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UGANDA: VIOLENT BREAK-IN TARGETS HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP

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We stand in solidarity with our Ugandan colleagues after this cowardly attack. 
 
(Nairobi, February 9, 2018) – Ugandan rights organization Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) was the target of a violent break-in on the night of February 8, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. HRAPF works to protect the rights of marginalized groups including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, and sex workers. The group reported that unidentified assailants broke into its office overnight, disabled parts of the security system, and slashed two guards with machetes, severely injuring them.
 
The break-in continues a string of burglaries and attacks on the offices of independent nongovernmental groups in Uganda, including a previous attack on HRAPF in May 2016, in which a security guard was beaten to death and documents were stolen. The Uganda police neither identified nor arrested suspects in that attack. According to DefendDefenders, a Kampala-based regional human rights organization, over 30 organizations in Uganda have experienced similar break-ins since 2012. No one has ever been prosecuted for any of the attacks.
 
“In failing to effectively investigate attacks on nongovernmental groups, the Uganda police send a clear message that human rights defenders are on their own, and cannot count on the authorities for basic protection,” said Maria Burnett, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We are deeply concerned that the pattern of attacks and consistent lack of police investigations is a tactic to intimidate Uganda’s outspoken human rights activists.”
 
Following a series of attacks on nongovernmental organizations in 2016, including the attack on HRAPF, Human Rights Watch and 30 Ugandan and international human rights organizations sent a letter to the inspector general of police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, expressing grave concern about the wave of break-ins and assaults. The letter requested the police to issue a public statement clarifying the steps police had taken to investigate the attacks, and how the police would ensure that human rights defenders who had been attacked, including the HRAPF defenders, would be effectively protected from further acts of violence. The inspector general did not respond or issue such a statement.
 
The targeted groups work on a range of sensitive issues. HRAPF, for example, provides pro-bono legal aid services to LGBTI people and sex workers and conducts research and advocacy, including with the Uganda police. On February 8, the day of the attack, HRAPF staff had held a training session for police officers in the Elgon region on the rights of LGBTI people. Organizations working on land rights and the rights of journalists and women have also experienced break-ins, and in some cases, their security guards were attacked.
 
As a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Uganda is obligated to uphold a resolution adopted at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in May 2017 to take “necessary measures to provide human rights defenders with a conducive environment to be able to carry out their activities without fear of acts of violence, threat, intimidation, reprisal, discrimination, oppression, and harassment from State and non-State actors.”
 
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in November 2017 calling on countries to actively support the work of human rights defenders, including by “duly investigating and condemning publicly all cases of violence and discrimination against human rights defenders.”
 
“The Uganda Police Force should respect its obligations under African and international law to protect human rights defenders,” Burnett said. “Police indifference to attacks targeting activist groups needs to end.”
 
https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/09/uganda-human-rights-group-targeted-violent-break

Uganda: Investigate Break-ins at Groups’ Offices

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ILGA and Pan Africa ILGA are among the 31 human rights groups demanding investigations on a series of attacks on Ugandan non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders

(Kampala) – The Uganda Police Force (UPF) should promptly, thoroughly, and transparently investigate a series of attacks on Ugandan non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders and hold suspects accountable, 31 Ugandan and international human rights groups said today in a letter to the police inspector general. The severity of one of the recent attacks, in which intruders beat a security guard to death, demonstrates the urgency of addressing these attacks, for which no-one has been held responsible.

Between April and May 2016, intruders broke into the offices of at least three groups in Kampala – the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), and the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda). The break-ins followed more than two dozen previous break-ins at the offices of non-governmental groups since 2012. Although the police inspector general formed a committee of eight officers to investigate the break-ins in July 2014, no one has yet been brought to justice.

“The lack of accountability for attacks on non-governmental organizations has apparently led to an atmosphere in which attackers felt free to kill a security guard, in order to accomplish their aims,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Uganda Police Force needs to live up to its obligation to actively investigate these cases and bring those responsible to justice.”

At HRAPF, the assailants beat to death security guard Emmanuel Arituha, ransacked the offices of the director and deputy director, and stole documents and a television screen. They did not, however, take computers, laptops, or other electronic equipment. Colleagues remembered Arituha as “always smiling and very committed to his work.” At the time he was killed, he had been helping to pay his two younger siblings’ school fees.

At FAWE, intruders stole a server, laptop and desktop computers, cameras, and projectors. At HRNJ-Uganda, camera footage shows a visitor apparently providing a dish of food containing sedatives to the security guards, allowing four intruders to search the premises after the guards fell asleep. More than two weeks after the most recent attack, police have not made any arrests.

