At least 68 people have sued government, demanding Shs1.2 trillion in compensation for alleged torture by Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers.
Through their lawyer, Mr Abwang Otim of M/S Abwang Otim, Opok and Co Advocates, the fishermen submitted before the High Court in Lira District horrifying images of their colleagues being tortured on the shores of Lake Kyoga, Amolatar District.
The landing sites where fishermen were alledgedly tortured are Bangladesh, Namasale, Mbiko, Kayago, Nalubwoyo, Abeja, Amai and Muntu, all in Amolatar District.
“The plaintiffs, at diverse landing sites, were brutalised and tortured with maximum deadly force,” the law suit reads, in part.
The suit was instituted against the Attorney General, Lt Col James Nuwagaba, and the commanders of Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU), Capt Wilson Kandiho, and Lt Julius Ankunda.
Daily Monitor has established that in April, leaders in the districts around Lake Kyoga under Lake Kyoga Integrated Management Organisation (LAKIMO), suspended fishing activities for two months to allow the FPU coordinate the registration of fishermen and their boats.
The measure was aimed at regulating preventing illegal fishing activities.
The districts under LAKIMO include Nakasongola, Pallisa, Amolatar, Kamuli, Apac, Dokolo, Buyende, Kaliro, Soroti, Kaberamaido, Serere, Katakwi, Ngora, Dokolo, and Kumi.
In a meeting also attended by members of FPU at Amolatar District headquarters on April 9, the leaders endorsed several resolutions, including using only the recommended 28-inch boats.
However, fishermen claim the recent patrols on Lake Kyoga and Lake Kwania have led to violation of their right to freedom, protection from torture, liberty, and a violation of their economic rights.
The landing sites where fishermen were allegedly tortured are Bangladesh, Namasale, Mbiko, Kayago, Nalubwoyo, Abeja, Amai and Muntu, all in Amolatar District.
Lt Hassan Ahamed Kato, the UPDF 5th Division spokesperson, on Tuesday regretted the alleged torture.
“We are going to treat the alleged torture very seriously,” he said, adding that investigations into the matter commenced three weeks ago.
Gen David Muhoozi, the chief of defence forces, while meeting leaders and fishing communities at Nalubwoyo and Bangladesh landing sites in Namasale Sub-county, Amolatar District, on August 12, said the army would investigate allegations of abuse.
“We have had a few challenges on how the operation has been conducted. We shall look deeply into those allegations and take appropriate actions on some of our officers,” Gen Muhoozi said.
The state Minister for Defence in-charge general duties, Col (Rtd) Charles Okello Engola Macodwogo, said: “Our major roles as UPDF are to maintain peace and security and defend our people. There is no way we can turn against the people we are supposed to protect.” he said on August 12.
Following the declining fish stock on Lake Victoria, primarily due to illegal fishing practices, President Museveni in 2017 deployed the UPDF at major landing sites.
The soldiers have since March been enforcing a fishing ban on Lake Kyoga following a presidential directive to allow fish to reproduce, multiply and mature.
The deployment followed a catch assessment survey conducted by National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI), indicating that Nile perch catches declined by 46 per cent between 2011 and 2015.