Speech delivered by Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights
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Madam President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Elections took place in Uganda in January and President [of Uganda, Yoweri] Museveni, in power – and as it has been recalled – since 1986, was re-elected for a 6th term. The main political opponent Bobi Wine [Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu], announced with 35% of the vote, is challenging these results at the Supreme Court.
The European Union has not made any official statement on the results, since we did not have an Electoral Observation Mission this time and our offer to deploy an Electoral Expert Mission was not taken up by Ugandan authorities and domestic observation was, obviously, curtailed. Then, there was a full internet blackout for days – as it has been mentioned - and access to social media has been disturbed. So, there was an overall lack of transparency in the process, very concerning, which we denounced in statements before and after the elections.
The overall militarisation of the electoral process was worrying, with repression of opposition candidates during the campaign and a protest in November where over 50 people were killed. The European Union called for an independent investigation, which we still await, so that those who are responsible can be held accountable. There was heavy security deployment on election day and the atmosphere was, obviously, intimidating for many – and especially for those of the opposition.
Bobi Wine’s house was surrounded by security forces for days after the elections. The European Union Ambassador could visit last week together with Member State Ambassadors and was reassured that the leading opposition party NUP calls on its supporters to remain peaceful while the legal recourse is ongoing. However, there have been large-scale detentions, disappearances and reported abductions of opposition officials and supporters.
The deterioration of human rights for political opponents and for civil society is striking, while the authorities maintain an anti-Western narrative and accuse the European Union and other partners of interferences. The human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, a fellow of the Sakharov programme, was arrested in December. 27 members of civil society who were observing the elections were also arrested.
[Nicholas] Opiyo and these observers are out on bail and we are following their cases. The European Union is in regular contact with the authorities and, regarding the Democratic Governance Facility, we are having discussions so that it can continue its activities.
The European Union continues its defence and support of human rights and democracy in Uganda. This is a key aspect of our political dialogue and the European Union notably calls on the African Union and the United Nations to join the many Ugandans pleading for their human rights more proactively.
In recent years, the European Parliament has been active about political violence and the discrimination against LGTBI in Uganda.
Today, the High Representative [Josep Borrell] and myself thank you for raising it as part of these urgent debates, during which your Parliament rightly has expressed its solidarity with Uganda’s youth and its aspiration for democracy and the respect for human rights.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-201896