President Museveni’s fifth term, dubbed Kisanja Hakuna Mchezo, is more than halfway done, but its public expectations have dwindled on the violation of human rights, a report from Makerere University’s School of Law indicates.
The report, released on Tuesday, is a result of a one-year research into cases of abuse and violations of human rights conducted by the School of Law’s Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC). The report was launched by Justice Kenneth Kakuru of Court of Appeal.
The researchers say after interviewing a total of 359 people in 38 districts across the country, they found that rights violations have been characterised by extrajudicial killings, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, illegal arrest and detention, denial of right to a speedy and fair hearing, and freedom of assembly and association.
Regarding extrajudicial killings, the report reveals 133 people were killed by Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers, police and law enforcement rangers attached to Uganda Wildlife Authority between May 2016 and December 2018.
“The deaths mainly resulted from indiscriminate shootings and use of excessive force such as live ammunition in effecting arrests and crowd control that was not necessary and intense physical torture of suspects,” the report reads in part.
“Police’s heavy-handedness, excessive and indiscriminate use of lethal force, failure to respect people’s right to assemble and demonstrate contributed to arbitrary killings, including of innocent bystanders, children and students,” the report adds.
According to the report, the 133 cases of extrajudicial killings are exclusive of the more than 100 people, including civilians and police officers who perished in the Rwenzuru Kingdom palace attack in Kasese District in November 2016.
The report corroborated the earlier claims by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which insisted that children were among the people killed in the attack. Government denies the claims. Extra-judicial killings were also reported in Kampala, Amuru, Katakwi, Mukono, Arua, Kabarole, Mpigi, Iganga, Kiryandongo, Namayingo, Busia, Bugiri, Mbarara, Ibanda, Kabale and Adjumani districts.
Other districts are Butaleja, Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Wakiso, Mbale, Ntoroko, Rukungiri, Sembabule, Tororo, Mubende, Kamuli, Amolatar, Sironko, Kisoro, Buhweju, Gomba, Buliisa, Masindi, Sironko, Hoima, Namisindwa and Rubirizi.
The researchers reveal that the armed forces used 70 techniques to torture Ugandans, especially during illegal detentions, extracting of information, extortion and instilling fear among the communities.
The techniques included blindfolding of victims, beatings, water boarding, squeezing suspects’ genitals and plucking out of teeth, among others.
“The investigations…revealed that torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment was meted out to Ugandans, including children by a specific section of the army, police and UWA. It was well thought out, carried out at specific places, with specific tools and methods of humiliating the victims,” the report says.
Uganda is signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture but the researchers wondered why the country has been reluctant to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
They say government’s reluctance to sign the instrument is a sign by the political leadership that Uganda is not willing to be checked on torture.
The report named key torture centres operated by police such as Nalufenya Police Station in Jinja District, Pader Police Station, Kireka Police Station, Railway Police Station (Kasese) and Kasese Central Police Station, Iganga Police Station and Mbale Police Station.
Torture chambers under the army as cited in the report are Lolwe Military detachment in Namayingo District, Lira Military Barracks, Kitgum Military Barracks and Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) headquarters in Mbuya and safe houses in Kyengera in Wakiso District.
The report also accuses government of disregarding the rule of law; illegal arrests and detention of people by different security forces.
Witnesses told the researchers about how they spent several days in cells without being granted access to family or lawyers.
The report notes that some of the suspects were deprived of rights to a speedy and fair trial, rights to freedom of assembly and association, rights to an order of habeas corpus-where police and army deliberately did not produce suspects in court and denied civil and political rights.
Other suspects claim that despite being able to record caution and charge statements, they were not taken to court, adding that to some extent, magistrates ignored their concerns.
Rwenzururu Kingdom and the Muslim sect of Salaf were highlighted as the sections of Ugandan community that have been targeted by the regime on account of culture and religion.
“Despite the fact that Uganda’s legal and policy framework provide for the enjoyment of the right to culture and to religion, State functionaries, influenced by political considerations destroyed cultural sites and places of worship, arrested and detained cultural and religious leaders, threatened communities subscribing to the culture and religion in question, as well as demonised the religious sect by portraying it as enemies of peace (terrorists),” the report states.
HURIPEC experts demand that government investigate the cases of human rights violations involving the security forces so that culprits are held accountable.
In the wake of illegal detentions, the report recommends to government to “make public a list of all authorised or gazetted places of detention in order to clarify on the ambiguity within the existing legal framework on a place of detention.”
While the report also warns the civilian community to respect the law and observe the rights of others, the report tasks security forces to investigate extrajudicial killings perpetuated by officers, respect human rights and rule of law and refrain from detaining non-military persons in military custody.
