Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1986

The National Resistance Movement (NRM) Government of President
Yoweri Museveni came to power on January 26, 1986 by seizing
control of the capital, Kampala, from the forces of the
previous 6-month Government of General Tito Okello Lutwa. The
NRM and its military wing, the National Resistance Army (NRA) ,
had fought a 5-year guerrilla war, first against the regime of
A. Milton Obote and then that of Okello Lutwa. On January 29,
Museveni formally became President and formed a transitional
government of national unity which includes representatives of
all of Uganda's major political parties. The President
pledged to limit the Government's interim rule to no more than
4 years, but during this period traditional political party
activity will not be allowed. The National Resistance
Council, in theory the supreme governing body, has met
infrequently, and the day-to-day decisions are made by
Museveni and the Cabinet.
The security forces and situation were also in flux. The NRA
forms the core of the army in which it is a minority. The
military is comprised of a number of different groups,
including some of Idi Amin's former troops. The police force
has been reduced to 3,000 men. The NRA has proven to be a
disciplined army, generally not victimizing the populace and
maintainingd control over the other security units.
Nevertheless, after relative tranquility the north-central and
north-eastern regions became unsettled in the last half of
1986, and extensive military operations continued there,
involving military opposition from soldiers of former regimes,
cattle rustling by pastoralist peoples, and simple banditry.
The high rate of youth unemployment in northern Uganda and the
traditional tension between the Nilotic peoples of the north
and the southern Bantu has exacerbated this unrest.
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crisis due to poor NRM economic policies which have
discouraged trade, spurred inflation, and deepened already
large budget deficits.
In sharp contrast to the past, Museveni has placed human
rights at the center of the political process. He has spoken
out in a variety of forums on this subject, notably in July in
criticizing the African Heads of State at the Organization of
African Unity (OAU) Summit for their failure to condemn
publicly past human rights abuses in Uganda. He also
established a commission of inquiry into past human rights
abuses, with a view to prosecuting those responsible.
Although the NRM has made good progress in reestablishing
security, a deteriorating economy posed new challenges at the
end of 1986. Also, in executing pacification operations in
the north, there were reports that the NRA has been
responsible for human rights excesses, possibly including
on-the-spot executions of suspected dissidents.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
It is unlikely that an exact tally of the number of Ugandans
killed during the final phases of the civil war will ever be
known as it would be virtually impossible to distinguish
between combat fatalities, incidental deaths, and political
killings. During the battle of Kampala (January 24-26) there
were at least two politically motivated killings by forces of
the Okello regime. An official of the Post and
Telecommunications Corporation was dragged from his home and
killed because he was unable to open defective communications
facilities in the midst of the fighting. Also, Captain George
Nkwanga of the Federal Democratic Army was murdered,
reportedly on the orders of former Chief of Defense Forces Lt .
General Bazilio Olara Okello, after his fighting forces
switched their allegiance from the Okello Government to the
NRM side. There were probably numerous other less publicized
acts of revenge during the rout of the Okello forces.
There were credible but unconfirmed reports of killings in the
north either by the NRA or members of other forces now
incorporated into the NRA. Sporadic fighting continued there
against a group calling itself the Uganda Democratic Peoples
Movement (UDPM), which has appealed to the NRM to implement
the aborted December 1985 Nairobi Peace Accord (under which
the NRM would have shared power with the various fighting
forces that constituted the Okello Lutwa regime) . The NRM
rejected negotiations with the UDPM on the grounds that its
record of human rights violations precluded compromise.
While the security situation improved markedly, there were a
number of retributive killings that had political overtones.
In particular, such killings were fairly common in the section
of Kampala that had been controlled by Okello 's Uganda Freedom
Army (UFA) prior to the January change of government.
b. Disappearance
There were unconfirmed reports of youths in the northern
Acholi region being abducted by NRA soldiers and
disappearing. Whether these were related to the fighting or
the severely depressed economic conditions, or both, was
unclear .
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Torture and inhuman treatment are not sanctioned by Ugandan
law, but for many years there have been credible reports,
e.g.. Amnesty International's special 1985 report, of extreme
forms of torture taking place at detention centers,
particularly in military barracks. Since coming to power the
NRM has confirmed these reports and opened to the public some
of the detention and torture centers used by previous
regimes. Many of these still bore evidence of torture (e.g.,
blood stains), although it is unclear whether they had been
used as recently as early 1986.
