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BRIEFING NOTES - (1) Uganda; (2) Viet Nam

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani

Location: Geneva

Date: 8 January 2021

Subjects: (1) Uganda

(2) Viet-Nam

1) Uganda

We are deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 14 January and the challenges this situation may pose not only for voting day itself, but also for the post-electoral period.

In the run-up to the election, numerous human rights violations have been reported, including of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and participation, as well as arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture. Between 18 and 20 November, at least 54 people were killed during riots and protests in at least 7 districts across the country over the arrest and detention of two opposition presidential candidates, Robert Kyagulanyi, who is also known as Bobi Wine, and Patrick Oboi Amuriat, and members of the political opposition.

Indeed, the harassment, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention of opposition candidates and supporters have been a worrying development during the electoral campaign. Kyagulanyi, the candidate of the National Unity Platform (NUP), has been blocked from holding campaign activities several times. Among recent incidents, Oboi Amuriat, the presidential candidate of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), was arrested on 2 January as he was campaigning in Nakasongola District and released on bail later the same afternoon. Journalists covering his campaign were reportedly beaten by security forces and ordered to delete videos and photos.

In light of the Presidential Directives on COVID-19 issued on 18 March 2020 and subsequent regulations by the Ministry of Heath, the Electoral Commission of Uganda on 16 June issued a new Revised Roadmap for the 2020/2021 General Elections. The revised Roadmap provides for what are termed low-human contact elections or “scientific elections”, prohibiting mass rallies during the electoral campaigns and providing for digital electoral campaigns. The rule was subsequently reviewed to allow campaign meetings with a maximum of 70 and later 200 people. In a further development, on 26 December, the Electoral Commission suspended general election meetings in 16 districts that were categorised as “high, sustained and diffuse transmission districts/areas”.

Human rights law, under certain circumstances, may allow for restrictions to mass gatherings and physical campaigning for public health reasons. However, we have increasingly observed that the COVID-19 restrictions have been enforced more strictly to curtail opposition electoral campaign activities in a discriminatory fashion.

For example, on 30 December 90 NUP supporters were arrested in Kalangala when security forces blocked a campaign event by Kyagulanyi for violating COVID measures, among other offences. At their court appearance, some presented injuries resulting, according to them, from torture during detention. In contrast, police have not enforced COVID-19 restrictions in such a strict manner for electoral campaign activities by the ruling party.

Such developments increase concern that the COVID-19 measures are being used as a ground to restrict public freedoms and political participation during the electoral process. We are also concerned that the discriminatory enforcement of such restrictions has led to violence, arbitrary arrests and detention, and, in some instances, reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces.

We call on the Ugandan authorities to protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to ensure a free and peaceful election process that guarantees the right of the people of Uganda to participate in their country’s public affairs, including by taking measures to prevent instances of electoral violence.

2) Viet Nam

On Tuesday, 5 January, three independent journalists in Viet Nam received severe sentences of between 11 and 15 years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of national security offences – a disturbing development that appears to be part of an increasing clampdown on the freedom of expression in the country.

Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, respectively chairperson, the vice chairperson and a young member of the Independent Journalists Association of Viet Nam, were convicted by the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Pham Chi Dung was sentenced to 15 years in prison and three years on probation. Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan were each sentenced to 11 years in prison and three years on probation. All three individuals were held in lengthy pre-trial detention, and despite assurances given by the Government that due process was followed, there are serious concerns about whether their rights to a fair trial were fully respected.

We are deeply concerned by the use of vaguely-defined laws to arbitrarily detain an increasing number of independent journalists, bloggers, online commentators and human rights defenders – in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). They are then frequently held incommunicado for long periods in pre-trial detention, with regular reports of violations of the right to a fair trial and concerns about their treatment in detention. Several of them have received lengthy sentences following their conviction for crimes against national security.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights and a number of UN human rights mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Committee which oversees implementation of the ICCPR, have repeatedly called on Viet Nam to refrain from using restrictive legislation to curtail fundamental freedoms and to uphold its international human rights obligations. We also have serious concerns that individuals who try to cooperate with the UN’s human rights bodies are subjected to intimidation and reprisals, potentially inhibiting others from sharing information about human rights issues with the UN.

We continue to raise these cases with the Government of Viet Nam, to call on them to stop the repeated use of such serious criminal charges against individuals for exercising their fundamental rights, especially to freedom of expression – and to unconditionally release all those who have been detained in such cases.

We also urge them to revise and amend the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code to bring them in line with Viet Nam’s obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR relating to the freedom of expression. People should be able to exercise these rights without fear of reprisals.

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