UN’s Human Rights Office in Uganda Closes After Govt Decides Not to Renew Operation Agreement

FILE - Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni attends the state funeral of Kenya's former president Daniel Arap Moi in Nairobi, Kenya on Feb. 11, 2020. The United Nations' human rights office in Uganda will close this weekend after the east African country decided not to renew an agreement allowing it to operate, the U.N.'s top human rights official said Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/John Muchucha, File)

The United Nations’ human rights office in Uganda has been closed as the East African country chose not to renew the agreement that allowed its operation, according to the U.N.’s top human rights official on Friday.

The closure comes amidst growing concern over human rights violations in Uganda, including cases of extrajudicial killings, and the enactment of a new law prescribing the death penalty for some homosexual acts. The office, situated in Kampala, will formally cease operations on Saturday, while the sub-offices in Gulu and Moroto were closed at the end of June and on Monday, respectively.

Expressing regret over the closure, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, stated that the office had been operational for 18 years, during which it collaborated closely with civil society, individuals from diverse backgrounds in Uganda, and engaged with state institutions to protect and promote the human rights of all Ugandans. The announcement was made in a statement from Geneva.

The decision to close the office was prompted by the government’s refusal to renew the host country agreement under which the office operated.

Türk voiced concerns about the situation in Uganda ahead of the 2026 elections, highlighting an “increasingly hostile environment” for human rights defenders, journalists, and other individuals, according to his office. He further noted that a significant number of the 54 non-governmental organizations that were arbitrarily suspended two years ago remain closed to this day.

Additionally, Türk cautioned Uganda against backsliding on its commitments to human rights treaties, particularly the “deeply discriminatory and harmful anti-homosexuality law, that is already having a negative impact on Ugandans,” as stated by his office. Last week, a panel of U.N. experts called on Uganda to repeal the law, which has faced strong international criticism but enjoys significant support domestically, in a report that also expressed broader concerns about the human rights situation in the country.

Uganda’s security forces have faced mounting allegations of brutality in their encounters with perceived opponents of President Yoweri Museveni’s government. Museveni, a longstanding ally of the United States, has been in power since 1986.

Türk urged the authorities to ensure the effective functioning of the national human rights body, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, which he pointed out has been chronically under-funded and under-staffed. He further warned against political interference in the commission’s mandate, as such interference undermines its legitimacy, independence, and impartiality.

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