics. The NRM claimed the system was an effective means to increase political participation by the Ugandan people and prevented renewed descent into warfare along ethnic lines, but restrictions on political activity prevented those opposed to the government’s policies from organizing and canvassing for support to bring change through electoral action, while rebel movements of several years’ standing fought in the north and west of the country. These rebels continued to carry out brutal assaults on civilians, abducting children, and mutilating and killing adults and children alike. The Ugandan army was also responsible for serious abuses against civilians in these regions for which individuals were rarely held to account.

The Ugandan constitution, adopted in 1995, restricted freedom of association and assembly by allowing political parties to exist in name but prohibiting them from opening and operating branch offices, holding delegates’ conferences or public rallies, or sponsoring candidates. The ruling NRM, while effectively operating as a party, was exempted from these restrictions. The Political Parties Bill, introduced in October 1997 remained under consideration and spelled out in more detail many of the restrictions established by the constitution. A referendum on the future of political parties was planned for 2000, but observers noted that continuing restrictions on the right to campaign against the movement system would mean that voters would not be able to make a well-informed choice. Elections for movement structures held in July 1998 resulted in the unopposed reelection of the chair, Museveni, and vice-chair, Moses Kigongo. However, opposition candidates supporting multipartyism won several important positions in local government elections in April, including the mayorship of Kampala.

Following the July movement elections, Speaker of Parliament James Wapakhabulo was appointed National Political Commissar (NPC) of the NRM, and announced that ChakaMchaka , the national political education program suspended since the 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections after protests by western diplomats, would resume. ChakaMchaka teaches the NRM’s view that political parties are destructive and sectarian organizations responsible for Uganda’s past woes.

The NRM government prevented those opposed to its policies from organizing publicly throughout the year, although interference with political activity seemed to increase following President Clinton’s March 24 and 25 visit to Uganda. An attempt by the National Freedom Party (NFP) to organize a hunger strike on March 20 was prevented by police, and NFP leader Herman Ssemuju was briefly detained. A March 25 attempt by the Convention for Multi-party Democracy (CMD) to organize a peaceful assembly advocating a return to pluralism was called off after the organizer, CMD coordinator and member of parliament John Lukyamuzi received a letter followed up by a visit by police officers ordering him to desist. In May, police halted at least one peaceful discussion of controversial land reform legislation, and detained and charged two members of parliament, John Lukyamuzi and Yusuf Nsubuga, with incitement and promoting sectarianism after a rally opposing the land reform bill.

A series of four seminars on the topic of “Human Rights and Democracy,” sponsored by the Foundation for African Development (FAD) and the Uganda Young Democrats (UYD), were broken up by police. On June 19, armed police in riot gear violently dispersed a peaceful FAD/UYD seminar in Tororo, injuring six participants. On July 6, a FAD/UYD seminar in Kamuli district was declared illegal by police, and the venue was surrounded by plainclothes security officials. On July 10, a Mbarara FAD/UYD seminar was dispersed on the grounds of being illegal, even though the organizers claim they had obtained prior approval for the seminar from the District Police Commissioner, and the Resident District Commissioner had been invited as a guest of honor. The UYD attempted to organize a peaceful rally in Mbarara on July 21 to protest the incidents, but was prevented from doing so by a heavy deployment of police. A July 23 FAD/UYD seminar near Masaka was also dispersed, and police reportedly whipped participants with branches stripped from nearby trees while running them off the campus of Uganda Martyrs University.

Police also disrupted and halted a July 25 public lecture on the proposed land act at Islamic University in Mbale, sponsored by Uganda People’s Congress (UPC)-aligned Young Congress of Uganda (YCU). A July 27 Masindi seminar for paralegals sponsored by the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), one of Uganda’s most respected human rights organizations, was interrupted because the police mistakenly believed the seminar was sponsored by FAD, in keeping with the government’s zeal to prevent all opposition political events. An August 9 seminar on poverty alleviation in Iganga, at which former presidential opposition candidate and Justice Forum (JF) leader Kibiringe Mayanja was scheduled to speak, was prevented from taking place by armed policemen.

