The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has criticized the police for taking sides in the ongoing political debate on the constitutional amendment of the Presidential age limit. The human rights watchdog has accused police for double standards in dealing with the consultation meetings and protests relating to the Age Limit Bill.
At a press conference held on Thursday, the UHRC Acting Chairman Meddie Mulumba said that the watchdog has observed that police has acted with more lenience and support to the proponents of the removal of age limits than those opposed to it.
“Police has handled some meetings in a partisan manner, dispersing consultations of the opponents of the removal of term limits while providing security for the opponents of the age limit removal,” Mulumba told journalists.
“None of the consultative meetings of the proponents has been dispersed or suffered use off excessive force by the police,” he added.
UHRC expressed concern over the “unclear role that police has assumed” in regulating the ongoing consultations, and also criticized the recent the ban of red attire by security agencies.
Mulumba cited a case where police restricted people dressed in red colors during a recent football match between Uganda national team and Ghana at Namboole stadium.
“Another glaring example is the unfortunate incident in which school children were reportedly assaulted by Boda Boda 2010 members suspected to be closely working with police,” UHRC stated. The said children were beaten for wearing head wraps perceived to be a gesture against the Age Limit Bill.
But on the other hand, Mulumba said, there have been incidents where police have allowed gatherings where people adorned yellow colored attire [used by proponents of the amendment] and consultations of MPs holding pro-lifting the age limit rallies.
“We condemn the double standards of police and urge them to maintain neutrality and professionalism in handling this highly political matter that has evoked unprecedented national interest,” he said.
In other instances related to the political debate, UHRC has condemned the use of live ammunition and teargas to disperse unarmed protesters which has occurred in Kampala and other parts of the country.
The human rights defenders say the continued excessive force on protesters and suspects has resulted in death [in Rukungiri] while scores have sustained injuries.
“We demand that in enforcing the law, police and other security agencies must strike a correct balance between public order and the exercise of the rights and freedoms by individuals and groups,” Mulumba further appealed.
In the month of October alone, UHRC has received 165 human rights related complaints, many of which arose from the heated political climate.
Commenting on the death of a one Edson Nasasira 22 who is suspected to have been shot dead by police when chaos broke out at an opposition political rally in Rukungiri, UHRC is investigating the incident and will lodge a case. Mulumba said that the contested postmortem report will also be interogatet to ascertain the cause of his death.
Other concerns raised by the watchdog included; the rising intolerance on both political sides, illegal detention of suspects and mob action against some MPs.
In responding to the concerns raised by the UHRC, Police Spokesperson Asan Kasingye denied that police is partisan. He told SoftPower in an interview on Thursday afternoon that police has only dispersed people at rallies that are unlawful.
“Those who were dispersed were dispersed because they have outrightly committed offenses in contravention of the Public Order Management Act,” he said.
“If no person who is pro-lifting the Bill has broken the law, we can not arrest them in order to show our neutrality. You need to offend the law for you to be stopped,” Kasingye told SoftPower.
Kasingye said that there are MPs in the NRM who are opposed to the amendment but haven’t been arrested for that, which disqualifies the reasoning of UHRC.
On the issue of restricting political colors, Kasingye explained that; “The IGP went to Namboole to stop people from using political colors because it goes against FIFA rules for any FIFA sanctioned match to have people showing political, religious and racial sides. Football unites everybody.”
“Some of the flags that supporters carried had the word ‘Togikwatako’ written on them. If we had allowed them in the stadium, Uganda would have been been banned. I expected UHRC to know that,” he said.
He said that the decision was meant to avoid offending the FIFA rules.