Monday, May 2, 2011

Authorities’ excessive use of force is fuelling crisis in Uganda – Pillay

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 2, 2011/African Press Organization (APO)

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Sunday urged the Ugandan authorities to halt the use of disproportionate force against protesters and repeated ill-treatment of opposition politicians which, she said, has clearly contributed to the rising unrest, as well as eight deaths and more than 250 people being hospitalized over the past three weeks.

The High Commissioner said she was “appalled by the treatment of Dr. Kizza Besigye,” the leading opposition politician who has been arrested four times in three weeks, was shot in the hand on 14 April, and reportedly still has not fully recovered his sight after being sprayed at point blank range with pepper spray on Thursday.

“The manner of Dr. Besigye’s arrest on Thursday was shocking,” Pillay said. “The excessive use of force by security officers was plain to see in the television footage of the event. While I do not condone the violent rioting that followed, the Ugandan authorities must realize that their own actions have been the major factor in turning what were originally peaceful protests about escalating food and fuel prices into a national crisis.”

According to information collected by Pillay’s office, since the “Walk to Work” protests began on 11 April 2011, the Uganda Police Force and the Uganda People’s Defense Force have indiscriminately used teargas, pepper spray, and both rubber and live bullets against protesters, and even against individuals who were not involved in the protests. According to the Uganda Human Rights Commission, teargas has also been fired into schools, health centres and homes, affecting women and children.

“Many of these actions clearly constitute disproportionate and excessive use of force,” Pillay said. “Eight people have now lost their lives, including a two-year-old girl allegedly shot by a member of the security forces.”

At least another 250 people had been admitted to Mulago Hospital in Kampala since 11 April, including children and expectant mothers, suffering from tear gas inhalation or injuries caused by live ammunition, rubber bullets or severe beatings. The High Commissioner noted with regret that six policemen and one soldier were also injured during different incidents in Kampala and Gulu Districts. Some 580 people are believed to have been arrested countrywide.

“The intervention of the security forces has resulted in infringements of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person, as well as of the freedoms of association, assembly and expression,” Pillay said. “In addition, the manner and motivation of the arrests and criminal charges against Dr. Besigye and other opposition leaders raise particular concerns.”

The High Commissioner welcomed the Government’s stated intention to start a process of dialogue with opposition leaders, and said it should address the legitimate concerns and demands of the population about the increased costs of living, which is affecting the enjoyment of the most basic economic and social rights for the vast majority of the Ugandan population, as well as broadening the political space.

Noting that further protests are planned for Monday, the High Commissioner called upon the authorities to refrain from any further disproportionate use of force and to ensure respect for the people’s rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in accordance with Uganda’s 1995 Constitution and its international obligations. She also urged the Government to conduct thorough, prompt and impartial investigations into the human rights violations committed by the security forces.

She also noted that the Government has offered compensation to some of the victims or their relatives, and stressed that the compensation given to victims of human rights violations should be proportionate to the damage suffered.

SOURCE: United Nations – Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)