Uganda shuts down UN human rights office amid criticism
Uganda’s government has been accused of violating human rights and suppressing dissent by forcing the closure of the UN human rights office in the country.
The office, which had been operating for 18 years, had to shut down its operations in Kampala and two other locations, after the government refused to renew its agreement with the UN agency.
UN human rights office: what did it do and why was it closed?
The UN human rights office in Uganda was established in 2005, as part of the UN mission in the country, which was set up to support the peace process and the protection of civilians after decades of civil war and instability. The office had a mandate to monitor, report, and advocate for human rights in Uganda, as well as to provide technical assistance and capacity-building to the government and civil society.
The office also worked on various thematic issues, such as transitional justice, women’s rights, children’s rights, freedom of expression, and minority rights.
The office had to close down after the government decided not to renew its host country agreement with the UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk. The agreement, which was signed in 2015 and expired in June 2020, allowed the office to operate in Uganda with legal privileges and immunities. The government did not give any official reason for its decision, but some sources suggested that it was unhappy with the office’s criticism of its human rights record.
Uganda’s human rights situation: what are the main concerns?
Uganda’s human rights situation has been deteriorating in recent years, especially since the controversial re-election of President Yoweri Museveni in January 2021. Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, won his sixth term with 58 percent of the vote, amid allegations of fraud, intimidation, and violence. His main rival, Bobi Wine, a popular singer-turned-politician, rejected the results and claimed he was under house arrest.
The election campaign and its aftermath were marred by widespread human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests, torture, killings, disappearances, and crackdowns on peaceful protests and media outlets. According to Amnesty International, at least 54 people were killed by security forces during protests in November 2020. The UN human rights office also documented hundreds of cases of human rights abuses during and after the election.
Another major concern is the recently passed anti-LGBTQ+ bill, which allows the death penalty for some homosexual acts. The bill, which was first introduced in 2009 but shelved after international pressure, was revived and approved by parliament in 2023. The bill criminalizes various forms of sexual orientation and gender identity expression, such as same-sex relations, transgender identity, cross-dressing, and advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights. The bill also imposes harsh penalties for anyone who aids or abets LGBTQ+ people.
Reactions to the closure of the UN human rights office
The closure of the UN human rights office has sparked outrage and condemnation from various actors, such as human rights groups, activists, opposition parties, and foreign governments. They have criticized Museveni’s government for silencing dissent and violating its obligations under international law. They have also called for the reopening of the office and the restoration of its mandate.
The UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, expressed his regret over the closure of the office and thanked its staff for their work. He said that the office had contributed to “the promotion and protection of the human rights of all Ugandans” and that he hoped to resume cooperation with Uganda in the future.
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