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25 April 2019

The Honourable Donald J Trump


President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC, 20500

Dear Mr President:

We are writing to call your attention to the dire state of affairs in Uganda - a country sustained,
in large part, by US financial aid and military support. Many regard Uganda as a bastion of
democracy and stability in a troubled region. In reality, it is a military dictatorship in which the
Ugandan Junta, under the direct control of President Yuweri Museveni, uses violence to terrorize
civilians and suppress political dissent.

Uganda has elections, courts and newspapers, but these function at the mercy of a powerful
network of security organs that are instrumentalized to rig votes, override the decisions of judges
and elected officials, arrest journalists and close NGOs that criticize the regime. These illegal
actions fly in the face of Uganda’s constitution and its guarantees of freedom of assembly,
association, peaceful demonstrations, and the right to participate in the affairs of government.

Indeed, it was the actions of the Ugandan government in April 2019 that prompted us to write
this letter. Ugandan police targeted our client, the hugely popular musician/Member of
Parliament HE Robert Kyagulanyi AKA Bobi Wine, and his supporters, blocking his concert in
Busabala – Wakiso District. In total, the government has blocked 124 concerts organised by Mr
Kyagulanyi, who uses his music to criticise government excesses. Police blocked a peaceful
procession and threw teargas cannisters to disperse the crowd. In the chaos that ensued, Mr
Kyagulanyi was once again, arrested violently. Sometime later, the musical festival’s organisers,
Andrew Mukasa and Abbey Musinguzi, were also arrested.

Upon his release, Mr Kyagulanyi and his family were held under house arrest, with access to his
supporters limited at the whim and discretion of military and police commanders operating
outside the rule of law.

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On 24 April 2019, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Africa, issued a public statement condemning the arrest of Mr Kyagulanyi and
the assault and harassment of Ugandan citizens. In her statement, Representative Bass called
upon the Ugandan government to “adhere to the rule of law and treat all its citizens justly
regardless of political affiliations”i.

Mr President, in nineteen short months, the Ugandans will face the prospect of another staged
election, rigged to defeat the expectations of the common man to achieve a voice in the affairs of
their country. Mr Kyagulanyi and other opposition leaders are fighting for the rights of those
people to be heard. Recently, I was privileged to attend, with Mr Kyagulanyi, a meeting in Berlin
wherein he outlined not only his program for Uganda’s future development, but his fears for the
continuation of any form of opposition activity at the present moment in time.

These events, and those detailed below, illustrate the lengths that President Museveni will go to
in order to retain his control over Uganda and importantly, highlight the urgent need for US
attention.

Museveni’s repressive rule in Uganda

Mr President, elections in Uganda are routinely marred by state sponsored violence, beatings and
killings of opposition figures and their supporters, voter bribery and most likely electronic vote
manipulation.ii Numerous critics of Museveni’s government have died under mysterious
circumstances in car accidents, apparent poisonings, drive-by shootings and other incidents.
While investigations have been promised, they either have not been carried out, or the reports
have not been made public.iii

Torture and other human rights abuses have been a mainstay of President Museveni’s regime
since he seized power in 1986.iv In September 2017, Museveni’s Special Forces troops, wearing
plain clothes, raided the floor of Parliament to prevent opposition MPs from filibustering a bill
that would enable him to extend his grip on power. In the course of the raid, Mukono
Municipality MP Betty Nambooze was crippled and had to be flown abroad for extensive
surgery. She was then rearrested and tortured again in June, necessitating another trip abroad for
surgery. v

In 2016, over 150 unarmed subjects of the Rwenzururu kingdom in Western Uganda, including
at least 14 children, were gunned down by security forces in broad daylight. The commander of
this operation, Peter Elwelu, then received a promotion.vi

On 13 August 2018, five Parliamentarians, including Mr Kyagulanyi, and twenty-nine others


were rounded up, tortured and held in illegal detention for several days at the conclusion of a by-

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election campaign in the northern Ugandan town of Arua. During the melee, Mr Kyagulanyi’s
driver was shot dead, though it is widely believed that Mr Kyagulanyi himself was the intended
target. News of these events, and those which followed, were reported widely in the international
press and numerous NGOs, including Amnesty Internationalvii, released public statements in
protest.

