Five arrested as anti-torture activists petition gov’t over closure of UN human rights office

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Five people were on Thursday arrested by police in Kampala as a group of anti-torture activists petitioned government over the decision not to renew the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda.

The group under the Torture Survivors Movement Uganda activists had sought to petition the Uganda Human Right Commission to express their concerns over the decision by government to discontinue the mandate of the OHCHR.

“Without OHCHR, this is the most dangerous feeling in life of being helpless in the world with the tiny investing evil acts. In Uganda, government bodies have been influenced by the offenders of human rights violations and OHCHR was the only resort for us,” the petition read in part.

However, before they could enter the Uganda Human Rights Commission to hand in their petition, five members of the group were arrested by police that later detained them at the Wandegeya Police Station in Kampala.

Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango said the five were arrested for being a public nuisance.

“Although they have refused to record statements, we are charging them with being a public nuisance. We shall late take the file to court from where they will make their statements,” Onyango said.

Earlier on Wednesday, police had warned that they would break any demonstration that has not got clearance from the Inspector General of Police.

“We have received intelligence reports that there are political activists who are planning to demonstrate starting as early as 7am in Kampala. The demonstrators are planning to attack human rights offices and other government installations. The Inspector General of Police has not received any notification from any person or organization of any intended demonstration and anybody who participates in any illegal demonstration shall be arrested and charged to court,” Onyango said.

Closure of UN human rights office

Government earlier in a February 9, 2023 correspondence said they will not be renewing the host country agreement signed with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda when it expires.

“In that regard, given the strong government commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, the prevailing peace throughout the country  coupled with strong national human right institutions and a vibrant civil society with the capacity to monitor the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to convey government’s decision not to renew the mandate of the OHCHR country office in Uganda beyond the current term,” the correspondence reads in part.

According to government, Uganda has enough and strong institutions as well as civil society to monitor the human rights situation in the country.

“The government will continue its cooperation with the OHCHR headquarters either directly or through its Permanent Mission in Geneva.”

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is a department of the secretariat of the United Nations that works to promote and protect human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

The office was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993.

In Uganda, the UN Human Rights office was  established in 2006, with an  initial mandate on the human rights situation in the conflict-affected areas in Northern and North-Eastern Uganda.

The mandate was three years later in 2009 expanded to cover the entire country and all human rights issues.

In February 2020, the mandate for the office was further expanded to include the establishment of a regional human rights training centre in Uganda, to provide training activities on the international human rights system for government officials of interested states in the region, as well as national human rights institutions and civil society organizations.

The UN Human Rights office that is set to cease operations in Uganda is where several journalists who were covering National Unity Platform presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi  were beaten and badly injured by the military during the 2021 general election.

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