Govt terminates operations for UN Human Rights Office in Uganda

Govt terminates operations for UN Human Rights Office in Uganda

The Ugandan government has declined to renew the mandate of the United Nations Human Rights office in the country.

In a February, 3, 2023 correspondence, government says they will not be renewing the host country agreement signed with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda when it expires.

“In that regard, given the strong government commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, the prevailing peace throughout the country coupled with strong national human right institutions and a vibrant civil society with the capacity to monitor the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to convey government’s decision not to renew the mandate of the OHCHR country office in Uganda beyond the current term,” the correspondence reads in part.

According to the government, Uganda has enough and strong institutions as well as civil society to monitor the human rights situation in the country.

“The government will continue its cooperation with the OHCHR headquarters either directly or through its Permanent Mission in Geneva.”

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UN Human Rights office

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is a department of the secretariat of the United Nations that works to promote and protect human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

The office was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993.

In Uganda, the UN Human Rights office was  established in 2006, with an  initial mandate on the human rights situation in the conflict-affected areas in Northern and North-Eastern Uganda.

The mandate was three years later in 2009 expanded to cover the entire country and all human rights issues.

In February 2020, the mandate for the office was further expanded to include the establishment of a regional human rights training centre in Uganda, to provide training activities on the international human rights system for government officials of interested states in the region, as well as national human rights institutions and civil society organizations.

The UN Human Rights office that is set to cease operations in Uganda is where several journalists who were covering National Unity Platform presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi  were beaten and badly injured by the military during the 2021 general election.

The journalists were covering Kyagulanyi who had gone to petition the UN office over the continued violation of human rights in the country.

The latest  development comes on the backdrop of accusations towards government over the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

This was more pronounced in the just concluded January 2021 general elections that saw several members of the opposition  abducted, arrested, beaten and other killed during campaigns.

Some Ugandan security chiefs have since been  sanctioned by the US and UK governments for superintending human rights violations, especially during the election period.

For example, shortly after the election in 2021, US government announced sanctions against some Ugandan officials over human rights violations.

A statement released by  the US government secretary of State, Antony John Blinken said there had been an increased downward trajectory for the country’s democratic credentials, adding that this was experienced in the 2021 polls.

The sanctions followed the The November 18 and 19 protests after the arrest of National Unity Platform presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine saw over 50 people killed, other injured whereas hundreds were later arrested in the resultant crackdown on the masterminds of the deadly protest. .

There was also a crackdown especially by security forces and other government agencies on several civil society organisations and opposition players, mostly Kyagulanyi and his National Unity Platform supporters.

Following the January 14 polls, several NUP supporters went  missing before government later admitted that these had been arrested by security organs.

However, according to the US government, security organs were largely to blame for these human rights violations, noting  that something needed to be done to check their excesses.

In response, the State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem said then that whereas it was unfortunate for the US to impose restrictions, government could not  lose sleep over the same.

“It is unfortunate that the US is punishing individuals in Uganda wrongly without having real proof beyond doubt that they are the causers of those allegations. Those allegations were responded to by the government of Uganda and we expected the US government and others to have respected our response,” Oryem said.

“..but their decisions are based on newspaper reportings and pressure from individuals, pressure groups, and lobbyists which is very unfortunate. We are not moved, shaken but remain focused on fulfilling the mandate given to us by the people of Uganda. We will continue executing our manifesto accordingly without losing sleep over that matter.”

Oryem said the best way to punish anyone suspected to have participated in the said human rights violations would have been after investigations and hearing from the accused before coming up with a punishment.

“I don’t think those officers sanctioned are dying to go to the US. There should have been direct engagement between the two governments and not because of pressure from individual pressure groups and lobbyists.

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