The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) expresses deep concern at recent events and their impact on upholding fundamental freedoms and human rights and the respect for the rule of law in Uganda.

Arrests contrary to international obligations
On 4th May 2011, the Uganda Law Society, delivered a Petition to the Chief Justice of Uganda condemning, in what they stated were the strongest terms possible, the ‘brutal conduct of the state’ in quelling protests, causing loss of life, injury to persons and loss of property and for the inhuman and degrading treatment of citizens’.
The repeated and increasingly violent arrests of Dr Kizza Besigye, the Chair of the Forum for Democratic Change and main opposition figure, which can be seen via various websites such as Youtube, provide telling evidence of the nature and style of these arrests.

The Petition made clear that in the Law Society’s view, these acts were in contravention of Article 24 of the Ugandan Constitution which provides that ‘no person shall be subjected to any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’, and that they were in contravention with Uganda’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Concerns over the independence of the judiciary
The Petition to the Chief Justice of Uganda as presented by the Uganda Law Society states:
‘The Uganda Law Society is deeply concerned about the increasing erosion of independence of the Judiciary which is protected under Article 128 of the Constitution. During this period some members of the public were arrested and some were taken to court. In this process we witnessed end were concerned about incidents such as:

  •  A Magistrate abdicating the Constitutional duty to hear an application for bail on the ground that she is too busy;
  •  Courts remanding members of the public brought before them before charges are read and plea taken;

Other incidents which in the recent past have cast doubt on the independence of the judiciary include:

  •  The recent refusal by a Chief Magistrate in Mengo to comply with an order of the High Court,
  •  Police interference in execution of court orders to the extent of vetting judicial decisions.’

These reports are deeply troubling and raise serious concerns in an increasingly disturbing political context, especially in light of the fundamental nature of the independence of the judiciary to the respect for the rule of law.

Hence, the BHRC urges the Ugandan government

  •  To abide by and respect the rule of law and uphold fundamental freedoms and human rights;
  •  To guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all threatened lawyers, in order to preserve the independence and integrity of the administration of justice;
  •  To respect and observe the independence of the judiciary in line with international principles.

 

Read the full statement here.