The Arua detainees were all charged with treason, a crime punishable by death, in connection
with the alleged stoning of a vehicle in President Museveni’s convoy. Most, if not all of the
accused detainees were nowhere near the scene of the alleged stoning. Several of the accused,
including two of the MPs were severely beaten; one, Francis Zaake, had to be flown to India for
surgery and the other, Shaban Atiku, may never walk again. Numerous journalists, peaceful
demonstrators and bystanders were also arrested and tortured in connection with the events in
Arua.viii

The Arua detainees were granted bail on 27 August 2018, however, many other political
prisoners remain behind bars, some reportedly in Uganda’s notorious secret detention centresix.
To this day, many of their families remain unaware of their whereabouts.

Museveni’s activities in the Great Lakes region

Ugandan citizens are not the only ones who have suffered at the hands of President Museveni’s
regime. Indeed, while Museveni has received praise for hosting millions of refugees from war
torn South Sudan, less has been said about Uganda’s role in prolonging and worsening that very
same war. Recently, it has emerged that since the fighting began, the Ugandan military has been
illegally funnelling weapons and other military hardware donated by the European Union and the
US government into South Sudan.x Meanwhile, Museveni’s officials have looted millions of
dollars donated by the international community for refugee programs.xi In this way, Museveni’s
henchmen profit from the very crisis they are helping to create.

This is nothing new. During the 1990s, Uganda’s military massacred unarmed civilians in
northern and eastern Uganda, looted animals and food stores, engaged in the mass rape of men
and women and forced nearly two million Acholis into camps where, according to the World
Health Organization, the death toll from disease and hunger rose to above 1000 people per
week.xii

During this same period, Uganda supported violent rebels who either sparked or participated in
wars in neighbouring countries that cost millions of lives, including those in Rwanda, Sudan and
Congo.xiii In 2005, the International Court of Justice ordered Uganda to pay US$10 billion in
reparations for looting and crimes against humanity in Congo. To date, this debt remains
outstanding.xiv

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While Uganda’s troop contribution to the African Union Peacekeeping Force in Somalia
(AMISOM) has helped contain the Al Shabaab insurgency, this force, often underpaid and riven
with ethnic division, has been implicated in grave human rights abuses, including the rape of
children,xv and has even been caught selling weapons to Al Shabaab itself.xvi Thus Western
taxpayers have been, at times, funding both sides of this brutal war.

Since January 2018, over 18 people have been shot and killed and over 850 homes and properties
have been burnt down by security forces in Amuru district. This appears to be one of many
disguised land grab projects orchestrated by the Ugandan government throughout the country in
recent years.xvii

Museveni’s misuse of Western foreign aid

Since 1986, billions of dollars have been stolen by President Museveni’s associates from the
Ugandan Treasury and foreign aid programs, including the Global Fund for AIDS TB and
Malaria and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.xviii Despite this, the United
States gave Uganda nearly US$1 billion last year.

While some foreign aid to Uganda goes to reputable charities and supports care for people
suffering from diseases such as HIV, much of it also goes to multilateral organizations such as
the World Bank which aid Uganda’s Treasury directly. This aid is highly vulnerable to theft and
misuse.xix Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hardware and training have also gone to
Uganda’s military, which deploys it for internal repression or diverts it to clandestine support for
foreign wars.xx

Museveni’s corruption and dismissal of democratic values

While on the one hand President Museveni welcomes funding from US and other foreign
financial aid programs, on the other, he continuously flouts the values we believe in. In May
2017, Uganda claimed to have cut ties with North Korea, whose brutal military has been training
Uganda’s security forces for decades.xxi However, according to the Wall Street Journal, North
Korean operatives remain inside Uganda.xxii In December, Chinese businessman Patrick Ho was
convicted in a US court of having sent bribes of $500,000 each to Museveni and his Foreign
Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, when the latter was Chairman of the UN General Assembly.xxiii

In addition to these unsavoury political relationships, Uganda is also a major smuggling route for
gold,xxiv elephant tusks,xxv pangolin scalesxxvi and other contraband.

