OpED

SADIE STATEMAN: The US should prioritize rights in its relationship with Uganda

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, left, and Natalie E. Brown, US Ambassador to Uganda, speaking to the media at the residence of the US Ambassador to Uganda, in the capital Kampala, August 4, 2022 © 2022 AP Photo/Hajarah Nalwadda

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, left, and Natalie E. Brown, US Ambassador to Uganda, speaking to the media at the residence of the US Ambassador to Uganda, in the capital Kampala, August 4, 2022 © 2022 AP Photo/Hajarah Nalwadda

Despite the Ugandan government’s long history of abuse and repression, the United States has yet to reevaluate its relationship or call out President Yoweri Museveni for the lack of accountability. In order to deliver on its public commitment to center human rights in US foreign policy, the Biden administration needs to hold partner nations, like Uganda, to account for rights violations.

In March, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting years of enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, rape, extortion, and forced labor by Ugandan security forces. The report detailed how Frank “Kaka” Bagyenda, the former director of the domestic intelligence agency, played a central role in the abduction and unlawful detention of people.

In a June meeting with Human Rights Watch, Museveni pledged to end abuses by security forces, lift restrictions on civil society and journalists, and hold accountable perpetrators of human rights abuses. Although he committed to investigating the allegations against Bagyenda, there has been little evidence that concrete steps are being taken to hold Bagyenda or other alleged perpetrators to account for any crimes, or to ensure victims receive compensation and justice.

While the US government seems reluctant to respond to the situation in Uganda, it should take steps to make human rights a central aspect of its foreign policy there, including:

The US government should continue to fulfill its commitments to human rights and atrocity prevention. Given that Uganda is ranked as one of the top 30 countries most at risk for mass killing, the Biden administration should prioritize Uganda in its efforts to assess and mitigate political violence and widescale atrocities.

Members of Congress should hold a committee hearing on human rights and democracy in Uganda. While a hearing alone will not spur accountability, congressional attention to the issue will signal to Museveni the need to act.

During the upcoming US-Africa Leaders Summit in December, President Joe Biden should raise concerns regarding the erosion of basic freedoms and the increase in human rights violations with the visiting Ugandan delegation.

The US government should explore whether current security cooperation with Uganda is undermining respect for human rights, putting it at odds with Biden’s expressed commitment to put human rights at the core of US foreign policy.

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