Uganda: Clinton Cites Attacks Against Opposition And Lack Of Election Commission Independence

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"The government of Uganda took no action to further the independence of the Electoral Commission (EC)," Clinton writes, in her report. "On multiple occasions during the reporting period, U.S. Government officials encouraged President Museveni to strengthen the EC's independence."

[Global: Black Star News Exclusive]

Report Cites A Museveni General’s Vow To “Crush” Opposition Leader

The Ugandan government has failed to take any measures to replace President Yoweri Museveni's hand-picked Election Commission with an independent body, despite demands by the local opposition parties that such a move was a pre-requisite for free and fair elections, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says in a report to the U.S. Congress. The government of the East African country also continues to use draconian laws to stifle the political opposition and continues to deploy a strong police presence, sometimes with para-military group action--including beatings and arrests--against opposition gatherings, the report shows.

What's more, the government continues to use broad powers, such as sedition charges against opposition leaders and journalists, Clinton says, in her very detailed review of Uganda's political scene. The report indicates the U.S. government has expressed its concerns to the Ugandan government over proposed amendments to a law that would restrict press freedom.

In December 2009, Congress issued a directive to Secretary Clinton to monitor the Uganda 2011 Presidential elections preparations, the elections, as well as its aftermath. Clinton was mandated to issue periodic status reports starting on March 2, 2010 with subsequent reports every four months, and a report 30 days after the February 2011 elections. This second report, obtained by The Black Star News, covers the period from March 5 to July 2, 2010.

Clinton noted that a top Uganda Security official also publicly threatened to "crush" Olara Otunnu, President of Uganda People's Congress (UPC) if he continued to demand for an independent investigation of past mass killings in Uganda's Luwero Triangle region in the 1980s.

Separately, she wrote that President Museveni's Press Secretary threatened radio station owners who did not apologize for allowing Otunnu to criticize President Museveni's role in the war with the Lord's Resistance Army.
Secretary of State Clinton also referenced the beating of opposition party members by a paramilitary outfit known as the "Kiboko Squad" while police stood by. Clinton said regional leaders continued to block free access to radio airwaves by opposition leaders.

In this, her second report to Congress on preparations for the February 2011 Uganda presidential elections, Clinton focused specially on threats to press freedom, referencing a report by Human Rights Watch, which warned that government suppression of media access "threatens to fatally undermine media freedoms necessary for free and fair elections."

As with the first report, Clinton was critical of the government's failure to dismantle the current Election Commission, which was hand-picked by Museveni.

"The government of Uganda took no action to further the independence of the Electoral Commission (EC)," Clinton writes in her report. "On multiple occasions during the reporting period, U.S. Government officials encouraged President Museveni to strengthen the EC's independence."

The report notes that while the Uganda government maintains that the EC was independent and appointed in accordance with Ugandan law, "Opposition parties continue to demand the reconstitution of the EC as a necessary condition for free and fair elections."

Clinton also documented instances where security forces acted against political gatherings.

Clinton noted that charges remain pending against 33 female members of the opposition Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) coalition from a January 18 demonstration to protest the EC's lack of independence.  According to the report, after a June 14 court postponement, the IPC women clashed with police deployed outside when the women displayed posters critical of the EC. "Four IPC women were hospitalized due to blunt force injuries and ingestion of mace and pepper spray," Clinton wrote, noting again that the government claimed appropriate force was used.

The report also references the March 18 beating of IPC women's leader Ingrid Turinawe by police when she tried to visit six Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) supporters arrested for holding a meeting ahead of a March 22 by-election. "Turinawe was hospitalized for several days," Clinton wrote--adding that an "independent medical report showed she was beaten with blunt objects."

Clinton referenced other instances of attacks against opposition members.

"On June 9, Kampala police prevented IPC supporters from assembling, and a civilian vigilante group known as the 'Kiboko Squad' beat IPC members with sticks as police stood by," Clinton wrote, noting that police said the demonstration was not pre-approved and therefore illegal. "Police said they have no affiliation to the 'Kiboko Squad' and claimed to be investigating the squad's organization and leadership as well as police officers who allowed the squad to operate freely."

Clinton also highlighted an incident which occurred during the June 9 demonstration, in which a police officer assaulted a journalist and destroyed the camera used to take pictures "of the police and stick-wielding 'Kiboko Squad' preventing an assembly of opposition supporters." She noted that police later apologized and charged the officer with assault.
"On multiple occasions throughout the reporting period, State Department officials urged the Ugandan government to take additional steps to ensure freedom of movement, assembly, and a process free of intimidation," Clinton said.

With respect to the security of opposition candidates, Clinton noted that, "On March 16, local press quoted Uganda's Intelligence Coordinator, General David Tinyefuza, as saying he would 'crush' opposition UPC party President Olara Otunnu if Otunnu continued to call for an independent inquiry into the Luwero Triangle Killings of the early 1980s."