Despite the improved situation, the NRA established a number
of detention centers when in opposition and was accused of
employing torture in some cases. The NRA still reportedly
uses an inhuman technique called three-point-tying, in which
the suspect's arms are tied behind his back until the elbows
meet. The painful process can result in the asphyxiation of
the victim or gangrenous infections of the hands and arms.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Museveni Government took steps almost immediately to curb
abuse of citizens' rights by policemen. Early in the year,
all former soldiers and known abusers were removed from the
police force, leaving approximately 3,000 police to maintain
civil order in a population of almost 15 million. The
weeding-out process has made the proper arrest and charging of
suspected criminals even more difficult. Providing proper
training for the police force is also made more difficult by
the shortage of qualified officers. At the end of the year,
new officers were being recruited, and the British Government
planned to resume its police training program.
All detainees of the Obote and Okello era have been released
except for Chris Rwakasiisi, who was a minister in Obote 's
Cabinet and head of the notorious National Security Agency
(NASA). Rwakasiisi has not been formally charged, but he is
widely believed to have been implicated in NASA's excesses,
including killings, disappearances, and torture.
The NRA has detained some suspected dissidents in areas of
guerrilla activity in the north. The number of detainees and
the duration of their respective periods of detention are
unknown. Northerners living in Kampala report that they have
been harassed and occasionally detained by security forces on
suspicion of having collaborated with the previous regimes.
The NRA has also detained a number of persons — mostly NRA
soldiers accused of criminal activities — at civilian prisons.
The number has varied between 250 and 600 at any one time.
The NRA has reportedly detained prisoners of war and members
of non-NRA fighting forces at military barracks in the
southern half of the country.
Prisoners may be required to perform certain types of manual
labor, such as road maintenance.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
In May the Government announced the establishment of a
commission of inquiry to review all cases of human rights
violations since independence. The commission is headed by a
High Court judge and has the authority to summon witnesses and
to hold both private and public sessions. The Government has
pledged to seek the extradition of Idi Amin and Milton Obote
on charges of human rights violations.
The relationship of the transitional Government to the
judiciary is still evolving, but the established Ugandan
judicial system remains in place and contains procedural
safeguards modeled after British law, including the granting
of bail, appeals to higher courts, and regular court
appearances for those being held in detention. There are no
special courts for political or security cases. Because of
the tradition of relative independence and impartiality of the
judicial system, previous regimes have tended to use
extrajudicial means of detention and punishment.
There are a number of treason cases currently awaiting trial
in Kampala courts. In September the NRM arrested a group of
25 monarchists who were alleged to have plotted the return to
power of the King (Kabaka) of Buganda . In October the NRM
arrested 19 people, including the Ministers of Energy,
Environment, and Commerce as well as a former Vice President
and several military officers, for allegedly plotting a
military coup. Human rights groups, such as Amnesty
International, expressed concern that the 19 suspects had been
held for a lengthy period without any serious attempt being
made to bring them to trial. The NRM also arrested on charges
of treason the editors of The Weekend Digest for publishing a
story that Kenyan guerrillas were operating out of Uganda.
These treason cases will reportedly be handled in the
established courts.
Under the NRM, a number of local "resistance committees" have
evolved with ill-defined security and other responsibilities,
including semi judicial functions. A legal issue that has
developed concerns the right of these committees to mete out
punishment (usually flogging). In one publicized case, a
Kampala resistance committee authorized corporal punishment of
a sugar merchant who charged prices above the legal ceiling.
The case has inspired wide debate, and a government official
upheld the legality of the sentence since it had been handed
down by a committee directly elected by the people.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Undisciplined elements of the previous regime interfered with
privacy and family through harassment including physical abuse
and large scale looting. Prior to the battle of Kampala,
these activities were centered in the capital. As the forces
of the former government were pushed north they continued to
plunder and loot, even in their home areas.
The NRM Government has launched several operations in which
NRA soldiers cordoned off sections of the capital and searched
residences and vehicles for unregistered weapons. These
searches generally have been conducted in a disciplined manner
and accepted by the populace as a necessary measure to help
restore law and order after years of virtual anarchy.
The evolving village or local NRM resistance committees have
the potential to become neighborhood "watch units" as well as
the basic political unit of a new Ugandan political structure
(Section 3). Perhaps more controverial in 1986 were the new
NRM schools of political education for the purpose of
indoctrinating key officials with the NRM's leftist ideology.
These courses have become mandatory for certain civil servants
but have not been made compulsory for the public at large.
There are no indications that the NRM, or any other previous
Government, has interfered with correspondence.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
There is extensive public debate over the issues of the day,
especially in the lively press. Uganda has at least 15
newspapers or newsmagazines that appear on a regular basis.
Many of these began publication during 1986 and were often
sharp in their criticism, e.g., of alleged brutalities
committed by NRA soldiers.
In principle, the NRM Government favors a free press, but
officials increasingly criticized journalists for not
reporting responsibly and for failing to check facts before
publishing. The Minister of Information stated that there are
too many newspapers and some consolidation of the various
journals may be desirable, as well as the creation of a press
council, composed of newspaper editors, to establish
professional standards for journalists.
