Has Human Rights Commission reduced itself to mere advisory body?

Thursday June 28 2018



Karoli Ssemogerere

Karoli Ssemogerere 

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Last week, the chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission Hajj Medi Ssozi Kaggwa, made a highly publicised visit to Mukono Municipality MP Betty Bakireke Nambooze, who has been confined for some time to a hospital bed. Nambooze is being investigated for unlawful incitement of the public that preceded the murder/execution of Col Ibrahim Abiriga, the former Arua Municipality MP. She is not a murder suspect or suspect under the terrorism laws that allow much longer periods of pre-trial detention. Actually, she was detained while on police bond.

The Human Rights Commission has made a number of important pronouncements in the past. In 2017, they came out strongly against police brutality and use of force by persons illegally recruited to do police work. They didn’t come out clearly on the topic of “crime preventers”, one step below armed militias, whose capacity to wreak even more havoc is on its own a major threat to internal security.

Ugandans are actually waiting for verification of reports that individuals in government and security have been recruiting private groups and embedding them in public institutions with allegiance to them. After Gen Kale Kayihura’s dismissal from police, a large group of army officers, who had been working under him, were sent back to UPDF on katebe unsure of their next deployment, including officers with ranks as high as Colonel, who in military command structures, heads a brigade, a collection of two or more battalions.

When the affable and impeccably dressed Kaggwa visited Nambooze on her hospital bed, he promised action. In fact, he did so, in a very long rambling letter warning government of the legal consequences of continuing to detain Nambooze.
It appears that was the outcome of an investigation under Article 52(1)(a) of the Constitution. But it appears, he completely forgot that the same Commission has powers to order release of a detained or restricted person under Article 53(2)(a) of the Constitution and other remedies in the same Article 53(2).

This very much was a throwback to the trial of Jesus in the Bible, where Pontius Pilate, convinced of Jesus’ innocence, washed his hands off of him. I doubt this was the best approach. The Commission has been actively hearing cases and its cause list has been active up to April 2018.
Even the recent death of Commissioner Joseph Etima should not change much as a new Commissioner former Attorney General Fred Ruhindi was recently nominated as a Commissioner, but he is still serving on the Bamugemereire land probe.
In fact, Kaggwa’s letter may not reflect the recent spurt of energy. Commissioners like Meddie Mulumba, a former Member of Parliament, have not been shy of expressing strong views on human rights violations in the country. The public is also waiting for more from the Commission on a number of topics where a lot of per diem has been invested in foreign travel and capacity building.

First among these, when does the International Criminal Court mechanism enter the domestic realm to investigate gross abuse of human rights? Which body or office will create a Special Advocate for vulnerable groups?
In 2017-2018, this question is even more relevant after increased violence and brutality against women and children? It is amazing that vigilantes of the Kitatta caliber could beat up children wearing red with police protection and the Commission failed to do anything to protect them.

There is an ongoing issue of trafficking of persons in the country far from their homes. Earlier this year, the issue of herdsmen from Kiruhura grazing their animals on communal grasslands in Pader District was raised.
Most of the crime preventers let go after the 2016 election are roaming the country foraging for jobs far from their families and places of origin after being transplanted from their roots.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate. [email protected]

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