Justice, Uganda, Women

Uganda women protest topless against Police public groping of female politician

On Friday, Ugandans witnessed another episode of police brutality. It wasn’t just the brutality we are used to seeing.  In this video ran by NTVUganda  a police officer was, publicly before the cameras, groping an opposition politician Ingrid Turinawe.

Ingrid has been at the forefront of various pressure groups in Uganda for the last 5 years. She was one of the leaders of the Activists for Change (A4C), a pressure group that led the famous Walk to Work protests that took place in many parts of Uganda for the greater part of 2011 as the Arab spring was going on.

The group has been banned because in our country where we still use very colonial laws to the advantage of a dictatorial regime, the attorney general has powers to declare a group illegal even without evidence of  the need to ban them. This law threatens even a blogger or writers who mention A4C as government could claim that they are  promoting an illegal group  with intention to ‘incite violence’. Already two journalists have been summoned by the police over an interview had with the head of the group. Human rights groups have warned on the dangers of the government-increased crackdown on freedom of speech, expression and assembly in Uganda.

Once the group A4C was banned, some of its leaders rebranded it into For God and my Country (4GC), taking after the country motto. It was after the launch of the new group that Uganda police brutality came back to our living rooms.

This time a male police offer publically groping Ingrid as another pulls her leg out of the car. The police officer didn’t grope her once, he did it repeatedly and in the video we hear Ingrid asking why the police officer was doing that. One other police officer warns his colleague but does nothing to stop this.

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Uganda gets its first female speaker of parliament; is it worth a celebration?

Ms Rebbeca Alitwala Kadaga was today sworn in as the Speaker for the 9th parliament in Uganda. Most of the parliamentarians are familiar faces and the National Resistance Movement (NRM), President Museveni’s party, has enough members to pass any laws they want.

In a world that cherishes women’s rights and empowerment (or pretends to), this should be seen as a historic moment and many will see it as that. However I don’t see much to celebrate about Kadaga’s election. Kadaga is not a fresh face in this parliament, she has been there, served as Deputy Speaker. She has seen it all.

She holds a Masters in Women’s Law from the University of Zimbabwe but this specialization in women’s rights law has not seen the NRM filled parliament show concern to issues affecting women.

Uganda’s health system is ailing, maternal mortality is high yet we have seen the NRM government which Kagada has served exonerate ministers who swindle health care monies.  I was discussing Kadaga’s election with some people in the women movement and one lady told me, “I am not interested in pushing to have a female speaker just because she wears a dress.” Then she told me it’s almost impossible for her to see Kadaga above the NRM male dominated politics of intrigue. Many questioned what exactly Kadaga had done to advance the women’s rights in the country.

And these questions could be answered once the Marriage and Divorce Bill comes to her parliament in a few days. The bill among others recognizes marital rape and also provides that women are entitled to a share of property upon divorce.

Kadaga participated in the infamous amendment of Uganda’s constitution to allow the lifting of presidential term limits and thanks to that move we have a possible life presidency. She comes at a time when the chair of her party President Museveni is calling the media ‘enemies of the state’.  The very day she became speaker, somewhere on the outskirts of Kampala, the leader of opposition Dr. Kizza Besigye was under house arrest. Kadaga will most likely preside over the NRM parliament that will pass laws to deny Ugandans bail for 6 months for being suspected protesters.

Kadaga  is one of the MPs that took the Shs. 20 million shillings bribe from the government shortly before the February 2011 elections. When asked by some women she said she had used the money to construct some boreholes in her constituency but has refused to go on record and in the media to declare that. The campaign by civil society organizations is still on to try and get back that money.

The region she comes from -Busoga is one of the poorest regions in Uganda. It has suffered most because of the death of industries that once flourished in Jinja before the current government took over. Of course wealth distribution is not her role but she has held different ministerial positions in this government before and therefore she could answer some of the questions.

To me Kadaga will be just another speaker doing anything at the whims of President Museveni. I wait for her to shock me, to stand up to that small group of corrupt men that are draining this country’s resources.  I see her becoming another statistic of how African countries are doing well with women political empowerment. She will be the talk in those various governance and women’s conferences. Am sure she will have millions of invites at her table to tell the story of how she made it.

