1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: The situation of Uganda in 2019 was defined by clear flaws in the functioning of democracy and constant violations of human rights, including by state operatives. There were signs that the limiting of political and civic space was at least partially triggered by the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in early 2021. Supreme Court judges ruled to uphold the removal of the presidential age limit in the Ugandan Constitution, which had been passed by Parliament in December 2017. Key opposition politicians faced continued harassment by the police throughout the year. The use of so-called ‘safe houses’ by security services, most notably the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), came to public attention again in 2019. The EU has continued to speak out with one voice against breaches of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and 162 excessive use of force by members of law enforcement agencies, with joint local statements issued in May and October.
2. EU action - key focus areas: In 2019, the EU continued to advocate for the protection of civic space in Uganda. The EU publicly called for civic freedoms to be protected in coordinated local statements in response to the suspension of journalists in May and on the situation in Makerere University in November. Similar messages were communicated as the EU marked key international days including World Free Press Day (on 3 May), Democracy Day (on 15 September), and Human Rights Day (on 10 December).
The EU continued to lend its support to anti-corruption efforts notably through an Op-Ed to mark International Anti-corruption Day on 9 December and participation in the anticorruption walk. The EU and UK continued to co-chair the development partners' Accountability Working Group, which is the main platform for donor coordination on anticorruption issues. The EU-funded Sector Reform Performance Contract (SRPC) on ‘Justice and Accountability Reform’ (JAR) gained speed during 2019, notably through the achievement of a major milestone in the form of Uganda's announcement in January that it will join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
The EU continues to support, through the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), interventions in areas of access to justice, including transitional justice. The DGF interventions are complemented by bilateral support to the Justice, Law and Order Sector as well as the Sector Reform Performance Contract (SRPC) on ‘Justice and Accountability Reform’ (JAR).
During 2019, the EU delegation focal point for human rights defenders (HRDs) registered fifteen cases of people and organisations seeking human rights defender support. Responses ranged from political dialogue, formal communication with the Uganda Police Force (UPF), emergency response funding and coordination with local civil society groups and UN agencies. The EU has continued to support efforts for the abolition of the death penalty in Uganda. The EU Heads of Mission and the Ambassadors of Norway, Iceland and the Apostolic Nunciature paid a solidarity visit to death row inmates on 21 November as part of the activities to mark the international day for the abolition of the death penalty.
The EU continues to advocate for gender equality and women empowerment, as well as elimination of violence against women in their engagements with all actors whether government or non-state actors.
The EU continued to underscore the importance of respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of all people, with a specific focus on marginalised and vulnerable groups. Representatives of the EU delegation and Member States attended a civil society event on 17 May to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Despite this diplomatic presence, the police entered the venue and prevented the event from proceeding as planned.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: Concerns about the violations of freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression were raised during the Article 8 dialogue meetings with President Museveni in May and November. The EU addressed anti-corruption and wider accountability issues in its political outreach, notably through Article 8 dialogues. The EU continued to 163 engage in quiet diplomacy in support of LGBTI persons in Uganda, an approach supported by the LGBTI community itself.
4. EU financial engagement: The EU, along with Member States and like-minded countries continued its strong backing of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), which supports a range of projects aimed at improving respect for civic space in Uganda. The audits of the DGF for 2017 and 2018 have shown that civil society organisations are not immune to financial mismanagement.
The EU delegation launched an EIDHR call for proposals worth EUR 1.8 million, with a major focus on elimination of violence against women and girls in Central and South Western Uganda. Four contracts were signed in 2019.
The EU provided financial support to Africa Prisons Project (APP), a CSO working with inmates in Ugandan prisons, to further raise awareness and support death row inmates. Part of this support also went to activities to commemorate the international day for the abolition of the death penalty.
5. Multilateral context: The long awaited EU-UN Spotlight initiative on elimination of violence against women and girls finally started in early 2019. Uganda benefits from USD 22 million as part of this initiative, with activities already ongoing in the seven selected districts.
The EU delegation marked the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by launching a third edition of the EU comic book, 'Tesa and Luuka', serialised across a six week period in the country's major independent daily while glossy copies of the comics were distributed to schools across the country. The series highlighted challenges of children's rights including on female genital mutilation and early child marriages.
The EU closely followed the verification exercise undertaken by the government and the UNHCR regarding the actual number of refugees hosted in Uganda, and stressed the importance of following through on the subsequent investigations on alleged cases of corruption and financial mismanagement.