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On February 23, 2006, the Ugandan people will elect a
president and members of parliament. Local council elections will be held on February
28 and March 6 and 9. These elections are the first since Ugandans voted for
the return to a multiparty system in the referendum of July 28, 2005. As the
presidential and parliamentary election day nears, the playing field for the
candidates and their parties is not level. The conditions for a free and fair
election have not been met. Ugandans are gripped alternately by excitement
with multiparty elections and fear that the government is not committed to
upholding fundamental human rights.
The Ugandan constitution charges the Ugandan Electoral
Commission with ensuring regular, free and fair elections. The principles of
a free and fair election are derived from the fundamental human rights
protected by the Constitution and international and African human rights
conventions, as well as by the procedural provisions of the Presidential
Elections and Parliamentary Elections Acts of 2005. Further, the Southern
African Development Community (SADC), to which Uganda has applied for
membership, has issued Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic
Elections, which include full participation of citizens in the political
process, freedom of association, political tolerance, equal opportunity for all
political parties to access the state media, independence of the judiciary,
independence of the media, impartiality of the electoral institutions, and
In the campaign so far only two of these principles have
fully been met: the judiciary and the Electoral Commission have maintained
their independence and impartiality. But in all other areas, the electoral
process in Uganda is lacking.
There is considerable uncertainty in Uganda as to whether incumbent President Yoweri Museveni and his ruling party, the National
Resistance Movement Organisation (NRM-O), will respect the will of the people.
He hinted during an address to a January 8 rally in the Kasese district, which
was widely reported, that a vote against him might not be respected, saying,
You don't just tell the freedom fighter to go like you are chasing a chicken
thief out of the house.2
He also reportedly appeared to suggest, at a rally in Entebbe on January 14, that only the NRM-O government could control the army: All the
past governments collapsed because they failed to control the army. . . . [W]e
have managed to tame it.3
Claims that the current government has tamed the military, when many active
military officers have been appointed to senior civilian positions and the army
routinely commits unlawful arrests, torture and other serious abuses, can only
intimidate opposition supporters.
The government is selectively interpreting and applying
the laws of sedition, libel, and incitement to violence to harass opposition
candidates and disrupt their campaigning. Police are summoning opposition
politicians and requiring them to report to police stations on a regular basis.
Other opposition politicians are being tried on apparently politically
motivated charges, sometimes in inappropriate tribunals, while yet others have
been detained illegally.
The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party is the
leading challenger to the NRM-O. The most prominent of the apparently
politically motivated criminal cases are against three senior FDC members: the
main opposition presidential candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye, who has been charged
with treason, terrorism and rape, and his wife Winnie Byanyima and FDC
treasurer Jack Sabiiti, charged with criminal libel. All are currently on
trial, and their election campaigning is impeded while they attend court
hearings in Kampala.
By its own admission, the Electoral Commission is
inadequately prepared. Voters have complained of inaccuracies and deficiencies
in the voter register, missing voter cards and poor voter education. The
Electoral Commission told Human Rights Watch that it does not yet have
sufficient police to guard polling stations and is in the middle of a crash
recruitment campaign. To boost numbers it is even training members of a
pro-government militia known as the Arrow Boys as special constables to
assist with the elections. Aside from the fact that the Arrow Boys have
previously been accused of abusive behavior towards civilians, this is a
serious conflict of interest as the Arrow Boys are commanded by a candidate for
office, the State Minister for Health, Mike Mukula, member of parliament.
State and private media do not accord equal coverage to
all parties, despite statutory and constitutional obligations to do so. Freedom
of the press is also under threat from new restrictions on foreign journalists
and from government attempts to curb the freedom of local journalists through
ministerial gagging orders, arrests, and prosecutions.
The Movement national political system still dominates
Ugandan political institutions. The Movement Act of 1997, which has not been
repealed, created a national political structure funded by parliament alongside
the state. The NRM-O uses the same facilities and has practically the same
personnel as the Movement national political system that preceded it. The
amended constitution does not dismantle the Movement system or close its
offices until after the elections on February 23, and currently these offices
are used by the NRM-O. Thus, the ruling party enjoys privileged access to
state resources for partisan purposes.
In the districts visited by Human Rights Watch, reports
of intimidation and violence against the opposition are rife. The police
Electoral Offences Squad is investigating cases of intimidation and assault in
twenty-two (of sixty nine) districts.
This report focuses on human rights violations by the
government and the ruling party, which have broad obligations under
international human rights law. The majority of allegations about
election-related violence and intimidation heard by Human Rights Watch were
leveled against the ruling party and state officials. However, opposition
supporters have also caused problems. Therefore, the opposition political
parties must do their part to restrain their supporters and to promote a
peaceful campaign. Opposition parties should denounce violence whenever it
occurs and call on their members to act with restraint, and to make complaints
through the appropriate channels.
Research was carried out for this report during three
weeks in January 2006. Human Rights Watch researchers visited districts in the
north, south, east and west of UgandaKampala, Mbarara, Rukungiri, Kanungu,
Ntungamo, Soroti, Gulu, Adjumani, and Nebbi, and interviewed some 110 persons,
including candidates from the ruling and opposition parties, diplomats, Uganda
Peoples Defence Force (UPDF, Ugandas army) soldiers, prison officers, police,
Election Commission officials, international and local nongovernment
organization (NGO) representatives, journalists, and many ordinary voters.
 SADC Principles and Guidelines
Governing Democratic Elections, adopted by the SADC Summit, Mauritius, August
2004, [online] http://www.sadc.int/english/documents/political_affairs/index.php.
Mutumba and Solomon Muyita, I will not go
easily, says President Museveni, Monitor, January 9, 2006,
Timothy Murunga, Museveni Intimidating Voters to Remain In Power, East
African Standard, January 15, 2006, [online] http://allafrica.com/stories/200601160570.html.
 Grace Matsiko and Rogers
Mulindwa, Only Mvmt Can Control The Army Museveni, Monitor, January
16, 2006, [online] http://allafrica.com/stories/200601160315.html.