By Stephen Lwetutte
LONDON-UNITED KINGDOM/NEWSDAY: Somebody ought to help President Museveni try salvage his tainted image on the world scene. It is bad enough to outperform a predecessor for all the wrong reasons as the President has done in relation to President Idi Amin, but that much worse to attempt to mislead and fool the whole world about it. The digital age can sadly be unforgiving when it comes to demonstrating facts and exposing the true personalities of individuals who are apt to act holier than thou, as our President is known to be.
Within hours the violent public snatching just outside of the court precincts of a bailed politically famous suspect on 23 September 2021, President Museveni, as Uganda’s Head of State, was scheduled to address the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York. He did so via video conference and was at it again hypocritically reassuring the world about Uganda’s commitment to upholding its human rights obligations.
The opposition Member of Parliament (MP) for the Kampala Makindye West Constituency, Allan Ssewannyana, had been arrested a fortnight earlier on charges of murder and terrorism believed to be politically-motivated. Although the army acknowledged days later to holding the MP, it did not reveal to the family, the MP’s lawyers and Doctors his exact whereabouts and the grounds for his unlawful detention, which appeared clearly to breach all basic procedural requirements stipulated in law and amounts to arbitrary detention.
When state agents arrest and detain a person without regard to due process and without affording that person legal protections of fair trial, arbitrary detention is said to have happened. Arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment and disappearances are all distinct hallmarks that have come to characterise President Museveni’s 36-year rule.
MP Allan Ssewannyana is the latest among the many thousands of Ugandans to be subjected to arbitrary detention, which is then invariably swiftly followed by the other violations such as torture and ill-treatment or even death in suspicious unexplained circumstances. This is so despite the Ugandan law protecting the right to liberty and prohibiting arbitrary detention as stipulated under Article 23 of the Ugandan constitution.
International law also prohibits arbitrary detention – the prohibited in international human rights law – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which President Museveni unflinchingly cited, provides that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Moreover, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981) prohibit arbitrary detention, both of which have been signed and ratified by Uganda.
Instead of hiding behind the pretences of respecting and upholding the right human obligations accepted as binding on Uganda, President Museveni has the option of unsigning and leaving these treaties if he doesn’t agree with their binding provisions for which he is ultimately accountable. That way, he may be able to act without being constrained, notwithstanding the fact that customary International law might still restrain him.
Sudan not being a signatory to the ICC did not stop or prevent Sudanese President Al Bashir from being indicted under its Statute and two arrest warrants being issued against him. He was indicted for his individual criminal responsibility on several counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes during the armed conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region since 2003. Now that the new regime in Sudan has decided to ratify the Rome Statute that set up the ICC, the prospects of trying the deposed military despot have become a distinct possibility.
There is much that President Museveni dislikes in terms of rights enshrined in our Constitution and in international law, including the right to bail, but he is obliged by law to uphold them, otherwise there will be consequences if the case of former President Al Bashir can serve as an example. President Museveni may be able to run for now, evade and try to avoid accountability, but he and his accomplices won’t be able to hide in the medium and long term.
The world can now easily and credibly tell facts from fiction. It was probably even watching President Museveni’s double act on the same day: making beautiful statements to the UN about how keen Uganda was on Human rights on the one hand, and the unlawful violent abduction of MP Allan Ssewannyana of the streets, following his grant of bail.
The writer is a Multilingual Human Rights Practitioner, formerly at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London for over 20 years and now Legal and Human Rights Consultant.
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