Full Text: IGP Ochola briefing on the state of security

Uganda is holding Presidential/Parliamentary elections in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic with rising levels of infections and deaths.
To control the spread of this pandemic, statutory instruments were issued under the Public Health Act to regulate public activity that has the propensity to accelerate the spread of the virus. This includes burials, religious gatherings, schools, places of entertainment, political gatherings, etc.

Given the constitutional requirement for the holding of presidential/parliamentary elections on time, the Electoral Commission came up with guidelines on how the elections can be conducted safely and in compliance with the above regulations.

The Public Health (Control of COVID-19) (Amendment No.3) Rules, 2020, issued on 9th November 2020, provides that gatherings for purposes of political meetings must not exceed two hundred (200) persons.

The meeting/rally of no more than 200 people must be conducted in observance of Standard Operating Procedures (social distancing, hand washing, and wearing of masks) and in designated places to help promote the health and safety of the public.

Therefore, mobilizing supporters to gather at campaign venues in large numbers is illegal. All processions are banned including those held in public roads, through towns and trading centres. Holding rallies in non-designated venues as per the harmonized campaign program violates the Electoral Commission’s guidelines.

Making impromptu stop overs in trading centres, attracting and addressing public gatherings along busy highways from car rooftops, and other spontaneous public addresses are a violation of the Electoral Commission’s Guidelines and the COVID-19 Rules which provide for the conduct of the campaign meetings only in the approved venues and in accordance with the harmonized campaign program, which clearly indicates the dates, time and location of such meetings.

Non-compliance with the law and the Guidelines issued for the campaign period necessitates the intervention of law enforcement agencies to safeguard public health and safety.

The mandate of the Uganda Police Force as provided in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, and the Uganda Police Force Act Cap 303, is the protection of life and property, prevention and detection of crime, keeping law and order, and maintenance of overall Security and Public safety in Uganda.
The mandate of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces under the constitution and the UPDF Act of 2005 includes national defence, preserving the sovereignty of Uganda, and aiding the authorities and sister security agencies where disturbance of the peace occurs or is likely to occur.
The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, the Police Act and the UPDF Act enables the UPF and the UPDF to jointly work together on matters of national security. We have accomplished several tasks of security significance, through joint coordination.

Challenges in the enforcement of the EC Guidelines and COVID Rules
• Deliberate and consistent non-compliance and lack of adherence to EC guidelines and the law by some Politicians.
• Deliberate acts of provocation, obstruction and attacks on law enforcement officers.
• Deliberate departure from routes and venues that have been agreed upon with the candidate’s district’s agents.
• Rampant hooliganism and riotous behavior.
• Disobedience of lawful orders and failure to responsibly lead and guide supporters by some political actors on the proper behavior required to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Assault and violent conduct towards security personnel in the line of lawful duty.
• Total disregard for life and public safety.
• Incitement to violence, hate speech and promotion of sectarianism, fake news are being orchestrated through social media. These, in addition to blackmail, threats and cyber bullying of officers and their families in an attempt to discourage them from carrying out their assignments.
• Stake holders like the Press are failing in their public responsibility to educate and provide awareness about the EC Guidelines and COVID-19 Rules. This has led to a spike in infection rates and deaths from COVID-19. In addition, there is failure by the Press to consistently point out these breaches of public health laws instead of glorifying the breaches as an exercise of freedom of assembly. These freedoms are not absolute and should not be exercised in a manner that prejudices the rights and freedoms of others.
• Lack of a unified approach and consistency in emphasizing the seriousness of following the EC Guidelines and COVID-19 Rules by a cross section of all national stakeholders leaving law enforcement alone to handle the consequences of these breaches.

Riots on the 18th and 19th November 2020
As a result of his consistent and blatant breach of the EC Guidelines and COVID-19 Rules, one of the candidates, notably Mr. Kyagulanyi, was arrested in Luuka district on the 18th November, 2020 together with others. Kyagulanyi’s supporters then rioted committing several criminal acts of looting, staging illegal roadblocks, robbing of motorists and pedestrians, sectarianism and hate speech, undressing women, damaging private and Government vehicles, burning government buildings including Wobulenzi Magistrates court and Katwe-Katale Police post, burning tyres, etc.

These riots were not spontaneous but were planned and unraveled earlier than intended. Police is analyzing the evidence that points to these plans and to their execution.

Unfortunately, some innocent lives were lost in the riots but also some of the rioters lost their lives during their violent charge against the security forces. Investigations have been sanctioned and are ongoing regarding the registered deaths arising out of these riots which will inform the appropriate course of action. We call upon the public to fully cooperate with these investigations.

The Police is also aware of some efforts that are in play to interfere with the investigations. We would like to warn all those involved in this interference that they shall face the full face of the law if they do not stop forthwith.

We call upon all stakeholders to play their part in order to stem the undesired consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawlessness and hooliganism under the guise of political activity as the country has witnessed on a number of occasions shall not be accepted and shall be dealt with firmly and decisively.
Investigations into the deaths that occurred during the riots are ongoing and we encourage the public to cooperate fully.
Infractions perpetrated through social media and other abuses orchestrated through irresponsible traditional media are unacceptable in a free and democratic society and will also be dealt with according to the laws of the country.

I thank you.

J. M. Okoth-Ochola (Esq)

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