The Ugandan government has asked the European Union (EU) Parliament to respect the country’s sovereignty and ensure non-interference if relations between the two is to be sustained.
The EU Parliament last week adopted 19 resolutions taking the stock of human rights violations in Uganda in the period before, during and after the recent elections. In the resolutions was a call for justice for Ugandans who died in the November 2020 riots, and a call for sanctions against individuals and organizations responsible for human rights violations in Uganda.
The Parliament also called for scrutiny of Uganda’s fiscal management and transparency and systematic reviews of the EU budget support programs, and asked the government to stop using COVID-19 enforcement to violate rights and freedoms of its opponents. Also adopted is a recommendation to ensure freedom of the press, to secure unrestricted internet access, and ensure the unconditional release of all those arrested and detained for ‘protesting peacefully,’ among others.
Now in a 10-page letter dated February 15, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa wrote to the President of the European Parliament, indicating that the body was undermining Ugandan institutions and the sovereignty of the country. Kutesa, who responded to all the allegations one at a time indicated that Uganda and EU relations are historical and strong, but their sustenance will depend on the ability to uphold the universally accepted principles of mutual respect, non-interference and sovereignty.
Kutesa stated that the EU resolution was undermining Ugandan institutions like the courts of law and the Electoral Commission, highlighting that he was particularly perturbed by the resolution that refers to the process and the results declared by the Electoral Commission, which, according to him is a mockery of the rule of law and an attempt to influence the outcome of the ongoing court process.
“This statement is clearly partisan in tone and intent. We see this as an attempt to undermine and challenge the Electoral Commission and its work”, Kutesa said and hastened to add that the statements are unfortunate at a time when the matter was still before the court which will determine the validity of the elections.
Kutesa says Uganda achieved a historic milestone in holding a peaceful election amidst COVID-19 and he is, therefore, “quite frankly concerned how the EU Parliament in its resolution downplays the threat of COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda” well aware of the stringent measures EU countries have taken to fight COVID-19. He says campaigns in some parts of the country were suspended for all the candidates and this was not a pretext to restrict the opposition.
He explains that Presidential candidates; Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu of the National Unity Platform (NUP) and Patrick Oboi Amuriat of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) chose to defy all the standard operating procedures set by the Ministry of health to control the spread of COVID-19, and for this reason, they were arrested during the campaign trail.
“These two repeatedly told or intimated to their supporters that COVID-19 was a hoax, incited them and willingly breached the SOPs, organizing mass rallies, thereby putting the lives of everyone, not just themselves and their supporters, at risk in the middle of a pandemic,” Kutesa says.
Kutesa says that following the arrest of Kyagulanyi, there was a pre-planned and funded riot in which his supporters engaged in robbery, mounting of illegal roadblocks, assaulting innocent people and attacks on security personnel in Kampala which resulted in arrests.
“The government is on record as stating that the incidents of November 2020 were regrettable and will continue to be investigated with a view to determining conclusively if and where operational mistakes were made by individual security personnel thereby unlawfully causing death in particular cases,” he says.
On the arrest of human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, Kutesa says that the accused was charged with an offence in Uganda and cautions the EU against disrespecting institutions that are doing their work. He added that although the country does not condone the promotion of sexual orientation of any kinds, gay persons are not being persecuted in Uganda.
Kutesa described the threats to sanction individuals, as regrettable, unwarranted and unwelcome and a barely disguised attempt to intimidate officials entrusted with ensuring the security and well being of all Ugandans into dodging responsibility. Kutesa instead called for those advocating for the sanctions to reconsider this decision.
In the case of persons who have been reported missing, Kutesa said the reported persons are being looked for while all those arrested will be prosecuted.
On freezing accounts of Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society, Kutesa says the government recognizes the critical role played by them in advancement of democracy and a better society, however, he added that all organizations are expected to comply with the law.
Kutesa says Uganda is concerned from both a political view and a healthy view about the timing of the resolution at a time when the world is battling COVID-19. He says the Government of Uganda is committed to ensuring domestic tranquility, the security and welfare of its citizens.