"Ugandan elections must be properly monitored"

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Amnesty International 
Uganda Election Update, 21 June - On the background of the widely criticised March presidential election, human rights groups call for a more profound monitoring of the upcoming legislative elections next week. "Election monitoring must incorporate respect for fundamental rights," Amnesty International demands.

The human rights organisation is calling on governments sending monitors to the Ugandan parliamentary elections, scheduled for 26 June, to ensure that human rights concerns are "given consistent and vigorous attention". This was not the case in the March presidential election, when monitors mainly focused at the poll itself.

- Election monitoring cannot truly assess the freedom, fairness and transparency of elections without paying serious consideration to human rights issues, regarding these as
fundamental and intrinsic to the process, the organisation said in a statement yesterday.

Several human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had expressed concern during presidential elections, allegedly being marred by government electioneering and intimidation, and not taking place on a level playing field. In March, incumbent President Yoweri Museveni was re-elected as president ahead of a surprisingly competitive opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, among other candidates. According to the national electoral commission, Museveni in March received 69.3 percent of the vote, but challenger Kizza Besigye said he would not accept the results. 

Incidents and irregularities had been reported by all candidates (including Museveni) and had been documented by the US group Human Rights Watch, concluding that "the Museveni government is trying to win this election by bullying the opposition". International election observers, however, announced that the general picture of the Ugandan poll was that it had been run "in a peaceful and orderly way". 

Besigye and other candidates based their allegations of a "rigging exceeding all proportions" on the voters' registration and intimidation of the opposition's candidates and poll assistants. International observers meanwhile focused on the poll itself. 

Preparations for next week's parliament elections have however gone smoother, not at least because no political parties are allowed in Uganda. Only last year, Ugandans voted against allowing multi-party elections in a referendum, maintaining the "movement system" (or "no-party system") as the only system of politics in Uganda. Though ousting political parties (which had had a tendency of promoting ethnical divisions), the system however permits democratic elections. 

Only one political organisation, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), under which Museveni came to power in 1986, is recognised in Uganda, claiming to represent all Ugandans and all points of view - thus not being a party. The movement system is justified by the fear of a return to Uganda's violent past, but criticised for its exclusion of opposition parties and the NRM's direct access to state resources. 

While Western democratic governments generally have shown great acceptance for Museveni's alternative democracy model, based on the peace, stability and economic development his NRM government has achieved, critics are outspoken by the national opposition and by international human rights organisations.

After the March election, thus Amnesty had called on Ugandan politicians "to re-affirm their commitment to human rights," as it endorsed the opposition's critics on the poll. "Every Ugandan has the right to life; the right to be free from torture; and the right to peacefully express his or her political opinion. Respect for human rights is central to Uganda's political, economic and social development," the group summed up.

- During parliamentary elections, monitors should report all evidence of human rights violations through proper and explicit channels, Amnesty urged yesterday. "The Ugandan authorities should then conduct independent investigations where evidence of violations exists, and anyone found responsible should be brought to justice."

Meanwhile, a key independent monitoring group last week raised concerns that voter turnout in the 26 June parliamentary elections may be low, and that much of the electorate was not adequately informed of the voting process, according to a UN media. 

Sources: Based on Amnesty International, UN sources and afrol archives Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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