NAIROBI, Kenya – The U.N. human rights chief on Sunday urged Ugandan authorities to stop the excessive use of force against protesters, after demonstrations over the last three weeks left eight people dead and wounded more than 250 others.
Navi Pillay said she was "appalled" by the repeated ill-treatment of the country's top opposition politician, Kizza Besigye. She said the use of disproportionate force has contributed to rising unrest in the East African country.
Ugandan army and police used live bullets against rioting demonstrators Friday, one day after Besigye's violent arrest. Police smashed through the window of his vehicle with the butt of a gun and doused him with tear gas at close range before bundling him into the back of a pickup truck and speeding off.
"The manner of Dr. Besigye's arrest on Thursday was shocking," Pillay said in a statement issued from Geneva. "The excessive use of force by security officers was plain to see in the television footage of the event. While I do not condone the violent rioting that followed, the Ugandan authorities must realize that their own actions have been the major factor in turning what were originally peaceful protests about escalating food and fuel prices into a national crisis."
Pillay said her office documented instances of Uganda's army and police indiscriminately using tear gas, pepper spray, and both rubber and live bullets against protesters, and against individuals who were not involved in the protests.
Pillay said eight people died, including a two-year-old girl allegedly shot by a member of the security forces.
She urged Uganda's government to conduct "thorough, prompt and impartial investigations into the human rights violations committed by the security forces."
Citing the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Pillay said tear gas has also been fired into schools, health centers and homes during the protests, affecting women and children.
"The intervention of the security forces has resulted in infringements of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person, as well as of the freedoms of association, assembly and expression," Pillay said. "In addition, the manner and motivation of the arrests and criminal charges against Dr. Besigye and other opposition leaders raise particular concerns."
The protests were the first serious unrest in sub-Saharan Africa since a wave of anti-government protests swept leaders in Tunisia and Egypt out of power. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for a quarter-century, has vowed repeatedly that his government will not be taken down by protests.
Besigye has held five "walk to work" demonstrations since April 11 to protest rising prices and what he calls a corrupt government. Besigye challenged Museveni in February elections and came in second place. He said the poll was falsified, and that both he and Museveni got just under 50 percent of the vote.