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Admit UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, urges HRNJ-Uganda

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kampala, February 28th, 2012 - Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is shocked by the Uganda government's rejection of recommendations made to it during the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism (UPRM) to admit the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit the country and assess the human rights situation.

UPRM is a brainchild of the United Nations Human Rights Council whose intention is to assess the human rights situation of its respective member countries.

HRNJ-Uganda has learnt that an Inter-ministerial meeting held on February 23rd, 2012 in Kampala and chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected 21 recommendations out of 42 which had been reserved by the same government during the October 2011 Geneva review.

The government departments and ministries that were represented in the meeting include the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Ministry of Defense, the Electoral Commission and Uganda Human Rights Commission, among others.

The rejected recommendations were from Latvia, which asked the Uganda government to consider positively the request for a visit by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and a recent request by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Another is Canada's recommendation, asking the government to arrange for the visit of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression as soon as possible.

When HRNJ-Uganda contacted the in-charge of the UPRM at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador David Etuket, he confirmed the government's position on the recommendations to admit the UN Special Rapporteur.

“The problem is that the invitation is open ended in that whenever the Special Rapporteur feels like visiting the country [he/she] will do so at his/her wish. We cannot allow this because it would be like a house without a door,” said Ambassador Etuket.

He added that the Uganda government supports the international processes, “but we are opposed to the activities of the Special Rapporteur.”

Several human rights organizations and journalists in Uganda have on a number of occasions called on the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit Uganda due to the shrinking and sinking space of their operating environment.

Many journalists and human rights defenders in Uganda are incarcerated, unlawfully arrested and detained, killed and physically assaulted with impunity while other Ugandans, especially those who try to express themselves, continue to face the brutality of law enforcement agents.

The Press Freedom Index report 2011–Uganda, released by HRNJ-Uganda, indicates that violence meted against journalists has doubled from 58 cases in 2010 to 107 cases in 2011. Also, the international media report released by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) showed that Uganda had dropped 43 positions in its press freedom ranking, to 139th position out of 170 countries surveyed world-wide.

“We applaud the Ugandan government for voluntarily accepting more than six recommendations to improve the situation. With the continuing attacks on journalists and brutality by security forces against Ugandans and the growing levels of impunity, the environment urgently needs international scrutiny by the Special Rapporteur,” said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

He added that the establishment of the Universal Periodic Review presents a historic opportunity for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights in Uganda.

It is now about two years since the UN Special Rapporteur requested government permission to be allowed to come to Uganda and assess the human rights situation, but he was turned down on all occasions.

HRNJ-Uganda therefore appeals to the government to reconsider its position before the adoption of recommendations in March 2012, failure of which the international community should assert pressure to ensure that such a position is withdrawn unconditionally.

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