To Parliament, HURIPEC has demanded the allocation of adequate resources to the police to enable them effectively exercise its mandate without requiring reinforcement from the army, review and amend the Criminal Procedure Code Act in order to harmonise standards and procedures with the Constitution and other international human rights instruments to which Uganda is a party.
The report urged the Judiciary to fast track the hearing of cases involving human rights violations in order to give expeditious redress to the victims.
Several suspects, including Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi claimed they were tortured during the Arua Municipality by-election fracas in August last year.
Others are Muslims who were arrested and appeared in court under severe pain allegedly resulting from torture during detention in either police or army cells.
Speaking at the launch of the report in Kampala yesterday, Dr Zahara Nampewo, the director of HURIPEC said they decided to conduct the study because there were many expectations on the improvement of the socio-economic rights of Ugandans.
“It does not matter that we talked to only 359 people but this was a voice that was sufficient enough to show the human rights violations in the country. The rights we are talking about here are inherent,” she said.
Mr Ofwono Opondo, the government spokesperson, said the findings were not different from what President Museveni and the Inspector General of Police, Mr Martins Okoth-Ochola said.
“We have punished officers whose actions have been found wanting. We welcome the findings, we are going to study them in depth. But you have made a fallacious claim that Muslims of Salaf sect and the Rwenzururu kingdom were targeted because of their culture. I want evidence to that,” Mr Opondo said.
He also tasked the researchers to adduce “credible evidence” to the allegation that the UPDF, UWA and the police carried out gross violation of human rights on civilian citizens, adding that the findings of the report may be purposefully aimed at tainting the government image.
Mr Bashir Hangi, the UWA spokesperson, said: “When someone enters the national park illegally and disappears, the perception is that this person has been killed. You are not entering an amusement park because there are animals. Therefore, it is not true that whoever enters there is killed because the rangers even protect the illegal entrants.”
•Immediately investigate human rights violations documented in report, hold perpetrators accountable and deliver justice to victims.
•Publish list of all gazetted detention places.
•Revise policies to align military justice function to justice, law and order sector requirements.
•Sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
• Respect and allow dissenting views on governance.
• Investigate and bring to account security agencies officers that violate court orders.
• Strengthen and allow the national human rights monitoring and reporting mechanisms to work independently.
• Commission a public inquiry into activities of the UPDF Fish Protection and Uganda Wildlife Authority.
• Strengthen dispute resolution mechanisms involving injustices on land and natural resources.
• President should publicly condemn rights violations.
• Hold Uganda Police Force to account on rights breaches, offer it more resources to execute mandate.
• Amend laws to remove ambiguities enabling rights violations.
• Amend the Criminal Procedure Code Act to harmonise standards and procedures with the Constitution and other international instruments to which Uganda is a party.
• Fast-track hearing of rights violations cases.
• Strongly condemn abuse of suspects’ rights.
Uganda Human Rights Commission
• Strengthen capacity to promptly investigate complaints of human rights violations.
• Strengthen its human rights monitoring mechanism.
Uganda People’s Defence Forces
• Stop holding suspects incommunicado and detaining non-military persons at military facilities.
• Investigate alleged extrajudicial killings, torture and illegal detention
• Investigate Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) operatives over torture of suspects.
Uganda Police Force
• Promptly investigate rights violations and extrajudicial killings.
• Respect human rights and rule of law and end partiality in law enforcement, especially against Opposition.
• Investigate and hold officers to account over abuses at Nalufenya Police Station between 2016 and 2018.
• Stop use of excessive force in law enforcement.
Uganda Wildlife Authority
• Adopt human rights-based approaches to wildlife conservation particularly when dealing with local communities.
• Investigate rights abuses by staff documented in this report.
• Strengthen mechanisms for reporting and investigation of suspected misconduct of rangers.
• Prohibit rangers from reckless use of firearms.
• Bolster outreach initiatives to improve relations with communities neighbouring conservation areas.
• Work with district leadership on best use of 20 per cent share of gate collection revenue.
• Transparency in issuance of special (entry) permits for neighbouring communities to collect firewood, grass or other permissible resources.
Uganda Law Society
• Provide legal aid services to communities surrounding protected areas
• Lead the advocacy for the observance of rule of law in Uganda.
• Continue advocating the necessary reforms in the criminal justice system.
• Work with government and civil society to identify initiatives to support stronger respect and observance of civil and political rights in Uganda.
• Devote increased support to local NGOs and human rights defenders working in the area of civil and political rights so as to provide longer term support to promote locally generated solutions to human rights abuses.
• Promote regional equity in access to development assistance to build knowledge on human rights and mechanisms for redress, especially for persons in geographically distanced places.
Civil society organisations
• Increase awareness of rights holders on the law.
• Support rights violations victims through civil litigation, psycho-social support and counselling.
• Support law reform for better rights observance.
• Refrain from violence.
• Report human rights violations to the relevant authorities for redress.