NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police in Uganda must investigate attacks on dozens of charities and prosecute those responsible, campaigners said on Wednesday, after a prominent women’s rights group became the latest target.
Intruders broke into the offices of the Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Sunday night, ransacking the premises and vandalizing computers, the group said.
Computer hard drives and all external data storage devices were taken and some cash was also stolen.
“This was not a random act,” Juliet Were, Isis-WICCE’s acting executive director told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We feel this is part of a deliberate attempt to scare civil society groups who are challenging issues around human rights, governance, politics and security in the country.”
Were said the police were investigating, but that there had been no “serious action” taken after previous cases in which the offices of human rights defenders were broken into.
The charity, which has been running projects to empower women in the east African nation for two decades, has never had its premises attacked before, Were added.
Kampala Police spokesman Emilian Kayima was not immediately able to give details on how many cases had resulted in arrests and prosecutions, but said authorities were taking action.
“We investigate all cases reported and these too (attacks on charities) were investigated,” said Kayima, adding he would check case files and report back.
More than 30 charities in Uganda working on issues from land rights and corruption to freedom of expression and sexual minority rights have experienced similar break-ins since 2012, according to human rights groups.
Many were robbed of equipment and data. Two security guards were killed during attacks on the offices of charities Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum in 2016, and the Uganda Land Alliance in 2015.
Human Rights Watch said no one had been held to account, adding that “police apathy in the face of these persistent attacks seriously threatened independent research and advocacy in Uganda”.
Both the police and the charities said they had no idea who was behind the attacks.
CIVICUS, a global alliance of charities, said they were part of a broader crackdown on groups across the world that face challenges ranging from restrictions on foreign funding to raids, robberies and the assassination of activists.
“We believe these attacks are a campaign against civil society groups designed to intimidate them into abandoning the work they do of holding the state to account,” said Teldah Mawarire, advocacy officer at CIVICUS.
“We urge the Uganda police to speedily resolve cases of past burglaries that have been reported to them and bring perpetrators to justice.”
Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org