UK Monitors Uganda Rights Issues

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The U.K.’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs responded to stinging questions about Uganda’s human rights record from Conservative Party officials by saying that although the situation has improved since the overthrow of Idi Amin, problems remain and are being monitored and discussed with officials in the East African country.

The country is under scrutiny by British officials as it prepares to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit this year. “We do not judge that there are currently any implications for the visit by Her Majesty the Queen to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kampala in November 2007,� said Ian McCartney, Minister of State.
He was responding to questions Monday from the Conservative Party’s John Bercow, MP for Buckingham, who had asked for an assessment from Secretary of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs’s Margaret Beckett.

“It has a reasonably free media, though this freedom is occasionally curtailed when the Ugandan Government perceives a conflict with national interest. Uganda also has active civil society organizations,� explained McCartney.

“The rule of law problems remains, including poor policing and questionable activities by security agencies such as allegations of illegal detention, torture and politically motivated harassment. The worst cases of human rights abuse occur in northern Uganda where the general public has not been provided with adequate protection from the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels or the military,� the minister said.

MP Bercow singled out the continuing detention of 22 suspects of the People’s Redemption Army (PRA) on pending treason charges, which had occurred with charges against Dr. Kizza Besigye, leader of the FDC opposition party. All had been granted bail by the High Court—PRA suspects remain detained.

“On 12 January the Ugandan Constitutional Court called for the immediate release of the group of 22 people, alleged to be People’s Redemption Army rebels, after holding that the continued trial of the group before the General Court Martial was illegal,� McCartney said.  “Three of a group was released under Uganda’s Amnesty Act on 13 January and on 15 January the Prison authorities were ordered to bring the group before the High Court. We are following the situation and call on all sides to abide by the constitution and respect the rule of law,� the minister told the House of Commons.

MP Bercow wanted an assessment of the human rights situation in light of the impending visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Commonwealth Conference. “As I said in my written answer to the Hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy on 15 January 2007, Official Report, columns 834-35W, we regularly discuss these issues with the Ugandan government,� McCartney said.

Black Star News Europe correspondent Miwambo is based in London.

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