Authorities at the American embassy in Kampala, and the head of European Union (EU) delegation to Uganda, ambassador Attilio Pacifici, on Wednesday spoke out on the alleged transgressions of the former Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura.
Mr Phil Dimon, the spokesperson of the US Embassy, said the former IGP was targeted “as a person” because he commanded an institution that engaged in gross violation of human rights and should, therefore, carry the cross.
Mr Dimon also explained that Gen Kayihura was singled out because he had the powers to stop the violations, but ignored them or joined the police’s violent crack unit, the Flying Squad Unit (FSU) in violating the rights of citizens.
“The Department obtained credible information that Kale Kayihura was directly involved in gross violations of human rights by virtue of his command responsibility of the Flying Squad during his tenure as Inspector General of the Ugandan Police Force from 2005 through 2018,” Mr Dimon said.
“Due to the circumstances of this particular case, we believe it is important for the Government of Uganda and the Ugandan people to know how seriously the United States views Uganda’s record on human rights and to send a signal about the consequences for those involved in violating the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people in Uganda.”
Last week, the US government, through its treasury department, imposed sanctions on Gen Kayihura for reportedly engaging in corruption and human rights abuses.
Mr Dimon, however, did not delve into the details of the evidence against the and instead, singled out the US concern on torture and gross human rights violations under his 13-year-tenure.
On behalf of the US government, he promised to target people who will be implicated in human rights violations.
“At this time, we cannot reveal further information about the specific facts that led to his designation, but generally note our deep concern about reports of torture and other gross violations of human rights that have been perpetrated by segments of Ugandan security forces,” he said.
Magnitude of the violations
The US embassy explained that the Kayihira case attracted the interest of the authorities in Washington because of the nature and the magnitude of the violations and therefore, the Donald Trump administration could not just sit back and watch as human rights were being violated with impunity.
In a separate email to Daily Monitor last evening, the EU ambassador to Uganda also backed the US sanctions against Kayihura and revealed that if EU had been presented with the evidence US collected on Kauihira’s alleged transgressions, they might have considered similar sanctions.
“We have observed the decision by the US, just as Uganda has. That said, we can understand the logic behind the economic sanctions and visa restrictions being announced by the United States. It is possible that if the EU had been presented with the kind of evidence as what the US has undoubtedly collected, we may have reached a similar conclusion,” Ambassador Attilio Pacifici’s email reads.
Explaining whether the US government would consider targeting other government officials, Mr Dimon said: “We will not preview potential future actions at this time.”
He added: “The designation of Kale Kayihura underscores our concern for human rights violations and abuses in Uganda, as well as our support for accountability for those who engage in such acts. We call on the Ugandan government to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.”
On September 13, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, sanctioned Gen Kayihura, slapping travel ban on him and his immediate family members (wife and son).
Mr Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, explained that the sanctions also mean all property and interests in property of Kayihura, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 per cent or more by him alone or with other designated persons, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.
The sanctions also effectively ends Kayihura’s association with US based businesses because OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by US persons or within (or transiting) the US that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons.
Gen Kayihura’s sanction marks the last segment of the first group of Uganda police officers who have had to face the US for their human rights violations.
The first lot included officers who violently suppressed the 2011 walk-to-work demonstrations after the general elections.
The officers who were blacklisted included; Grace Turyagumanawe, Laban Muhabwe and Joel Aguma.
The US report also accused Kayihura of engaging in numerous acts of corruption, including using bribery to strengthen his political position within the government, stealing funds intended for official Ugandan government business, and using another government employee to smuggle illicit goods, including drugs, gold, and wildlife, out of Uganda.
Section 7031 (c) provides that, in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that foreign officials have been involved in significant corruption or a gross violation of human rights, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.
The police spokesperson, Mr Fred Enanga, did not explain what measures police authorities have put in place to ensure that people are not tortured in detention facilities.
Mr Enanga, however, maintained that the police was not part of the US sanctions against his former boss, Kayihura.
Ms Betty Ocan Aol, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, said Kayihura is enjoying the fruits of his investment in the police force.
She also urged the US government to crack a whip at others who are in the same league.
The fact is that the FBI worked closely with me and with units of police that were involved in fighting crime, including the Flying Squad.
They were not scandalised by my leadership but actually gave me an award for my contribution in the fight against terror. There is no high profile case in which our units did not liaise with the FBI.
They participated in, for example, the investigations into the assassinations of the late Joan Kagezi and the late Andrew Felix Kaweesi, as well as the 2010 terror case. The Treasury would thus do well to sanction those officers also.
In April 2017, photos of the suspected tortured Kamwenge Town Council mayor, Mr Geoffrey Byamukama, were circulated on the social media, bearing deep wounds and cuts as a result of torture by the members of the elite Flying Squad Unit of the police. Byamukama and a number of other suspects had been implicated in the alleged murder of Felix Kaweesi.
Mr Byamukama was detained at Nalufenya Special Investigations Center (NSIC) in Jinja District, a facility which according to MPs had become the epicentre of human rights abuses. The FSU was commanded by former Assistant Commissioner of Police Herbert Muhangi. Muhangi is currently in jail on offences related to kidnap and failure to protect war materials.
Different individuals ranging from Opposition politicians to human rights activists, suspected criminals and others with divergent political views bore the brunt of the Flying Squad before the unit was disbanded.
According to Opposition and human rights activists, the men and women in uniform, who formed the elite crack unit of the police, operated with impunity. The mention of Flying Squad, according to former Nalufenya detainees, would send chills down the spines of the suspects and human rights campaigners.