But I will wait for you Madam Speaker to prove me wrong! That you will not only be known as the first female Speaker but as a woman who put her country above her party. I say this knowing that the party you serve has become too intolerant to anyone that questions their mismanagement of this country.

Time is on your side. You have got five years to do that.

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Uganda women hold vigil for justice and peace over recent shootings

Today about 150 women marched in Kampala to protest police brutality that has characterised th Walk to Work  demonstrations which has taken five lives including a two year old girl in the last month.

Ugandan youth march along in Vigil for Justice and Peace in Kampala. May 9 2011.

The Walk to Work campaign to raise issues of high fuel and food prices currently facing most Ugandan households had been organised by Activists for Change, a group of Ugandans from different opposition parties. The campaign which started on April 11 was met with bullets which left many on hospital beds with serious bullet wounds and the top opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye was hospitalised in Nairobi.

Today women from different civil society organisations marched to add their voice to many Ugandans who have said brutality wont the country anywhere.

In attempting to fulfill its obligations in the last few weeks, the State has instead used excessive force resulting in the infringement of some of the fundamental rights enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution including the right to life, the freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, right to access prompt, fair and timely justice and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment….We also wish to express our profound disappointment with government’s indifference, exhibited by the lack of urgent action to curb the situation and apparent disregard of pressing priorities in allocation of government expenditure.

We as Women in Civil Society are hereby convening to register ourdeep concern and condemnation on the use of excessive force by the Police and other security agencies and subsequent escalating violence and to call upon the State to take critical measures to address the key issues/ concernsraised by the publicso as to avert a national crisis. In particular, we wish to register our deep concern of:

The use of excessive force and especially the use of live ammunition to quell demonstrations,indiscriminate physical assaults on civilians, spraying of vast amounts of tear gas in closed spaces including cars, schools, dispensaries and homes occasioning loss of life and property, severe injuries and pain among innocent children, by standers, those at work and urban dwellers.We are greatly concerned that rather than enjoy state protection, citizens are preoccupied with defending themselves against its wrath;

Thelma Awori,a womens rights activist during the walk.

The brutality of officers of the Uganda Police Force and other security operatives in handling the “Walk to Work”      campaign which amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for those that were arrested.

The intimidation of human rights defenders who have spoken out on various issues of concern including the declining space for engagement;

Censorship of the media and a curtailing of press freedom and freedom of expression, including intimidation and security threats to journalists and media houses carrying out their duty as a watchdog of the state and provider of information to the public

The increased erosion of the independence of the three arms of government  and lack of .The actions and decisions of some judicial officers which cast doubt in the minds of the public on whether justice is being done. We are equally concerned that contrary to the public appeal for the perpetrators of violence to be brought to justice, the Minister for Internal Affairs has instead defended the use of brutal force. Such responses from government risk promoting impunity.

The increased militarization of the State and use of armed forces to enforce law and order and quell peaceful protests which heightens risks of violent conflict and will affect the entire population of Uganda including men, women and children.

We are calling upon Government to take proactive measures to address broader social justice issues, and ensure that key concerns voiced by various sections of the public are addressed. We demand for strong policy measures to address issues food security, unemployment, health and education.

The march through Kampala was granted by police on condition that women wouldn’t utter political statements. And it happened!

The women handed over a statement calling for proper investigations into the incidents to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights defenders Margaret Sekagya.

Although the police gave the women’s march a location far away from the city center, there was enough coverage of their issues. One Ugandan told me:

“Such good images of white clad ladies with their pans could do wonders at getting the reluctant middle class off their backsides. White clad Mothers, on the other hand, emphasize peaceful nature of the campaign and also are re-assuring to those who are still hiding.”

The march was well placed on Mothers Day to point out specifically horrifying images we saw in the last weeks of a pregnant woman Ms.Nalwendo shot right in her stomach leaving her intestines hanging out in Kampala during the demos and another incident where a two year old Juliana Nalwanga was shot dead in Masaka. In all deaths we are yet to see any arrest of the perpetrators in the security forces.

Stella Mukasa, a lawyer and women's rights activist reads the statement as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekagya (c) and the Head of Uganda office- UN Human Rights listen.

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