On October 24, 2019, Ugandan military personnel reportedly raided a residence hall at Makerere University, and beat and detained an unknown number of students in apparent retaliation for a series of protests over tuition fee increases.
In June 2018, Makerere’s university council reportedly approved a plan to increase tuition by fifteen percent each year over the course of five years. By the end of the five years, students’ tuition will have increased seventy-five percent. Students have decried the tuition increase as excessive. Some female students at Makerere have commented that they have had to “sell their bodies” in order to afford tuition.
Protests over the tuition increases began on October 22, 2019, when a group of protesters, mostly female students, were arrested by Ugandan security forces for attempting to deliver a petition to the office of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. On October 23, security forces deployed around campus reportedly fired teargas and rubber bullets at student protesters, some of whom responded by throwing rocks and setting fire to tires and other objects.
On the evening of October 24, military personnel reportedly surrounded Lumumba Hall, one of the largest dormitories for male students at Makerere University in preparation for a raid. Soldiers beat and arrested several students outside the dormitory before forcibly entering and searching as many as sixty rooms. Once inside, soldiers reportedly beat more students and destroyed student property.
At least eleven students were reportedly hospitalized as a result of their injuries and an unknown number of students were arrested.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of raids, violent force, and arrests against students to retaliate against expressive activity— conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uganda is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to ensure security, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate, do not violate institutional autonomy, and are not undertaken to restrict nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.