(Kampala) – The Ugandan government should ensure a level playing field, free from abuse for all voters and candidates during the 2016 presidential election campaigns. Police brutality and obstruction of the media have characterized past campaign periods in Uganda. These abuses, plus the lack of accountability for election-related abuses, have undermined the voters’ right to a free and fair election in previous years.
Presidential campaigns begin on November 9, 2015, and elections are scheduled for February 18, 2016, in what will be President Yoweri Museveni’s 30th year in office. An opposition candidate for president, Kizza Besigye, who has challenged Museveni in the last three elections, is running again. Amama Mbabazi, Museveni’s longtime ally and former prime minister, has splintered from the ruling National Resistance Party (NRM) and is also running for president. Parliamentary campaigns officially begin on December 7, 2015.
“This campaign period is a critical opportunity to avoid the repression, violence, police brutality, and recriminations of past campaigns,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “All Ugandans should be able to attend rallies, listen to all candidates in person or on the radio, and express their views without reluctance or fear.”
- Investigate any allegations of politically motivated violence, including by police or the army, in a transparent and timely way;
- Respect the rights to free assembly and expression, particularly at rallies and on the radio;
- Prohibit police from using teargas and other force simply because the police deem an otherwise peaceful gathering unlawful, including when police believe organizers have failed to comply with the Public Order Management Act’s requirements regarding police notification or permission;
- Clarify the mandate and command structure of crime preventers in a public document and ensure they are non-partisan, unarmed, operate under close supervision, and are accountable to an independent authority;
- Ensure that police and other state agents, including the resident district commissioners the president appoints for every district, refrain from any intimidation, obstruction, threats, harassment, and arbitrary arrest of journalists, talk show hosts, and station managers; and
- Allow bimeeza so everyone can freely participate in discussing issues of national concern.