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Tuesday, October 12, 1999 Published at 07:18 GMT 08:18 UK

World: Africa

Call for greater Ugandan democracy

The report says President Museveni gives his supporters huge powers

A report by a US human rights group says the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shows little or no respect for democratic freedoms.

Human Rights Watch says President Museveni has set up a political system which gives his ruling National Resistance Movement huge powers while forbidding political parties and other groups to hold meetings or rallies or sponsor candidates for election.

"All kinds of groups, not just political parties, have been targeted for engaging in activities that displease the NRM government," the New York-based rights group said, noting many examples where police had broken up rallies or seminars.

'No-party' system

Blaming the country's violent past on tribalism and party politics, Museveni has set up what he calls a "no-party" system in which the NRM is known as "the movement" and all Ugandans automatically belong to it.

Other parties are allowed to exist, but not to engage in organised political activity.

Human Rights Watch says the NRM has exclusive access to state funding and machinery and uses the law to exempt itself from the restrictions it imposed on opposition parties.

"Since the NRM is not officially a political party, despite having the characteristics of a ruling political party in a single-party state, it has sought to create the illusion that Uganda is a 'no-party' state," the report says.

"Uganda is moving away from democracy, not towards it."

In June 2000, Ugandans will vote in a referendum on whether to keep the 'no-party' system or bring in multi-party politics.

The report says the NRM is using all its power and resources to oppose independent political parties, and that the referendum is unlikely to be free and fair.


However, President Museveni is given credit for substantially improving Uganda's human rights record in other areas - most notably in the reduction of abuses by the army and police.

[ image: Idi Amin began a 15-year human rights' nightmare in Uganda]
Idi Amin began a 15-year human rights' nightmare in Uganda
Before he took power, Uganda had suffered 15 years of human rights abuse, first during the brutal military dictatorship of Idi Amin from 1971 to 1979 and then after the return to power of Milton Obote.

President Museveni's efforts to create a disciplined army, set up an effective human rights commission and improve the standing of women in Ugandan society have all won him praise abroad.

On top of that, his economic liberalisation and emergence as a regional power broker with goals similar to those of Western governments have made Uganda a favourite of foreign donors.

The US government and European countries have all called President Museveni an example for other African leaders.

But Human Rights Watch calls on foreign governments to take up the issue of political freedom.

"Without constructive international pressure, it is likely the NRM government in Uganda will continue to consolidate its grasp on power and repress the political opposition," its report says.

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