"Uganda needs to re-affirm human rights commitment"

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Uganda Election Update, 17 March - The human rights group Amnesty International (AI) today called on Ugandan re-elected President Yoweri Museveni and opposition political leaders to re-affirm their commitment to human rights by publicly condemning any acts of violence committed by their supporters in the context of this week's Presidential elections.

While the elections in general went orderly and peacfully, according to international observers, there were several complaints of irregularities. "Reports of intimidation and harassment of supporters of different candidates during the election campaign have shown that human rights are still not fully respected in Uganda," Amnesty International said. "Dedication to the protection of human rights is now needed to make Uganda a country where human rights are protected not only by law, but also in practice."

On 14 March, the chairman of Uganda's Electoral Commission declared incumbent President, Yoweri Museveni, the winner of Presidential elections held in Uganda on 12 March 2001. President Museveni won 69.3% of the vote with his main challenger, Colonel (retired) Kizza Besigye coming second with 27.8% in an election that saw an overall turnout of 70.3%. The results have been challenged by the opposition who allege widespread intimidation of their supporters and vote-rigging.

Besigye and other candidates immediately after the results were released said they would be launching a legal challenge against them. The Media and Publicity Secretary for the Besigye Task Force, Betty Kamya, stated that "the figures tallied so far exceed the total number of registered voters in Uganda," thus claiming that "the rigging exceeded all proportions." Other bases for the legal challenge by the Besigye Task Force are the intimidation of their polling agents and in some cases the refusal to allow them to monitor the elections in certain areas; failure by the Electoral Commission to display the voter's register on time; and the involvement of the army in the election and intimidation of the electorate.

An election observer coalition made up of non governmental organisations has also made damning statements about the "lack of transparency" in the entire electoral process, according to IPS, describing it as "not free and fair" but have endorsed the result as legitimate insisting that the irregularities had little effect on the outcome. 

Amnesty International (AI) agrees with the Besigye opposition that "the Presidential elections in Uganda have been marred by allegations of human rights abuses, both before and after the elections on 12 March 2001. An increasing number of human rights violations against opposition supporters, including illegal arrests and detention without charge, ill-treatment in detention, and alleged unlawful killings were reported by the Ugandan press in the weeks leading up to the elections. In some instances, supporters of President Museveni were also targetted."

AI also confirms that "at least one person was killed when members of the Presidential Protection Unit opened fire on demonstrators in Rukungiri, south-west Uganda, on 3 March 2001." Both international observers and Ugandan human rights groups expressed concern at the role played by the Ugandan army in a newly created 'task force on internal security'. The task force had been established by the government in response to the increasing level of violence in the run-up to the elections. Although the day of the election passed relatively peacefully, some violence continued beyond election day when on 14 March a bomb explosion in Kampala killed two people and severely injured several others.

Amnesty International today states it believes that "only prompt, impartial and independent investigations into all allegations of human rights violations committed in the context of the election campaign will create a climate in which no further abuses are committed. The results of such investigations should be made public, and alleged perpetrators brought to justice in trials that conform with international standards for fair trials." 

- Every Ugandan has the right to life; the right to be free from torture; and the right to peacefully express his or her political opionion, AI said. "Respect for human rights is central to Uganda's political, economic and social development. All those interested in a better future for Uganda should speak up now for human rights and accountability."

The Ugandan presidential elections was seen as a test to the assumptions that political freedoms is a commodity enjoyed by many here and that democracy is a concept that has taken root in the country. An NGO observer records say voting procedures in 79 percent of Uganda's 56 districts went in accordance with the law, while influencing of voters took place only in 1 in 6 districts. Only six percent of voters were denied a right to vote and this happened on a random scale, according to the NGO report. Thus, in many ways, the reported irregularities were less than expected. 

Action has also been prompt by the Electoral Commission, immediately appealing to the Besigye Task Force to provide it with details of its accusations so they could be properly investigated. This week, a number of officers were arrested in polling stations where irregularities had been reported. The Electoral Commission however denied any deliberate rigging, harassment of voters by the military or voter list padding. 

Sources: Based on Amnesty International, IPS and afrol archives

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