Uganda | human rights group attacked in machete break-in

Pic: HURINET

Assailants have attacked a Ugandan group that works to protect the rights of the LGBTI community in a violent break-in, reports Human Rights Watch.

On the night of 8 February, the offices of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) were targeted by unidentified individuals. They disabled parts of the security system, and slashed two guards with machetes, severely injuring them.

HRAPF supports the equal rights of margalinised groups, including LGBTI people, and sex workers. On February 8, the day of the attack, HRAPF staff had held a training session for police officers in the Elgon region on the rights of LGBTI people.

The break-in continues a string of burglaries and attacks on the offices of independent nongovernmental groups in Uganda, including a previous attack on HRAPF in May 2016, in which a security guard was beaten to death and documents were stolen.

The Uganda police neither identified nor arrested suspects in that attack. According to DefendDefenders, a Kampala-based regional human rights organisation, over 30 organisations in Uganda have experienced similar break-ins since 2012. No one has ever been prosecuted for any of the attacks.

On February 9, human rights activists held a press conference to condemn the latest break-in and called on the police to investigate.

“In failing to effectively investigate attacks on nongovernmental groups, the Uganda police send a clear message that human rights defenders are on their own, and cannot count on the authorities for basic protection,” said Maria Burnett, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We are deeply concerned that the pattern of attacks and consistent lack of police investigations is a tactic to intimidate Uganda’s outspoken human rights activists.”

Following a series of attacks on nongovernmental organisations in 2016, including the attack on HRAPF, Human Rights Watch and 30 Ugandan and international human rights organisations sent a letter to the inspector general of police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, expressing grave concern about the wave of break-ins and assaults.

The bloody scene at HRAPF’s offices after the break-in (Pic: HURINET)

The letter requested the police to issue a public statement clarifying the steps police had taken to investigate the attacks, and how the police would ensure that human rights defenders who had been attacked, including the HRAPF defenders, would be effectively protected from further acts of violence. The inspector general did not respond or issue such a statement.

As a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Uganda is obligated to uphold a resolution adopted in May 2017 to take “necessary measures to provide human rights defenders with a conducive environment to be able to carry out their activities without fear of acts of violence, threat, intimidation, reprisal, discrimination, oppression, and harassment from State and non-State actors.”

The United Nations General Assembly also adopted a resolution in November 2017 calling on countries to actively support the work of human rights defenders, including by “duly investigating and condemning publicly all cases of violence and discrimination against human rights defenders.”

“The Uganda Police Force should respect its obligations under African and international law to protect human rights defenders,” Burnett said. “Police indifference to attacks targeting activist groups needs to end.”

Colonial-era legislation criminalises gay sex in Uganda, allowing the courts to imprison anyone found guilty of the offence for life. This has been used by the government and the police to also illegally restrict LGBTI freedoms of expression, speech and association.

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