The NRM also took direct action against the press in 1986,
banning one local newspaper. The Weekend Digest, in June for
having printed a story suggesting that Kenyan guerrillas were
operating out of Uganda against the Government of President
Moi . The editors of the newspaper, Wilson Wandera and Jesse
Mashate, were arrested, charged with treason, and released on
bail while awaiting trial. In October the editor of the
newspaper The Citizen, Anthony Sekweyama, was arrested and
charged with treason along with 18 other persons. The
Government has stated that Sekweyama was arrested for his
alleged participation in a coup plot and not for the
newspaper's editorial line, which was frequently critical of
the Government. Subsequent issues of The Citizen since
Sekweyama ' s arrest have continued to criticize the Government.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The right of assembly and association in Uganda is generally
respected, except that the 4-year ban on partisan political
activity prevents political parties from organizing rallies
and other functions at which party officials would speak.
Political activity has not been banned, but it is not clear
what form such activity will be allowed to take outside
political parties. Permits for public gatherings must be
obtained from police authorities who have the right to deny
the permit in the interest of public safety. Professional
associations of doctors, attorneys, engineers, and accountants
operate without hindrance, as do international associations
such as the Rotary and Lions Clubs.
In February the National Organization of Trade Unions
(NOTU) — Uganda's National Labor Federation — held its first
free elections since 1981. NOTU and the Federation of Uganda
Employers came under intense political pressure during the
Obote period, when they were expected to follow the government
line and faced competition from government-favored workers'
councils. NOTU and its constituent unions are currently in
the process of rehabilitating their regional structures.
Theoretically, they have the right to engage in collective
bargaining. The Minister of Labor has stated that the
Government recognizes the right of workers to strike, but
disapproves of wildcat strikes and prefers that workers first
exhaust conciliatory methods of resolving labor -management
conflict. Since the Okello coup in 1985, trade unions have
had the right to associate with international labor
organizations .
c. Freedom of Religion
There is no state religion in Uganda. Islam, Christianity,
and African traditional religions are freely practiced.
Conversion between religions is not discouraged. There is no
governmental control of religious publications, even those
critical of the Government. Religious leaders frequently
speak out publicly on topics relating to their followers'
welfare, addressing, in particular, human rights, security,
and political issues.
The Uganda People's Congress is to some extent identified with
the Church of Uganda (Anglican) as the Democratic Party is
identified with the Roman Catholic Church. However, followers
of various religions are found in both parties. The NRM as a
matter of principle is opposed to political parties founded on
purely religious grounds but has not acted to prohibit them.
The Ugandan Catholic Church has expressed reservations about
the NRM's schools of political education and other parts of
its political program as well.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Ugandans are free to move, reside, and choose their place of
work within the country. In practice, travel to certain
sections of northern Uganda has been difficult in recent years
because of unsettled conditions there. The Government has no
restrictions on foreign travel or emigration. More than
500,000 persons were displaced by conflict within Uganda
between 1979 and 1986. The bulk of these displaced persons
fled to southern Sudan and eastern Zaire from the Madi and
West Nile regions in 1979 and 1980. In 1984 and 1985 these
people began to return to Uganda with the assistance of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) . In the
spring of 1986 approximately 90,000 persons repatriated
themselves to East Madi, in response to attacks on their camps
in southern Sudan by unknown persons and the improved security
situation in Uganda. The NRM Government has encouraged the
displaced persons to return, but an estimated 150,000 to
200,000 persons remained outside Uganda at the end 1986.
Uganda has hosted a large number of Banyarwanda displaced
persons since they left Rwanda during its civil war. These
persons were placed in UNHCR settlements in southwestern
Uganda, although a number of them integrated themselves into
local communities. In 1982-83 the Obote Government
countenanced an expulsion of these people from their homes
into camps or back to Rwanda. Approximately 40,000
Banyarwanda fled to Rwanda where they were housed in UNHCR
camps. Following the July 1985 coup, the Banyarwanda in
Rwanda returned to Uganda, some to their former homes, others
to refugee camps. President Museveni has called for an
international conference to determine the fate of the
Banyarwanda displaced persons and has asked them to remain in
the UNHCR settlements until an official solution is developed.
The Government has made efforts to resettle the persons
displaced inside Uganda during its civil war. The potentially
rich farmlands of the Luwero Triangle — scene of the heaviest
fighting during the 1981-86 bush war — have been resettled and
are being rehabilitated with foreign and local assistance
programs .
The Karamajong cattle raiders operating out of northeastern
Uganda have created a population of displaced persons in
eastern Uganda. To date it has not been possible to resettle
these people because of prevailing insecurity in the region.
Approximately 800 Sudanese nationals crossed into Ugandan
territory during 1986 as a result of the civil war in Sudan.
