The Inspector General of Police, Martins Okoth-Ochola, six weeks ago issued guidelines that he directed officers to follow while effecting arrests and handling suspects. They included arrests being contingent upon a formal complaint, officers identifying themselves to a person being arrested and stating the reason(s), rights and place where a suspect is being taken.
He ordered that male suspects be handcuffed, female suspects be handled exclusively by female police officers and arrests be effected only with express authorisation by a unit commander. And suspects be booked at the nearest police post/station and none be detained beyond the 48-hour constitutional threshold.
Examined carefully, these are a collection of standard operating procedures for trained men and women serving in a professional police force. As such, we consider these guidelines at best to have been a reminder.
We, nevertheless, welcomed them as we hereby re-affirm our endorsement of any and all attempts to make law enforcement agencies functional, professional and accountable.
To achieve this, the respect of human rights and law by the agencies is imperative. The core duties of
Uganda Police Force are to protect lives and property of citizens as well as detect and prevent crime. Is so doing, police interface daily with citizens; their core clientele, whose cooperation it requires to achieve its mandate.
This means the population must trust police and be free to share information on crime and whereabouts of brigands. That trust is earned. This is the intractable problem for police.
Ochola has been at the helm of the Force since his predecessor, Gen Kale Kayuhira, was fired in March, last year. The police under the former IGP had become an embodiment of brute Force, partisanship and grotesque rights violations. This is why the ascend of Ochola, a lawyer and professional policeman, unlike Kayihura, a lawyer and professional soldier, warmed the hearts of many who saw the change of guard as a harbinger of tangible, not cursory, reform.
That expectation turned into a wave when the new IGP ordered the closure of Nalufenya facility that rights activists had christened a torture chamber. But last Friday’s abduction and incarceration of Joseph Kabuleta, a senior journalist-turned-pastor at the army-superintended Special Investigations Division, proved that old habits die hard.
Police are increasingly brutalising Opposition politicians, including invading radio studios to pluck them off live talk shows. This is a disgraceful low for a Force commanded by a professional. We demand that IGP Ochola enforces his progressive orders and turns police around from a feared force that protects the regime to a State agency that serves all.