Police also summoned Otunnu on April 15, for questioning following a radio interview in which "he accused President Museveni of deliberately prolonging Uganda's 23-year war against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)," Clinton said. "Otunnu refused to appear for questioning, and was subsequently charged with sedition and promoting sectarianism."

Clinton additonally reported that Uganda's Presidential Elections (Amendment) Act 2010, signed into law June 5 by President Museveni requires the EC to consult with candidates on their security details. She noted that FDC President Dr. Kizza Besigye was attacked by an unknown assailant at a campaign rally on April 8. "Opposition members accused the individual of trying to strangle Besigye and claimed the attacker was carrying a pistol," Clinton wrote. "Police say no firearm was involved. The attacker was not arrested and the case is not being actively pursued," Clinton said.

Clinton credited the Ugandan government with taking "some steps towards establishing an accurate and verifiable voter registry" noting that it "conducted a nationwide voter registration exercise for new voters."

"The exercise was initially hampered by insufficient training, inadequate publicity, and problems with equipment," Clinton reported, adding that after the registration period was extended by two weeks, for a total of eight weeks, President Museveni signed three bills into law designed to improve the conduct of the elections and enhance the transparency of the registry system.

"The laws require the EC to send an electronic copy of the voter registry to political parties after the nomination period, to publicly post the voter registry for 21 days with subsequent correction and reposting periods, and to publish in print media a list of polling stations and the locations where the voter registry will be displayed in each parish," Clinton continued in the report.

"U.S. officials continued to advocate publicly and privately for an open and transparent voter registry," Clinton reiterated. "In May, USAID funding enabled the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) to start working with the EC to post the entire voter registry online and to create a system to enable voters to verify their registration and polling station via cell phone text messages."

Clinton used two recent Parliamentary by-elections to assess the government's ability to announce and post results in polling stations. "These by-elections were generally well organized, although there were some irregularities such as high levels of 'assisted voting' and allegations of vote buying during the March 22 by-election in Rukiga, and the altering of results from one polling station during the May 25 by-election in Mukono."

The government had "generally allowed movement of opposition leaders" and "some political rallies" over the period reviewed, Clinton said.

She noted that two of Ugandan's major opposition parties UPC and FDC had been able to hold their delegates' conferences and elect party leaders. As well, in June, UPC President Olara Otunnu was able to hold rallies in Eastern Uganda, the Democratic Party President Norbert Mao held a rally in Kampala and the Uganda Federal Alliance (UFC) party held a political rally in Masaka. "However, the Ugandan government continued to intimidate and restrict the activities of opposition parties," Clinton warned. "The Ugandan government continues to hold the passport of FDC party President Kizza Besigye based on treason charges pending since 2005."

Clinton noted that Besigye was questioned by police on April 14 for accusing the Museveni government of selling Lake Kyoga to private investors and inciting violence by allegedly ordering his supporters to break the thumbs of people flashing the NRM's thumbs-up symbol. No charges were filed and Besigye denies the charges, Clinton wrote.

Secretary Clinton focused on issues of press freedom in her second report to Congress. She noted that on May 2, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting violation of press freedoms by NRM officials and the Ugandan government. HRW said the Uganda government routinely used "a wide range of tactics to stifle critical reporting, from occasional physical violence to threats, harassment, bureaucratic interference, and criminal charges" extensively quoting HRW's report, which warned that government repression "threatens to fatally undermine media freedoms necessary for free and fair elections."

Clinton said press freedoms also were restricted by Resident District Commissioners "who continued to influence radio programming and effectively bar presenters that are critical of the government" Clinton wrote. She noted that police continued to arrest journalists for content critical of President Museveni and the Ugandan government.

"Authorities questioned journalists for reporting on corruption, the arrest and interrogation of political figures, and for blaming President Museveni for the March 16 fire that destroyed the Buganda Kingdom's principal cultural site and the March 17 shooting deaths of three civilians by members of Museveni's advance team at the site of the fire." Several reporters were also charged with sedition, she noted.

Detailing government interference with press freedom, Clinton cited an incident involving Presidential Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi, who "demanded apologies from radio stations that aired UPC President Olara Otunnu's accusations that President Museveni prolonged and profited politically from the LRA conflict." Clinton reported that "Mirundi warned that there would be future consequences for the station if they refused to apologize."

"While there is active and often lively political debate on a broad range of topics, Ugandan authorities used sedition, defamation, and security laws to prevent media outlets from criticizing the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government and President Museveni," Clinton wrote.

Clinton's report also emphasized that the government's draft amendment to the 1995 Press and Journalist Act "would severely restrict print media by giving the government the power to close newspapers and arrest print journalists if the proposed state-run Media Board determines content to be prejudicial to national security, stability, unity or economic development." Clinton noted that "Journalists, civil society, and newspaper executives have urged the government not to submit the amendment to Parliament."

Clinton reported that the Ugandan government's trend towards media repression has not gone unnoticed by U.S. officials, stating that on "several occasions, the U.S. government registered concerns with the draft media amendment and urged the Ugandan government to ensure press freedom."

 Read the entire report here.

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