The Sudanese have been allowed to stay in Uganda although the
Government has not decided whether they will be granted formal
asylum status.
There were no reported incidents of forcible repatriation of
foreign refugees in 1986.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Governnient
Citizens do not have the right to change their Government by
democratic means at present. However, in practice the NRM
Government is a nonelected, broad-based coalition in which all
of Uganda's major political parties are represented in the
Cabinet. The NRM is the dominant partner and comprises most
of the membership of the theoretically supreme governing body,
the National Resistance Council (NRC), the successor to
Uganda's National Assembly (parliament). President Yoweri
Museveni is the dominant figure in Ugandan politics; he is
also chairman of the NRM. Museveni has pledged that the
interim Government will not remain in power more than 4
years. During this interim period a new constitution will be
drafted, and at the end of the 4 year period Ugandans will
choose their new government. At the end of 1986, only local
or village resistance committees had begun to take some
shape. While the NRC existed, it had been largely bypassed as
a decisionmaking body.
Uganda is thus entering another period of political
transition. The cornerstone of the NRM Government's political
program is the formation of the resistance committee system.
These bodies are elected at local levels to serve as a
democratic form of local governance. Each resistance
committee elects some of its members to a higher level of
administration, which will eventually create a six-tier
structure with the village committees at the bottom and the
National Resistance Council at the top.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigations of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The NRM is proud of its human rights record and has indicated
it is willing to accept visits by organizations such as
Amnesty International. Uganda has taken a prominent role in
speaking out on human rights issues in international forums.
President Museveni argued at the July OAU summit that the
general principle of noninterference in the internal affairs
of another state should not be used as a pretext to "shield
genocide from censure." Similarly, Prime Minister Samson
Kisekka criticized the United Nations and the OAU for failing
to condemn violations of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. On August 18 Uganda became the 28th member of the OAU
to sign the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
The country's boundaries cut across contiguous tribal areas
and group together mutually distrustful ethnic groups.
Historical animosities between ethnic groups have been
exacerbated by Uganda's political problems and, in particular,
by the ruination of the country's economic and political
infrastructure during the Amin years, from which the country
has not recovered. Particularly damaging was the 1972
expulsion of an estimated 70,000 persons of Asian heritage who
comprised the backbone of Uganda's entrepreneurial and skilled
trade resources. The cumulative result of Uganda's long-term
ethnic civil conflict has been a breakdown of the country's
social fabric. Two ethnic groups, the Banyarwanda and the
Karamajong, commonly are subject to discrimination in delivery
of the Government's economic and social services. The
Karamajong, who live in northeastern Uganda, have experienced
indiscriminate military action directed against them in
reprisal for violent cattle raiding by tribal members.
After long years in opposition, the NRM espouses a philosophy
of nondiscrimination and, since coming to power, it has made
elimination of sectarianism and corruption the central points
of its political program. However, with fighting continuing
in the north and the economy in disastrous shape, corruption
remains rampant, and social and economic services are often
delivered on the basis of ethnic or familial favoritism.
Women are not legally discriminated against or officially
restricted from education or employment.
While there is no legal discrimination against women, their
access to education has been declining as families are
withdrawing daughters rather than sons from school during the
current difficult economic circumstances. Women played an
important part in the NRA's bush war, serving as soldiers,
intelligence operatives, and support personnel. There are two
female deputy ministers in the MEM Government, as well as a
number of female ambassadors and members of the National
Resistance Council. In March Mary Kikonyogo was appointed the
first woman to be a judge on Uganda's High Court. The NRM has
created a women's secretariat charged with educating and
politicizing Ugandan women.
One of the most vexing of Uganda's human rights problems is
the dilemma of the boy soldiers (Kadogo) . These
preadolescents (some are as young as 6 years) were taken into
the NRA during the period of the bush war. Most are orphans
of villagers killed in the fighting. Rather than leave them
to an uncertain fate in destroyed villages, the NRA chose to
take the children along and assigned each boy to a more senior
soldier who became, in effect, the child's guardian. The
children fought in the civil war and were highly visible in
the January battle for Kampala. They are still to be seen on
the streets of Kampala in uniform and carrying weapons.
Critics argue that the children should resume — or in some
cases commence — their school education.
The bulk of Uganda's almost 15 million people live in rural
areas, on subsistence farms. In the modern sector, the law
sets the minimum age for employment at 12 years except on
light work which the Minister of Labor may exempt by statutory
order. In addition, there are restrictions for employing
persons under 16 years of age in mining and in any night work,
except in the case of apprenticeship. The minimum wage is
that of the lowest paid person employed by the Kampala City
Council, which at the end of 1986 was less than $6.50 per
month. Medical care is to be provided by employers. The
legal workweek is a maximum of 48 hours. In practice because
of the serious decline in the economy, there is little effort
at enforcement of labor laws.