PARLIAMENT. Government will be forced to rethink the fight against terrorism after Parliament rejected a law that would have given the Internal Affairs minister power to designate someone a “suspected terrorist” on grounds that it offends the Constitution.
The government has been grappling with legislation on terrorism with the anti-terrorism Bill (amendment) Bill 2017 tabled for amendment for the third time in three years on grounds that terrorists keep changing tactics to evade the legal loop.
But Clause 1 of the Bill regarding the definition of a terrorist and strongly backed by the government, ran into trouble after MPs argued that giving the minister unrestricted powers to determine who is a “suspected terrorist” violates the Constitution.
Clause 1 of the Bill had proposed to define a “suspected terrorist” and to grant the Internal Affairs minister power to designate someone a “suspected terrorist”.
In defence of the clause, Internal Affairs minister Gen Jeje Odong argued that there has been a paradigm shift in terrorism with women who were previously less involved now recruited as suicide bombers while terrorist groups now use individual and not group attacks to exert fatalities.
“This Bill is occasioned by a paradigm shift in the perpetration of terrorism. Of recent women have become part and parcel of terrorism and Boko Haram is an example. There is a shift that it is no longer entirely groups that perpetrate terrorism but by individuals,” Gen Odong said.
The new law, Gen Odong said, will also definitively deal with terrorism financing. In trying to convince the House about the ever-changing tactics of terrorists, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda referenced the recent UK and US ban on laptops from cabin baggage from nine airlines from the Middle East and North Africa.
“Terrorism is moving much faster than us who do normal business. That is why the other day Europe and America were saying that you can no longer take a laptop on a plane,” Mr Rugunda said.
But Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Nuwagaba (Ndorwa East) successfully argued that Clause 1 offends the provision of the Constitution that states that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“Our Constitution presumes that somebody is innocent until proven otherwise. We should, therefore, jointly refuse such a law,” Mr Nuwagaba said.
At Mr Nuwagaba’s insistence, Clause 1 was rejected and the rest of the Bill passed with a promise by government to table a comprehensive Bill on terrorism that will incorporate all the 40 recommendations that have been proposed by the Defence Committee regarding terrorism.
The latest amendment to the Anti-terrorism Bill comes at a time of heightened tension in the country triggered by a spate of killings some of which have been linked to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels, an outfit with links to terrorism.