Senator asks USA to place sanctions on Uganda military officers over alleged human rights abuse

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in USA, has called on the Trump Administration to take immediate action to address a worsening human rights situation in Uganda prior to general elections next month.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Engel underscored the need for the United States to provide robust support to human rights defenders and prevent further abuses perpetrated by Ugandan security forces against the country’s citizens.

“I am writing to express my concern regarding the alarming slide towards authoritarianism in Uganda, a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid and one of the top recipients of U.S. security assistance in Africa. Having been in power for over three decades, President Museveni’s government has a long track record of repressive behavior,” wrote Engel.

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“More recently, this has included attacks on independent media, the banning of political rallies and concerts, the arrest, detention, and torture of individuals who dare to challenge the president or the ruling party, and a persistent lack of accountability for the arbitrary and extrajudicial killings and torture perpetrated by Ugandan security forces.”

Engel adds in his letter; “To cite a few examples: In November 2016, Ugandan security forces massacred over 100 civilians in Kasese. In September 2017, Ugandan Special Forces forcibly entered parliament during a debate over whether to remove presidential age limits from the constitution, which now allows President Museveni to rule indefinitely. During the tumult, MP Betty Nambooze suffered serious spinal injuries from which she is still recovering.”

“In July 2018, the government imposed a tax on citizens who wished to access social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter – a transparent ploy to discourage anti-government mobilization on the part of youths and dissidents. The following month, MP Robert Kyagulanyi and 32 other opposition politicians were arrested and brutally tortured following a by-election in Arua. Earlier this year, MP Francis Zaake was brutalized for distributing supplies to needy citizens during the coronavirus lockdown, while just last month, at least 45 people were killed by Ugandan security forces following protests in Kampala.”

“These violent incidents reflect a highly disturbing trajectory for the country, thus ensuring that the environment for general elections in January 2021 has been fundamentally tilted in favor of an incumbent who has been in power since 1986. Therefore, I request that the Treasury Department and the State Department utilize the authority of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Global Magnitsky Act) to designate individuals who may be responsible for violence in Uganda in recent years.”

He notes that the individuals responsible are; Lt. Gen. Peter Elwelu, Commander of Land Forces; Maj. Gen. James Birungi, Commander of the Special Forces Command; Maj. Gen. Don William Nabasa, former Commander of the Special Forces Command; Maj. Gen. Abel Kandiho, Chief of Military Intelligence; Maj. Gen. Steven Sabiiti Muzeyi, Deputy Inspector of General of Police; Frank Mwesigwa, Commissioner of Police; and Col. Chris Serunjogi Ddamulira, Director of Crime Intelligence.

“I also ask that the State Department commence a review of all non-humanitarian assistance to Uganda; commit to providing robust support to human rights defenders, and independent journalists and to building the capacity of civil society organizations; and coordinate with like-minded allies to issue a joint condemnation of violent repression,” he said.

“My desire to see a better human rights record in Uganda is firmly rooted in the country’s own constitution and legal code, which prevent torture and enshrine the right to freely assemble and express viewpoints that may not be in accordance with those of President Museveni. I look forward to your response and thank you for your attention to this urgent matter,” Engel concluded.