Four Senators Say U.S. Must Consider Military and Economic Sanctions To Punish Persistent Abuses Under Museveni

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The Ugandan dictator of 32 years, Gen. Museveni. Photo: Facebook. 
 
Four Democratic Senators in a strongly-worded letter have called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to consider punitive sanctions including cutting off weapons to Uganda if American arms have been used in the past five years in human rights abuses under Gen. Yoweri Museveni.
 
The senators also expressed alarm about reports that Uganda is receiving military assistance from North Korea in violation of United Nations sanctions. Yet, the strongest part of the letter states that the U.S. under existing law could cut off arms shipments if weapons are being used for purposes they were not intended for. Additionally, the senators suggest the Trump Administration remove Uganda from the list of countries eligible for duty free export access to the U.S. market if persistent abuses continue. 
 
"We write with concern about recent events in Uganda which indicate an erosion of fundamental freedoms and closing political space, the potential use of United States arms and materiel to commit human rights abuses, and the Administration's lack of a clear policy to balance U.S. security interests in the region," the senators say in the letter. "Recent allegations in the media that the Ugandan government is receiving security assistance and other aid from North Korea in violation of United Nations sanctions are also alarming." 
 
The senators say the U.S. must use "all of the tools in our toolbox to support a positive trajectory for Uganda including a multiyear, fully funded strategy to improve governance, increase transparency, and expand political participation." 
 
The letter, dated Dec. 13 was written just over a week after a businessman and former Hong Kong official, Chi Ping Patrick Ho, was convicted Dec. 5, in U.S. federal court for paying a $1 million bribe to Gen. Museveni and Uganda's foreign minister Sam Kutesa --who is also his in-law-- on behalf of CEFC China Energy Co., which was seeking concessions in the energy and other industries.
 
The letter is signed by: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Sen. Cory A. Booker (D-New Jersey); Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Delaware); and, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts).
 
Relations between the U.S. and the Museveni regime have deteriorated sharply since August when soldiers assaulted and reportedly tortured several Members of Parliament (MPs) and their supporters in the city of Arua during a by-election for a seat won by the opposition. Bobi Wine, a prominent MP and youth leader, was one of those reportedly tortured; both he and another MP, Francis Zaake, sought treatment overseas. The senators say "credible evidence suggests their claims are true," concerning their being tortured while in custody.
 
(The Museveni regime's sense of impunity continued when Bobi Wine was briefly forced into hiding when he traveled to perform a concert in the city of Jinja this past Saturday. After he was greeted by tens of thousands of supporters security forces later reportedly surrounded him. Bobi Wine tweeted: "The police are looking for me everywhere. They have even blocked most roads in search for me! I will not avail myself to them-Arua is still fresh in our minds." He later managed to escape from Jinja. Many of his supporters were beaten and arrested by the police, he reported). 
 
The four senators note that Uganda is a strong U.S. partner in the war against terrorism in Somalia and efforts to restore peace to South Sudan. "However," the senators say, "we must consider the need to foster long term stability in Uganda, which is best brought about through the growth of a participatory democracy, effective democratic institutions, functional rule of law, and increasing economic opportunity --especially for Uganda's youth." 
 
More than 75% of Uganda's population is younger than 35 years old and youth unemployment is estimated as over 80%, presenting an explosive political time-bomb. It is Uganda's youth movement --termed "People Power"-- that has led to the meteoric rise of Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a Bobi Wine who is now seen as a presidential candidate in the 2021 election. 
 
The U.S. senators note the legacy of abuse of civilians in Uganda  and recalled harassment of government opponents and intimidation of voters during the 2016 election which "fell short of international standards." The senators note how the constitution had been changed twice --a reference to the removal of presidential term limits in 2005 and the 75-years ceiling in 2017-- "to allow President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power since 1986, to remain in office." Under Museveni's leadership human rights conditions "also continue to worsen," the senators add.  
 
"The State Department's own 2018 Country Report on Human Rights Practices reveals that security forces have engaged in arbitrary detention, torture and unlawful killings, as well as harassment and detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons," the senators say, noting that the Museveni government hasn't shown the political will to hold accountable rights abusers. 
 
The senators note the attacks on lawmakers who opposed the removal of the presidential age-ceiling from the constitution last year. MP Betty Nambooze, "after advocating against changing the constitution to lift the presidential age limit suffered serious injuries at the hands of unknown assailants believed to be state security forces," the senators say. 
 
The senators recall the shooting death of Yasin Kawuma, Bobi Wine's driver and the beating of "at least" two journalists during the Arua incident in August. They note that even after Bobi Wine and Zaake were released from custody, they were re-arrested before they could travel overseas for treatment. "The repeated mistreatment of elected officials at the hands of law enforcement clearly demonstrates a culture of impunity," the senators say.
 
The senators recall the demonstrations that erupted following the Arua incident and express concern over the possible abuse of U.S. weapons. "Photographs of Ugandan soldiers on the streets of Kampala deployed to respond appear to show them with M4 assault rifles."
 
Yet, after the incidents there was "little evidence of thoughtful consideration or re-examination of the need for different strictures for our security assistance," the senators say, noting that the Trump Administration went on to support the national army, the Uganda People's Defense Force for the African Union Mission in Somalia even after the Arua events and its aftermath. 
 
"We cannot conduct business as usual in the face of harassment of elected officials and journalists, the ongoing deterioration of human rights conditions, and persistent impunity for human rights abusers, and we urge you to take several actions," the senators say.
 
The senators call on Secretary Pompeo to: conduct a "thorough assessment" of the training, arms and supplies provided to Uganda through U.S. security assistance programs and grants, as well as through direct commercial sales going back over the past five years. "If any of the weapons provided or sold to Uganda were used for a purpose contradictory to their intended purpose, this would amount to a violation of U.S. law…" 
 
The senators say violations would require Secretary Pompeo to "investigate any incident and make a determination under Section 3 of the Arms Export Control Act, which could lead to a cut-off of all arms sales to the Ugandan government." Section 3 of the Arms Export Control Act, in addition to prohibiting use of U.S. weapons by unauthorized personnel --such as members of the unofficial armed forces used by the regime--, barring usage that does not advance U.S. national security, also bars unauthorized transfers of U.S. supplied weapons to most third parties. This could also cover the reported violations of the U.N. arms embargo on South Sudan; it's an open secret that the Museveni regime has been supplying South Sudan's ruler Salva Kiir with weapons. 
 
"We should also consider punitive measures to punish abuses, such as suspension of benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or halting security training and arms transfers until those accused of excesses are brought to justice," the senators add.
 
The senators call on the Trump Administration to "elevate" its engagement with the Ugandan government on issues of democracy, human rights, and civil liberties. "We were dismayed to learn that no one from Washington reached out to President Museveni in response to the multiple instances of detention and alleged torture and mistreatment of Members of Parliament in August," the senators say.
 
"It is critical that we advocate from the highest level of the Administration for increased respect for core American values related to sustaining democratic institutions, financial rule of law, and respect for human rights within Uganda," the senators state. "Doing so conveys the seriousness with which we take attacks on civilians including lawmakers, and may serve to deter such treatment of elected officials and political opponents in the future."
 
 
 
 

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