Saturday, May 21, 2005

Uganda Hires PR Agency as Torture Continues

The Ugandan government is to pay around half a million dollars to hire Hill & Knowlton, one of the world's biggest PR firms, to smooth over its tarnished human rights record, and help deflect a wave of international criticism.

The British government recently cancelled £5m of aid because of concerns about democracy. Most damaging of all, perhaps, was criticism from Sir Bob Geldof, who urged Mr Museveni to "get a grip" and step down from power.

The PR firm has itself been criticised in the past for working with governments such as Indonesia and Turkey, whose human rights records are dubious.

New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) and its Ugandan counterpart, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), have called on the Ugandan government to enact legislation to punish perpetrators of torture.

The 14-page report by the two human rights watchdogs, documents recent cases of torture by Ugandan security forces against political opponents, alleged rebels and criminal suspects.

In a related development, according to reliable local reports, Ugandan authorities have freed two key opposition members of parliament arrested last month on charges of murder -in an apparent politically motivated move. The MPs from the opposition Forum for Democratic Change, Ronald Reagan Okumu and Michael Nyeko Ocula, were arrested on April 20. It is still unclear if the charges against the MPs have been dropped.

The Forum for Democratic Change poses the greatest challenge to the reelection of Museveni next year. The MP's local political opponent is Betty Aketch, the Gulu District MP who supports president Yoweri Museveni, and backs his bid for an unprecedented third term.

Under current Ugandan law, as long as investigations are ongoing, suspects of serious offenses are regularly held for a full 360 days without bail before a court is required to make any assessment of the strength of the evidence against them.


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