Statement by Robert Bank, President and CEO of American Jewish World Service (AJWS) on Holding the Ugandan Government and Police Accountable for Human Rights Violations



NEW YORK—On Thursday, August 4, police in Uganda raided a nightclub where an annual LGBTI pride celebration was taking place. In addition to brutalizing participants in the pride event, the police detained leaders of civil society organizations who are engaged in advocacy for the LGBTI community. This attack is part of an overall pattern in Uganda in which civil society organizations and political opponents of the government are finding themselves increasingly targeted by the Ugandan government and the police in violation of both Ugandan and international human rights law.

Statement by Robert Bank, President and CEO of American Jewish World Service

“As an international organization working in solidarity with hundreds of organizations and millions of people worldwide who believe that all societies must respect human rights and the dignity of every person, we are deeply dismayed that citizens of Uganda—especially activists and supporters of civil society organizations—have been subjected to an array of unlawful actions by the government, including police violence and arbitrary detention. These measures by the Ugandan government are part of a larger trend, including actions against news organizations and opposition political parties. We stand in solidarity with civil society organizations and activists in Uganda who are demanding that their own government follow both Ugandan law and international human rights law,” said Robert Bank, President and CEO of American Jewish World Service, the leading international Jewish development and human rights organization.

“As supporters of human rights who are especially sensitive to the rights of minority groups, we find it completely unacceptable that any government abridge the right of its citizens, including LGBTI people, to express themselves through public demonstrations and by participating in organizations of their own choosing. The police attack on a LGBTI pride gathering late last week is part of a broader pattern of abuse for which the government and the police must be held accountable under Ugandan and international law,” added Bank. “We remain gravely concerned about the safety of those who were assaulted and had their photographs taken without their consent—and we were especially alarmed to learn that people who appeared not to conform to traditional gender norms, as well as transgender people, were specifically targeted.

“We are particularly disturbed to learn from a Ugandan civil society organization that a government official said he would do anything in his authority to make sure that this year’s LGBTI pride parade did not proceed, emphasizing that if the police did not stop it, he would call on Ugandans to storm the venue and harm participants. As members of a minority group who for too long were subject to arbitrary actions by hostile governments, we deplore this incitement to violence by a top government official against a minority group in Uganda, encouraging both citizens and the police to attack a minority group,” added Bank.

“We are heartened by the actions of local organizations that are working quickly and collaboratively to respond to this attack, among them Chapter Four, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), and Defenders Protection Initiative (DPI). Together, they have provided emergency medical support and legal counsel for those who were detained, alerted allies through social media and coordinated outreach to the media, drawing the attention of supporters of human rights worldwide.”

“We join with Chapter Four, which called on the Ugandan governments ‘to immediately and publicly condemn this raid and call on government to take swift disciplinary action against those responsible for these gross violations of rights and freedoms,’” added Bank. “And we echo the words of Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer and Executive Director of Chapter Four Uganda, who said, ‘We strongly condemn these violations of Ugandans’ rights to peaceful association and assembly…These brutal actions by police are unacceptable and must face the full force of Ugandan law.’”

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