The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern over, what it terms, the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.

Spokesperson for the office, Ravina Shamdasani, says the allegations of human rights violations reported ahead of the January 14 polls may pose challenges not only for voting day itself, but also for the post-electoral period.

The alleged rights violations include the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and participation, as well as arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture.

Between 18 and 20 November, at least 54 people were reportedly killed during riots and protests in at least seven districts across the country.

The protests were over the arrest and detention of two opposition presidential candidates, Robert Kyagulanyi, who is also known as Bobi Wine, and Patrick Oboi Amuriat, and other opposition members.

On 26 December, the Electoral Commission suspended general election meetings in 16 districts that were categorised as “high, sustained and diffuse transmission districts/areas”, in a move the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says is giving the impression that the government is using COVID-19 restrictions as a ground to restrict public freedoms and political participation during the electoral process.

“On 30 December 90 NUP supporters were arrested in Kalangala when security forces blocked a campaign event by Kyagulanyi for violating COVID measures, among other offences.  At their court appearance, some presented injuries resulting, according to them, from torture during detention. In contrast, police have not enforced COVID-19 restrictions in such a strict manner for electoral campaign activities by the ruling party,” says Shamdasani.

Political leader Bobi Wine wants ICC to investigate human rights abuses in Uganda:

“We are also concerned that the discriminatory enforcement of such restrictions has led to violence, arbitrary arrests and detention, and, in some instances, reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. We call on the Ugandan authorities to protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to ensure a free and peaceful election process that guarantees the right of the people of Uganda to participate in their country’s public affairs, including by taking measures to prevent instances of electoral violence, Shamdasani concludes.

Journalists have also been attacked by the police.

According to Reuters, at a pre-election news conference with senior security officials, Uganda’s police chief Martin Okoth Ochola refused to apologise, saying reporters would be stopped from trying to go to areas where their lives could be at risk.

“You are insisting you must go where there is danger. Yes, we shall beat you for your own sake to help you understand that you do not go there. Yes, we shall use reasonable force to ensure that you don’t go where there is a risk. Actually, I have no apology,” he said.

The International Press Institute has called on Uganda to investigate police attacks on reporters.