Conflict with rebel forces continued in many areas of Uganda. Active rebel groups in 1998 included the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF), Uganda National Rescue Front II (UNRF-II), and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), all operating from Sudan rear bases, and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), operating in the Rwenzori mountains in Western Uganda and Eastern Congo.

The LRA continued its campaign of terror in northern Uganda, brutalizing, killing, and looting the people of Northern Uganda, abducting their children, and burning their homes. In June 1998, the LRA attacked St. Charles Lwanga School in Kitgum district, abducting thirty-nine girls. Military and humanitarian sources estimated that as many as 1,200 children had been abducted from Kitgum district between August 1997 and April 1998. Sudan continued its active support for the LRA, allowing the LRA to operate from Sudanese government-controlled territory, supplying the LRA with food and weapons, and often placing Sudanese soldiers inthe vicinity of LRA camps.

The Ugandan army, known as the Ugandan Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF), continued its policy of moving civilians into “protected camps” in the north. During this process, begun in 1996, civilians were often ordered to move and beaten if they refused to comply. The majority of the population in the north continued to live in these camps, where civilians were more secure, but LRA attacks continued and protection was often inadequate, as was access to housing, water, food, health care, and education. The camp populations remained almost completely dependent on international humanitarian organizations for nutrition. In April 1998, the LRA stated that it would consider nongovernmental aid workers legitimate military targets because of their support for what the LRA termed Museveni’s “concentration camps.” The LRA attacked food convoys of the World Food Programme (WFP) and Oxfam, and heavy fighting in Kitgum district coupled with renewed threats by the LRA led to a temporary withdrawal by most nongovernmental organizations from Kitgum district during May to June 1998. A WFP staff member driving a clearly marked WFP vehicle was killed by unidentified rebels near Pakelle in July.

The ADF, engaged in a guerrilla war against the Ugandan government in the Rwenzori mountains in Western Uganda since November 1996, was responsible for many abuses against civilians, including killings, looting, abductions, and physical abuse including mutilations. The ADF attacked civilian settlements throughout 1998. During a typical attack on Kichwamba on April 9, the ADF killed sixteen people and abducted about forty-five. Like the LRA, the ADF has engaged in mass abductions of children. On February 19, thirty girls and three boys where abducted from a school in Mitandi. On June 9, the ADF attacked Kichwamba Technical School. When students locked themselves into their dormitories to prevent being abducted, the ADF burned three dormitories to the ground, burning to death an estimated fifty to eighty students. The ADF then retreated into the mountains with an estimated one hundred abducted students and other civilians. The bodies of ten more victims were reportedly recovered in the vicinity over the next days.

Urban terror attacks, which first occurred in Kampala in August 1997, continued in 1998. The National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) claimed responsibility for several of these attacks, and the government blamed the attacks on the ADF, a coalition rebel group incorporating NALU. Two bombs exploded in Kampala in April 4, killing four people, and a third bomb on April 11 injured five. In July, another two bombs exploded, including one in a crowded bar during a World Cup soccer game, killing two people. On August 25, at least twenty-eight people were killed when explosives detonated on three separate buses traveling from Kampala to Rwanda and other destinations.

The army, the police, and other security organizations were also responsible for serious human rights violations, and were rarely called to account for abusive behavior. In February, J. Okot was arrested by army troops as a suspected rebel sympathizer, kept in an underground pit, and tortured at Awer detach in Gulu district. Several cases of rape by UPDF soldiers were reported in the north. The UPDF continued to detain civilians illegally at army facilities, often for periods of months, without oversight by civilian authorities. Over a thousand persons remained on pretrial remand in Ugandan prisons on charges of treason, some having been detained for several years. On several occasions, the 360-day maximum limit on pre-trial detention for treason offenses was circumvented when police rearrested suspects promptly after they were released on court orders. In May, eighteen WNBF treason suspects were released and rearrested, and two weeks later twenty-seven ADF treason suspects were similarly released and rearrested.