Why Museveni should matter to the US

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The sheer scale of the atrocities committed by President Museveni’s regime and the complete
absence of the rule of law in Uganda should be a high priority for the United States. Washington
is Uganda’s largest development donor, and has given President Museveni over US$300 million
in military assistance since 2012 alone. When demonstrations in support of the Arua detainees
broke out across Uganda, Museveni’s forces used US weapons to suppress them.

It is time for the United States to reconsider its relationship with Uganda. US military support
has helped President Museveni to suppress the rule of law and has contributed to the persistence
of the Ugandan Junta and their illegal aggressions against citizens. A lasting peace in this
troubled region of Africa can only be achieved through the free politics of a true democracy –
something President Museveni will do anything to prevent. In light of this, it is clear that the
United States must take immediate action to cut off military support to Uganda and to denounce
the crimes committed by President Museveni’s regime. Most importantly, it is time for the
United States and other Western donors to ensure that all aid, military and non-military, is
conditional on the holding of free and fair elections. Ending the harassment of my client, Mr
Kyagulanyi, would be an important first step.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM & PARTNERS LLP

i
https://bass.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-bass-statement-detainment-bobi-wine
ii
https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/01/25/uganda-election-when-democracy-doesnt-count/
iii
https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/04/03/murder-uganda/; Epstein. Another Fine Mess.
iv
Helen Epstein. Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror. Columbia Global Reports. 2017.
v
https://www.thenation.com/article/us-turns-blind-eye-ugandas-assault-democracy/
vi
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2018/08/29/troubling-times-for-the-rwenzururu-kingdom-in-western-uganda/
vii
https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/free-bobi-wine/
viii
https://www.dw.com/en/uganda-museveni-critic-bobi-wine-charged-in-military-trial/a-45082938
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/23/uganda-bobi-wine-supporters-say-his-body-is-battered
https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/21/uganda-attacks-opposition-figures-media
ix
https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/03/23/uganda-torture-extortion-killings-police-unit
xx
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/11/29/uganda-funneled-european-weapons-south-sudan-breaching-
arms-embargo-report/; https://www.voanews.com/a/un-blames-uganda-kenya-fueling-south-sudan-
conflict/4229939.html

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xi
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-refugees/un-audit-finds-graft-and-misconduct-in-its-uganda-refugee-
program-idUSKCN1NY230
xii
Adam Branch. Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda. Oxford University Press
2011; A Brilliant Genocide. A documentary film by Ebony Butler. Atlantic Star Productions 2016
xiii
Helen Epstein. Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror. Columbia Global Reports. 2017.
xiv
https://www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/116/116-20051219-JUD-01-00-BI.pdf
xv
https://www.loc.gov/item/2016479678/
xvi
https://www.wired.com/2011/08/u-s-weapons-now-in-somali-terrorists-hands/
xvii
http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Hundreds--homeless-Apaa-land-eviction-UPDF-Game-
Reserve/688334-4563720-vmiumuz/index.html
xviii
https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/10/21/uganda-free-pass-high-level-corruption
xix
https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/10/21/uganda-free-pass-high-level-corruption
xx
https://securityassistance.org/uganda
xxi
https://www.news24.com/Africa/News/uganda-expels-north-korea-military-experts-over-un-sanctions-20171020
xxii
https://www.wsj.com/articles/secret-workforce-funds-north-koreaand-defies-sanctions-1544379764
xxiii
https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/patrick-ho-former-head-organization-backed-chinese-energy-
conglomerate-convicted
xxiv
https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/gold-africa-smuggling/
xxv
https://academic.oup.com/ia/article-abstract/94/5/1077/5092101?redirectedFrom=fulltext
xxvi
https://www.traffic.org/publications/reports/uganda-wildlife-trafficking-assessment/