In a space of less than a month, Christopher Aine has metamorphosed from being presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi’s head of security, to a suspect in an assault case, a wanted man by the police, a missing person and now a man feared dead. The police has suggested that he is a missing person but he can only be declared a missing person for purposes of administration of his estate, if his whereabouts remain unknown for six months.
The issue of missing persons is not new in Uganda. It regularly occurred as much as it was denied by the Idi Amin’s regime in the 1970s when many people went missing and /or disappeared at the hands of State security agencies. It is thought that because so many people went missing during Amin’s time, his government was compelled to pass a law to manage the estates of persons who went missing. This law which is still on our statute books is called the Estate of Missing Persons [management] Act of 1973.
By the time the NRM government took power in 1986, the issue of ‘missing persons’ was trending globally and Uganda joined the International chorus to condemn it. Actually, Uganda was very active in founding the offences of enforced disappearance which relates to missing persons when it sat in the United Nations Assembly on December 18, 1992 to pass Resolution No.47/133 which declared protection of all persons from enforced disappearance. Uganda was among the first countries in the world to sign the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance when it came into force in 2010 and it has not withdrawn from this convention.
Under International law, enforced disappearance is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person which place that person outside the protection of the law.
Mr Aine’s family is accusing the police of carrying out his arrest and disappearance. This accusation brings the case within the realm of ‘enforced disappearance’ under the said international convention. Rather than threaten those raising concern over the disappearance of Aine, the Police should explain his whereabouts since the factual circumstances of his arrest and disappearance are pointing to it. Issuing Press releases like they did on the January 7 when they claimed that Aine is still alive and in hiding a day after some local media published ghastly images of a dead man resembling Aine did not help the Police or assure the terrified public. The Police should know that the burden of proving that Aine is alive will be placed squarely on them under Uganda law if the death claims subsist.
It is worth noting that this would not be the first time for Aine to disappear under a police man-hunt. It will be recalled that he was arrested and disappeared in September 2015 shortly after police broke up candidate Mbabazi‘s consultative meeting in Jinja. That time we were lucky to trace him to Nalufenya Police Station in Jinja after days of searching. Upon his release on bail by the Jinja Court , he told of horrendous stories of brutality and torture by the police while he was held in ungazetted detention centres.
Even though Aine is not a missing person under the law at the moment, his disappearance for the second time in the most important presidential election campaign in Uganda might be an ominous sign of things yet to come. This does not stand the country in good stead on the democratic path neither does it provide a firm foundation for the liberties and safety of other Ugandans.
What must not be lost, however, is that the question of the disappearance of Aine is not just a trivial political campaign issue. It is a fundamental Human Rights issue that concerns every Ugandan irrespective of tribe, religion or political affiliation.