Organizations whose offices were broken into in 2014 included Human Rights Network-UgandaAnti-Corruption Coalition UgandaUganda Land AllianceAction Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS, and Lira NGO Forum. The groups are all known for their work on sensitive subjects – including corruption, land rights, freedom of expression, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people – and for criticizing government policies.

In a further attack on the premises of Uganda Land Alliance in July 2015, another security guard, Richard Oketch, was beaten to death. No one has been arrested for his murder.

Each incident has been reported to the police in a timely fashion, but police efforts to investigate and collect evidence such as witness statements, DNA, and CCTV footage have been limited and lacked follow-up. In some cases, the police did not respond to the complaints or, more commonly, provided no substantive update on the status of investigations.

“Human rights defenders already work in a challenging and often repressive environment in Uganda,” said Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF. “We’re determined to continue our work on behalf of the Ugandan people, but we need the police to stop disregarding these threats to our property, our physical security, and even our lives.”

As a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Ugandan government should ensure the right to life and the right to liberty and security for all persons, as well as the right to freedom of association, both of which are severely impeded when organizations cannot conduct their work in a safe and secure environment. As set out in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, countries have a duty to protect human rights defenders “against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure, or any other arbitrary action” as a consequence of their work to uphold human rights.

The organizations that sent the letter to the police inspector general called on him to clarify the steps the police have taken to investigate the most recent break-ins, as well as the previous wave of break-ins in 2014. The letter also asked the inspector general to outline how the police will protect human rights defenders, including HRAPF and others whose offices have been attacked, from further acts of violence.

“The lack of accountability and persistent impunity for attacks on human rights defenders and their offices sends a message that authorities condone and tolerate such attacks,” said Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes at Amnesty International. “Ending impunity is essential to protecting and ensuring a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.”

Signatories to the letter include:

Amnesty International, Kenya
Centre for Human Rights – University of Pretoria, South Africa
Chapter Four Uganda, Uganda
COC-Netherlands, Netherlands
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, India
Community Development and Child Welfare Initiatives (CODI) Uganda, Uganda
EHAHRDP/Defend Defenders, Uganda
FOKUS – Forum for Women and Development, Norway
Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Uganda
Freedom House, United States
FRI – The Norwegian Organization for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Norway
Health GAP, United States
Human Dignity Trust, United Kingdom
Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, Uganda
Human Rights Network for Journalists, Uganda
Human Rights Network, Uganda
Human Rights Watch, United States
Icebreakers, Uganda
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), Switzerland
Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), Uganda
Legal Aid Service Providers Network-Laspnet, Uganda
NGO Forum, Uganda
Pan Africa ILGA, South Africa
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, United States
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), Uganda
The African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV), Uganda
The National Coalition on HRDs, Uganda
Uganda Land Alliance, Uganda
Uganda Network of AIDS Service Organisations (UNASO), Uganda
UHAI-EASHRI, Kenya
Unwanted Witness, Uganda

Link to ILGA statement http://ilga.org/uganda-investigate-break-ins-at-groups-offices/

Sexual Minorities Uganda Files Case Challenging the Refusal to Register their Organisation

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Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) with the legal support of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) has today filed an application in the High Court, challenging the refusal by the Uganda Registration Service Bureau (URSB) to reserve their name and therefore by extension denying them registration.

SMUG seeks to improve the human rights situation for sexual minorities in Uganda through advocacy, policy reform, economic empowerment, health, counseling, among other services. In 2012, SMUG sought registration as a company limited by guarantee so that it can assume the benefits and obligations of a registered organisation under Ugandan law. The URSB however denied reservation of their name on the grounds that same sex relations are criminalised under Section 145 of the Penal Code.

In the case filed at the High Court, SMUG challenges the refusal to reserve its name and consequently to register the organisation as a violation of the rights to: equal protection of the law; freedom of association; expression; assembly; and conscience; rights of minorities to participate in decision-making processes; affirmative action in favor of a group of persons marginalized by history, tradition and custom; fair treatment in administrative decisions; as well as the right to participatein peaceful activities to influence the policies of government through civic organisations. These are all rights that are expressly protected in the Constitution of Uganda and which accrue to everyone regardless of their status.

The High Court has before ruled that Section 145 of the Penal Code only criminalises specific sexual acts, and not the person. On this basis, the application asserts thatthe Registrar General could not rely on Section 145 do deny registration to an organisation providing legitimate support services to a marginalised community.

The application seeks orders compelling the URSB to reserve the name Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and consequently to register the organisation.

International human rights law and Uganda’s Constitution protect all organisations doing legitimate work including those working with marginalised groups, and the Constitution requires all organs of the state to uphold the Constitution and uphold fundamental human rights. This is the basis of this application.

http://sexualminoritiesuganda.com