The violent arrest in Arua Town and torture of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, aka Bobi Wine, continues to attract international media attention.
Mr Kyagulanyi and 32 others were arrested in an operation by police and the army that left the MP’s driver, Yasin Kawuma, dead.
According to Mr Robert Amsterdam, an international lawyer hired by Bobi Wine, “Mr Kyagulanyi’s arrest was not only a politically motivated act of repression, but furthermore he has since been subjected to inhuman and horrific acts of torture by the Ugandan security services from which it is possible he may never recover, furthermore, this outrageous and reprehensible act of State aggression – an episode not seen since the days of Idi Amin – requires a robust and broad response from the international community to secure his safety and to bring his torturers to account.”
This week, the government of Uganda deployed the army and police on the streets of Kampala and other major towns to manage protestors who were demanding for Bobi Wine’s release. Unfortunately, UPDF soldiers started violently attacking and torturing civilians, including journalists in broad daylight.
The previously created impression of Uganda’s professional and disciplined army quickly disappeared as innocent Ugandans where beaten. A man in a white, blood-stained T-shirt lay dead on the street after being shot.
The visual images of tortured civilians and accounts of gruesome acts of violence meted out by security agents caused disbelief, shock and horror.
According to the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen David Muhoozi, the arrest and punishment of soldiers who brutalised and harassed journalists who were covering a joint security operation against protestors has been ordered and is imminent.
Locally, most peaceful Ugandans feel powerless to show government their displeasure at the recent violent events, but the international community seems to be in a stronger position to act.
A strongly worded and similarly crafted statement from the United States of American (USA) and European Union to government of Ugandan jointly condemning the acts of gross human rights violations and torture indirectly implies that there could be serious consequences in failure to stop human rights abuse. The possibility does exist in travel bans, personal and financial repercussions.
In 2008, Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian accountant, was arrested by his government for exposing a tax scam involving government officials in which the officials had defrauded the Russian taxpayers of $230 million. He was tortured, denied medical attention and found dead in Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison in 2009.
In 2012, the US Congress passed the Magnitsky Act into law, imposing sanctions on Russian officials believed to be involved in Magnitsky’s death.
In 2018 in Helsinki, Russian president Vladimir Putin, while standing next to his US counterpart Donald President Trump, named the Magnitsky Act as the biggest threat to his regime.
In special areas of cooperation, the US and EU also imposed sanctions on former president of Gambia Yahya Jammeh and other government officials who ran death squads known as “the Junglers” who terrorised and killed political foes, including religious leaders and journalists from 1994 to 2017.
The Magnitsky Act for human rights violations and torture could easily catch up with Ugandan high ranking officials. While some officials and MPs are quietly enjoying foreign travel per diems in the tune of $1,000 (Shs3.7 million) per day, they should stand warned that this freedom could be cut short should they continue violating rights of Ugandans.