Tuesday, July 11, 2023, The New York Times reported that President Yoweri Museveni and some other leaders in the Uganda Government, including Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, his son, and Presidential Advisor on Special Duties had been dragged to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and that there were testimonies from over 200 people who accuse them of torture, killings and other crimes against humanity. New York Times was courteous enough to contact me for my comment. I told them straight away that the move was the work of political opponents who were peddling wrong information to tarnish President Museveni’s image.
It’s not the first that the President has been baselessly accused before the ICC and each time this happens, he is vindicated. I appeal that this will be the same case again this time. Why? Because the moment accusers are his political opponents, you know that the chance of malice and hatred being the basis of the accusations is very high, all intended to soil the President’s good name and to win political capital.
Previously, former FDC leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye, Kampala Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, and others raised a petition and attempted to collect two million signatures to lend a semblance of mass acceptance of the petition and paint a picture of widespread discontent on the human rights record of the Uganda leader and Government at large. That effort didn’t go far.
Such petitions raised by political actors are aimed at advancing their political interests on account of failure to gain mass acceptance and popularity among Ugandans. This is very amateurish and evil politics intended to subvert the will of Ugandans and coerce them to accept certain political views against their own will.
On another occasion, the opposition tried to ride on the social upheaval that erupted in the Kasese area which led to a clash between security forces and guards of the Rwenzururu leadership, leading to loss of life. ICC dismissed that petition.
ICC, like other courts of law, should never be used to settle political scores, except in hearing election-related cases.
Moreover, Uganda operates a justice and human rights system that can handle any matter and arbitrate accordingly. But the politicians fear that they have weak cases and if local courts find no merit in them, then it would be too late to convince ICC.
ICC is a high-level organ that should not be used in cheap schemes which would likely bring the court into disrepute or the ridicule of the very people bringing such cases before it. For them, disagreeing with them automatically turns you into an enemy. I imagine how such vindictive groups would behave if they wielded real political power.
While ICC is welcome to hear any matter brought before it and to investigate the facts required to inform the bench, I hope that among the “over 200 victims” contained in the filing, we don’t have fake ones such as those submitted by the National Unity Platform (NUP) leaders to the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) when invited to raise formal complaints there. NUP had always claimed that thousands of its party members had been kidnapped, tortured, or even killed. In November last year, following such persistent claims, UHRC wrote to them requesting for information on persons they alleged to be missing and their details, including their next of kin and identification details.
NUP did respond-but with particulars of only 25 people. The Commission followed up on the details, and got in touch with the next-of-kin to obtain further and better particulars concerning the circumstances of their “arrest” or whether they were still missing. It was established that out of the 25, seven were released in December 2022, and reunited with their families-some had been charged with murder and others with malicious property damage. They were all still honoring their terms of reporting to the police.
The Commission found out that 17 people were still missing but couldn’t establish the status of one person since the contacts of relations were not available. Among the names listed by NUP, were some Congolese. To date, NUP has not provided evidence of the “thousands” of its party members allegedly victimized. If NUP indeed had “thousands” of victims to present, why are we hearing of only “over 200” in the files to ICC? That alone makes us smell rats. At least, I do. A big one!
More to that, in November last, Uganda opposition leaders (including NUP’s Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine and Dr. Besigye) went to Nairobi, Kenya, where they paraded one Moses Ssimbwa, a well-known boda boda (public transport motorcycle) rider who had been involved in an accident, as a victim of torture at the hands of the Ugandan Government. Torture and human rights abuse allegations are “big business” in opposition politics and civil society. You cry “torture!”, you are accorded audience in high places and all kinds of pampering. For the Moses Ssimbwas, we may not blame them much because they may get enticed with many offers for their cooperation, and we forgive them for they do know not what they do.
But for persons in leadership, or those aiming to become national leaders, to capitalize on falsehoods around such a touchy subject as human rights abuse is very indicting on them.
At the same time, ICC is not a very credible body given that it’s notorious for targeting Africans while keeping a blind eye elsewhere.
Again, it’s of little surprise that President Museveni is targeted at this time. He only recently signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 into law and “human rights” gurus are not happy with him. We are aware of more such ploys to discredit him and Uganda at large.
Other than for hatred and malice, Museveni is a leading human rights defender and promoter who risked all to fight for such rights. Rather than leveling falsehoods against him, he should be awarded for his stand against torture which he has variously advocated and instilled among his forces. If Museveni is not for human rights, who is?
Gen. Muhoozi, it’s common knowledge that he is targeted because of “succession politics.” President Museveni’s opponents believe that attacking his family is another way of weakening him. For them, human rights are all about them and not others. That’s why human rights are only talked about by the opposition and not any other Uganda. You will never hear them speak out for free Ugandans who were/are attacked and/or killed because of being pro-Government or independent-minded. They never talk about ASP Consilata Kasule who was nearly murdered by opposition supporters with a hammer in Kampala during the November 2020 riots. She is just an example of the “unheard and ignored” victims because she is not opposed.
Let’s remove political bias and vendetta from the fight for a just and fair society where everybody counts. It’s the last frontier in the defense of human dignity.
The author is the Deputy Presidential Press Secretary