Uganda move to close UN rights office angers opposition

KAMPALA, Feb 13 (Reuters) - A move by Uganda's government to close the United Nations' local human rights office has drawn strong criticism from opposition leaders and activists, who say it highlights the country's worsening record on civil liberties.

The government told the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last week that it would not renew the mandate of its office in the east African country, effectively expelling the rights monitors.

The office was set up in 2006 and has highlighted widespread rights violations including torture, illegal detentions and failure by the state to prosecute offenders.

The government said in a letter to OHCHR this month that the U.N. presence was no longer necessary because of the progress it made in developing domestic capacity to monitor human rights compliance, including the emergence of a strong civil society.

Critics of the government of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, begged to differ.

"The regime in Uganda should be isolated by all democracy seeking people," Bobi Wine, a pop star turned politician who heads the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) said in response to a question about the government's decision.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Volker Turk delivers a statement in Port-au-Prince, Haiti February 10, 2023. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol/File Photo

During the last presidential election in January 2021, in which Wine finished runner-up to Museveni, gun-toting security officers tear-gassed and baton-whipped people protesting against brutality by security forces.

Wine, who alleged the final result was massively rigged, was arrested several times during the campaign.

Okello Oryem, state minister for foreign affairs, told Reuters the UN rights office had come to Uganda to monitor rights violations during the war in the country's north which ended nearly two decades ago.

"Now that the war is finished, there's no more relevance of that office," he said.

OHCHR had declined to comment on the government's decision.

Livingstone Sewanyana, who heads the Uganda Human Rights Foundation, rejected the government's justification for closure of the office.

"For the last couple of years...the civic space has been shrinking," he said.

Writing by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Aaron Ross and Ed Osmond

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