Ugandan lawyers accused the country’s security agencies of committing crimes against humanity in their crackdown on the ongoing protests over rising food and fuel prices.
For nearly a month, the east African country’s capital Kampala and several other towns have been hit intermittently by demonstrations spearheaded by the opposition which have been quashed by the security forces.
About 200 lawyers dressed in their black robes converged on the High Court’s front lawn and the Uganda Law Society’s President Bruce Kyerere gave a petition to the chief justice, Reuters reports.
“ULS is concerned about the use of live of ammunition against unarmed civilians, the indiscriminate release of teargas into confined places including dwelling houses, dispensaries, schools and even inside motor vehicles,” read the petition.
“The indiscriminate beatings of members of the public, the inhuman and degrading treatment of citizens, the most brutal and violent arrest of members of the public, including senior and respectable opposition leaders, these atrocities indeed qualify to be categorised as crimes against humanity,” it said.
Last Thursday, security officials blocked Uganda’s main opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, as he drove to work, sparking a standoff that ended in his arrest after police smashed his car windows and doused him in pepper spray.
It was the fourth time he has been arrested for participating in the demonstrations. Besigye is in hospital in neighbouring Kenya receiving treatment for injuries to his eyes.
Besigye’s arrest sparked riots in the capital Kampala and several other towns on Friday that killed at least two people dead and injured scores as police used live bullets and teargas to disperse protests across the city.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on Sunday asked the government to stop excessive use of force against unarmed demonstrators. She said government actions were turning otherwise peaceful protests into a national crisis.
The lawyers petition also said the security forces had subjected “innocent school children, patients, pregnant women and babies” caught in the protests to “an obnoxious a daily menu of teargas.”
Uganda’s chief justice promised to convene a forum within the judiciary to discuss the lawyers’ grievances and urged them to return to work, but they said they would boycott the courts for the rest of the week.
President Yoweri Museveni has vowed to crush the protests and blamed the rising food and fuel costs on drought and global increases in oil prices. The government has so far resisted any tax cuts to alleviate the burden of higher prices on consumers.
“President Museveni has overthrown the constitution — effectively,” said Nobert Mao, a lawyer and leader of the opposition Democratic Party.