Treason suspects in Western Uganda were tortured by UPDF soldiers, beaten with heavy canes, and in at least one case burned on exposed skin with the drippings of a burning plastic jerrycan. Some treason suspects remained incarcerated on the basis of confessions coerced under torture. A number of children were detained on treason charges and claimed to have been physically abused while in police or UPDF custody.

Defending Human Rights
Although a large number of human rights organizations operated in Uganda, many continued to practice self-censorship out of fear of government retaliation. The government limited the work of human rights NGOs by threatening to suspend their registration, and required that NGOs be nonpolitical and nonpartisan. Museveni repeatedly responded to reports of government violations by stating that NGOs should focus on rebel abuses instead. Most domestic NGOs focused on noncontroversial human rights issues such as human rights education or prison reform, but some groups continue to develop their monitoring capacity in more controversial areas such as abuses by the army. The government was cooperative with the work of international human rights groups.

United Nations
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on the abduction of children from Northern Uganda at its 1998 session, calling upon the LRA to cease abductions and to release all abductees remaining in captivity. UNICEF continued to actively work for an end to abductions in northern Uganda, and facilitated the repatriation in March of fourteen children and three adults, all former LRA abductees, from Sudan to Uganda. The U.N. special representative to the secretary-general on the impact of armed conflict and children, Olara Otunnu, visited Sudan in June 1998 and raised his concerns about LRA abductions with the Sudanese government. Sudan handed over an additional three Ugandan abducted children to Otunnu, and pledged to assist with ongoing efforts to release LRA abductees. Sudan’s efforts so far have been negligible.

European Union
Although the European Union has a significant aid program in Uganda and a delegation based in the country, it has avoided making public statements about the human rights situation. It focuses on infrastructure, transportation, health, and education, as well as some capacity building for NGOs. In addition, the EU provides non-project aid, notably direct balance of payments support to the Ugandan government. However, in September, the president of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, called for the member states to discuss whether all E.U. aid should be suspended to all the countries involved in the Congo crisis.

United States
Several high-profile U.S. visits to Uganda took place, but U.S. criticism of Uganda’s human rights practices became increasingly muted as the U.S. focused increasingly on isolating Sudan and improving its relationships with what it dubbed the “new leaders,” including President Museveni. During a December 1997 visit, Secretary of State Madeline Albright described Uganda as a “beacon of hope” and focused her attention on condemning the LRA and meeting in Kampala with John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Uganda during his March African tour and met with the leaders of a number of African countries to sign the “Entebbe Declaration.” With little discussion of human rights issues, the Clinton visit was seen as an uncritical endorsement for the Museveni government in the eyes of many observers, including many Ugandans.

In testimony in July on the crisis in Sudan and northern Uganda, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice noted that the UPDF “has not been as efficient as it could be in combating the LRA and protecting civilian populations.” She went on to state that the UPDF and government-sponsored local defense forces “must guard against human rights abuses,” but concluded that “[a]busive tactics are an aberration for the UPDF. For the LRA, they are standard operating procedure.” On the issue of democratization in Uganda, Rice made a speech in March in which she merely stated that “we have urged genuine political pluralism and systems that incorporate a wider spectrum of political beliefs.”

In addition to some $77 million in development assistance, Uganda also participated in a number of U.S. military programs. As part of the U.S. effort to contain Sudan, the U.S. provided Uganda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea with non-lethal military equipment. In Fiscal Year 1998, Uganda received some $3.85 million in such equipment. Uganda also received approximately $400,000 in military training under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, designed to help professionalize the army. Uganda was also one of the first countries to receive training and equipment under the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), a program aimed at enhancing the capacity of African armies to respond to humanitarian crises and peacekeeping purposes. The second phase of Uganda’s ACRI training was scheduled for late 1998, but was postponed until August 1999, related to U.S. concern about Uganda’s involvement in the Congo crisis.