LDUs on the spot over rights abuses

What you need to know:

  • The lockdown came after the Ministry of Health confirmed the first case on March 21.
  • On April 15, Mr Ali Waswa, a journalist, was allegedly assaulted by a Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldier attached to the 2nd Division headquarters, Makenke in Mbarara District.

Local Defence Unit (LDU) personnel and other security agencies are in the spot over rampant human rights abuses during the enforcement of presidential directives in the country.
President Museveni at the end of March, first ordered a 14-day curfew (7pm to 6:30am) across the country. The second curfew that lasted 21 days soon commenced after the expiry of the first one, while the third lockdown started on May 6.
The lockdown came after the Ministry of Health confirmed the first case on March 21.
However, while enforcing the government’s Covid-19 measures, security forces have allegedly beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and shot at boda boda riders and pregnant women, among others.

Ms Olivia Pita, 18, sustained a deep cut on her forehead after she was allegedly beaten by law enforcers in Moyo Town Council last Monday.
The victim was reportedly flogged after being found burning rubbish with her brother at their home in Central II Village.
“One police officer and another Local Defence Unit (LDU) held my hands before they slapped me three times. They then pushed me and I fell on a stone,” Ms Pita said.
Mr Joab Wabwire, the Moyo District Police Commander, declined to comment on the issue. “I’m not entitled to talk to the media,” he said.

The Moyo District chairperson, Mr Williams Anyama, said Ugandans are suffering because majority of those enforcing the Covid-19 measures are ill-trained.
On April 15, Mr Ali Waswa, a journalist, was allegedly assaulted by a Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldier attached to the 2nd Division headquarters, Makenke in Mbarara District. The victim’s mobile phone was destroyed and his camera confiscated.
The incident happened at around 10am as he was covering an accident involving the UPDF vehicle and a private car in Mbarara Town.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that security forces, purportedly enforcing these measures, have harassed or assaulted at least six journalists in Uganda since March 19.

On May 8, an officer attached to Masaka Reserve Force allegedly killed two people, including his wife and a village chairperson.
The police preliminary investigations indicate that Private Robert Muyaga shot his wife, Jacqueline Nagasha, dead on allegations that she was having an extra marital affair with Francis Musasizi, the Lutovu B Village chairperson.
It is reported that the village chairperson had come to pick up Nagasha at Byansi Clinic, Masaka Town, where she had gone for a pregnancy test.

Shortly after the incident, Muyaga fled the scene, but a combined force of police and army pursued him and killed him hours later during a subsequent exchange of fire.
In Ntoroko District, residents of Kanara Town Council have expressed concern over human rights abuses allegedly perpetrated by both the police and UPDF soldiers while implementing Covid-19 measures.
Ms Beatrice Kabatembuzi, a resident, claimed she was beaten by security forces after she was found cooking at home.
“Soldiers found me cooking at my verandah at around 8pm and they started beating me without telling me what crime I had committed,” Ms Kabatembuzi said.

Authorities respond
The UPDF Mountain Division spokesperson, Capt Adrin Mawanda, said those who violated the presidential directives had started throwing stones at soldiers, prompting security to respond by forcing them into their houses. “But we shall investigate the case. There are officers who misused the orders given to them,” Mr Mawanda said.
Ms Christine Gire, a resident of Jinja Municipality, said LDU personnel are killing and torturing Ugandans because they received inadequate training.
Mr Joseph Kirigwajjo, another resident, said LDUs assume they have full control more than other security organs.
In Kasese, locals said people are often beaten once they are found in “wrong places at the wrong time”.

More than 300 chapati vendors in Lira Municipality said they were stopped by LDUs from operating despite the presidential directive that allows them to operate.
The chairperson of chapati vendors, Mr Monje Birali, claimed security operatives have continued to confiscate their charcoal stoves, tables and destroying their chapatis by pouring water on them.
The affected vendors are those operating at Uhuru Bar, Rainbow, Juba Road, Maruzi road, Jinja Camp and Odokomit. Mr Monje said they are now demanding explanation from the district leaders.
There have been allegations that security operatives are pouring food and even cassava chips that are sold in homesteads near roads in Lira Town.
The Lira Resident District Commissioner, Mr Milton Odongo, said chapati is among that foodstuff that should be allowed to operate.

He said traders should, however, follow guidelines put in place by the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Michael Odongo, the North Kyoga regional police spokesperson, said they reprimanded some of their indiscipline officers.
“Initially, there was that an outcry from the public that some police officers and LDUs were torturing civilians found breaking the guidelines, but that has since been stopped following the warning by the President,” he said.

Security operators punished
In late April, about 10 police officers and six army officers were arrested from Amuru District over torturing civilians while enforcing measures.
In Gulu, a law enforcement officer in Bardege Division was arrested after he allegedly poured hot cooking oil on a woman he found selling foodstuff past curfew time.
Fr Gaetano Batanyenda, the Kitanga Catholic Parish in Kabale Diocese, recommended that government halts the operations of LDU personnel because they are causing embarrassment to security organs in the country.
Maj Yusuf Bilal Katamba, the UPDF First Division spokesperson, where the LDUs fall, said there are few wrong elements, but majority are good and committed to protecting Ugandans.

“It is true, there have been some operational mistakes in the past since LDUs were recruited, but that cannot water down the enormous achievements we have registered,” he said.
President Museveni recently vowed to deal with security personnel accused of abusing the enforcement.
“Some of the LDUs are misbehaving, they were entering houses. What are you doing entering people’s houses? If anybody enters your house, don’t even allow them just ring [Lt Col Edith] Nakalema and see what we shall do to them,” the President said.

Past cases

On February 25, an LDU allegedly killed a People Power supporter, Dan Kyeyune, at Masitowa Stage in Nansana Town, Wakiso District.
The LDUs were trying to disperse a crowd of People Power supporters who had gathered to cheer the convoy of Kyadondo East Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine. Mr Kyagulanyi was returning from Kiboga District for the burial of Ritah Nabukenya, another People Power supporter.

On October 27, 2019, an LDU soldier allegedly shot and killed Samuel Odukur, a resident of Buyala Village, Muduuma Sub-county in Mpigi District after the victim reportedly resisted arrest.
On November 5, 2019, an LDU allegedly shot dead acivilian at Kasubu in Rubaga Division, Kampala. The victim, Jimmy Ssetumba, was a resident of Bunamwaya in Wakiso District.

Around the same period, five people were allegedly killed by LDUs during their operations in Kampala Metropolitan area.
On December 7, 2019, Dan Opollo, the chairperson of Rupa Sub-county in Moroto District was allegedly killed by an LDU.
On December 10, 2019, an LDU reportedly shot dead his colleague in Kisekka Market, Kampala.
The two had gone to effect an arrest at the market but a disagreement reportedly broke out prompting them to open fire at each other.

Compiled by Bill Oketch, Felix Warom, Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Malik J Fahad, Alfred Tumushabe, Scovin Iceta, Patrick Ebong, Robert Muhereza, Cissy Makumbi, Suzan Nanjala, Alex Ashaba, Denis Edema & Enid Ninsiima