During 2020 and in the run-up to the elections planned on January 2021, the human rights and democracy situation in Uganda deteriorated significantly. The political freedoms and space for civic activism were constrained. The period of electoral campaign saw the deadly repression by security forces of demonstrations (at least 54 victims died on 18-19 November), severe restrictions affecting candidates of the opposition (notably Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine), and limitations of media freedoms and civil society. NGOs, professional experts and journalists working on elections were curtailed, and the limited electoral observation possibilities impacted the transparency and legitimacy of the process. Many measures designed to control the COVID-19 pandemic were abused and implemented with double standards throughout the electoral process resulting in the lack of a level playing field for presidential candidates. The LGBTI community was also targeted during the COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda. The EU joined forces with Ugandans and international partners, speaking out against abuses and maintaining dialogue with all stakeholders.
In 2020, the EU continued to advocate for the protection of civic space and human rights in Uganda including through protecting and supporting individuals at risk, human rights and land rights defenders and through trial observation and visits. The EU delegation granted the EU 2020 HRD Award to Aimé Moninga in recognition of his work with male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. The EU focused on building institutional legitimacy (anti-corruption, access to justice) for a more resilient, inclusive and democratic society in Uganda. Impunity continues to raise concern, and the EU continued calling for neutral investigations into the pre-electoral violence of November 2020. Through its public diplomacy, the EU played an active role in organising actions and activities on international thematic days (Women’s Day, Democracy Day). The EU and Member States promoted the global system for human rights on international criminal law and the ICC field office in Uganda. The EU continued to provide significant support to civil society, in particular through the Democratic Governance Facility and the Civil Society in Uganda Support Programme.
Concerns about the violations of freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, difficulties derived from COVID-19 restrictive measures, and the important contribution of civil society in Uganda were raised including during the Article 8 Political Dialogue with President Museveni in 2020. The EU could not deploy an electoral expert mission for the presidential and parliamentary elections due to a lack of response (and interest) by Ugandan authorities. Nevertheless, the EU delegation carried out a diplomatic watch exercise with the deployment of about 60 diplomats from the EU delegation and Member States across 13 districts of Uganda.
The EU, including through mobilisation by Members of the European Parliament, continued to engage in quiet diplomacy in support of LGBTI persons in Uganda, an approach supported by the LGBTI community itself. In 2020, the EU continued its efforts for the abolition of the death penalty despite the president still supporting it in public. A courtesy call was paid to the Commissioner General of Prisons on the International Day for the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
The Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) II programme continued to play an important role in 2020, supporting 75 partners, including both state institutions and civil society organisations, to implement projects across a wide range of democratic governance topics: provision of free legal aid to tens of thousands of Ugandans; improved democratic accountability at local level through training of local officials and empowerment of community groups; increased transparency and accountability in the area of national resource management, especially in the Albertine region for the exploitation of oil reserves. In preparation of the January 2021 elections, the DGF also supported women's leadership, media reporting, civic and voter education and domestic observation during the elections. Through its Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, the EU contributed to the mitigation of electoral violence before, during and after the 2021 elections. Firstly, the Women's Situation Room project covered 30 districts in Uganda by training 1,500 women and 1,500 youth in civic education and peacebuilding and peace advocacy throughout the country. Secondly, the Uganda Radio Network action trained journalists across the country in conflict sensitive journalism techniques and facilitated dialogue with key stakeholders on peaceful elections. The EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls in Uganda was officially launched by the president in March 2020 on the International Women's Day. Although this was the second year of implementation, much of the work took place during 2020. The initiative provided support to 11 districts and 26 civil society organisations. Under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights budget line, five new contracts were signed to support CSOs in fighting violence against women and children, especially as a result of COVID-19.
In December, UN human rights experts (special procedure of the Human Rights Council) expressed serious concerns about the violence ahead of Uganda’s elections, urging authorities to put an end to the arrest, detention and harassment of political opponents, civil society leaders and human rights defenders. In 2020, the EU and Member States presented three human rights related demarches to the Minister of Foreign Affairs supporting multilateral action. With support from the EU-funded Justice and Accountability Reform programme, Uganda significantly reduced its backlog on human rights treaty reporting to UN treaty bodies and in 2020 the government approved four out of five overdue reports.