Hon. Justice Jane Frances Abodo
Director, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions
Plot 1 Pilkington Road
May 11, 2020
Re: CRIMINAL CASE NO 113 OF 2020; UGANDA VS. MUKIBI HENRY & 18 OTHERS IN THE CHIEF MAGISTRATES COURT OF MPIGI AT NSANGI
Dear Hon. Justice Jane Frances Abodo:
I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization working in more than 100 countries around the world to document human rights violations and advocate for changes that respect and promote the human rights of all. On behalf of Human Rights Watch I extend my sincere congratulations to you on your recent appointment as Director of Public Prosecutions.
I write today to express concern regarding the ongoing detention of 19 young people who were arbitrarily arrested on March 29, 2020, at a shelter run by the non-governmental organization Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF) in Nsanji. The shelter, which has since closed its doors as a result of the arrests, served young people who had become homeless as a result of family rejection, eviction by landlords, or their inability to obtain employment because of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The detainees have been charged by the police with committing “a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease,” as well as “disobedience of lawful orders.”
These 19 young people have now been in prison for nearly six weeks. The Commissioner General of Prisons has refused to allow their lawyers, from the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), to access them or even speak to them by phone or video link. Three of them are living with HIV and because their lawyers have no access to them we do not know whether they have been able to secure anti-retroviral treatment (ART) in prison, meaning they may be immunocompromised and at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 in prison. The detainees were scheduled for a bail hearing on April 28 and their lawyers were at court prepared to represent them, but they were not brought to court from prison, and neither the magistrate nor the prosecutor was present.
Living in a shelter for homeless people is not illegal. As you are aware, many vulnerable populations live in shelters and group homes in Uganda, including women who are survivors of domestic violence, orphans, and refugees. Imprisoning shelter residents on Covid-19 related charges simply for residing in a group home is not only arbitrary and abusive, it is contrary to public health by needlessly congesting prisons.
Five UN special procedures, including the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, have called for the release of the detainees. UNAIDS has also condemned the arrests.
As director of public prosecutions, you can rectify this injustice and stand up for human rights and the rule of law by withdrawing charges against the 19 people arrested at the COSF shelter. Human Rights Watch urges you to enter a nolle prosequi and ensure their immediate release.
We look forward to hearing from you, especially about any steps you have taken to end the prosecution of the 19 shelter residents.
Executive Director, Africa Division
Human Rights Watch