What you need to know:
Due to their alleged involvement in an international adoption scam involving more than 30 children, the United States government levied financial sanctions and travel restrictions on two judges and two lawyers from Uganda in August 2020. According to the US State Department, Judges Moses Mukiibi and Wilson Musalu Musene, as well as attorneys Dorah Mirembe and Patrick Ecobu, helped organise a network that coordinated adoptions of Ugandan children.
The American government made these accusations and imposed penalties a few years ago. Why are you speaking right now?
I am a retired judge. Being outside judicial service, I do not enjoy automatic departmental public relations protection. I have been forced to break silence to dispel some lies peddled by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the US Department of State. On August 17, 2020, those two offices published notes intended to explain and provide justification for the action of the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury (Justin G. Muzinich).
He said, and I quote: “Deceiving innocent Ugandan families into giving up their children for suffering. This corrupt scam deliberately exploited the good faith of Ugandans.” It was also stated that unsuspecting or unwitting prospective parents would arrive in Uganda to adopt to take the children back to America.
What type of American parents were involved in the alleged adoption scam?
I handled cases involving a professor of law from the US, a senior consultant media personnel from the US, army personnel - a Lt Colonel in the US Airforce heading an American unit in Kenya, an associate professor - the mother of a top official in the US NASA programme, prominent business people from the US, middle-class American citizens cutting across all professions, a military attaché at the US embassy in Kampala.
The American citizens you describe fit into several high-profile groups. Did they participate in adoption fraud schemes that exploited children?
Since the American government is so concerned about children’s human rights, has it identified its citizens who took children to suffer, to be tortured, or to remove body parts?
Do you mean no action has been taken against them per the allegations against you and others?
I have the same question. Why has the American government not ordered a massive rescue of such children from the American adopters and facilitated their return to Uganda?
Well… what was the background of these children? Where were they sourced from?
Uganda had not ratified or acceded to the international convention on inter-country adoption. Uganda did not have a central authority coordinating activities relating to the immigration of children to foreign countries. All international child placement agencies contacted their representatives in Uganda, who in turn moved from one private children’s home to another until they spotted a child who qualified.
The child placement agencies put their clients into contact with administrators of children’s homes in Uganda. A child would be matched with an American prospective parent.
Through such contact, a Ugandan advocate would be instructed to lodge an application for legal guardianship on behalf of the American family. In some cases, a Ugandan social worker would be engaged to dig out the origin and status of the child. Prior to the amendment of the law in 2016, the ministry of Gender would be involved in the exercise at the level of the District Probation Officer.
You mean there were no government facilities with already verified cases?
There was no government orphanage in Uganda. Babies who were thrown on rubbish heaps would be picked up by passers-by and taken to the LCI chairperson, police, and then to probation officers. Good Samaritans would undertake to look after such children using private resources. That was how children’s homes were established. There were many such homes in Uganda. District Probation Officers supervised such homes. Some would later graduate into approved homes. So many homes were unlicensed but supervised.
What was the nature of documentation involved given some illegalities like unlicensed homes known to government officials were involved?
It was customary practice for every application to be accompanied by affidavits sworn/affirmed by 1) LCI chairpersons of villages, the officer in charge of the area police station, some relatives of the child, District Probation Officers of the areas, and the prospective American parents.
Children came from different parts of Uganda. Different personalities were involved in each case. Different advocates handled cases of different American families. Different police officers would be involved depending on the area. So if it was a scam, how many people were involved?
Do you mean there was no organised cartel?
OFAC charged the lawyers that were involved in the manipulation or falsification of court documents that the Ugandan families gave up the children for adoption under false pretences. The Judiciary in Uganda did not have the capacity to engage investigators to go behind submitted court documents/evidence to verify the facts.
So, how were you able to make the decisions?
All the persons who were in one way connected to a case swore/affirmed affidavits. They attended court. They were cross-examined on the contents of their affidavits. They spoke their language and the court would provide interpreters. If any American families were sponsored or supported by missionaries there were churches in the USA... the American families were cleared by police departments in their respective states.
Maybe you could elaborate on the nature of the cases you handled?
There was a case where a Ugandan top official initiated assisting a baby whose penis had been cut off. The baby needed plastic surgery to install a gadget for passing urine. The American contact to assist in organising the surgery was a university professor of Law.
There was a baby who needed urgent heart surgery. An American military officer offered to take the baby to an American base in Germany for the surgery. The army required that the child be presented as a member of the military officer’s family.
In the American context, does this principle infringe on the human rights of the child?
OFAC charged that Mukiibi and Musene [were responsible for or complicit in, or have engaged in corruption including the misappropriation of State assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts, or bribery. I think this was a very naïve attempt to fit us into some definition under American law.
Do you want to say the Americans reached that decision without evidence against you?
Which American adoptive family has come to say that they gave money to their advocate to buy the judge? Would such a family be unsuspecting or unwitting? All American families who set out to try and get Ugandan children knew they could not adopt those using Ugandan courts. The law in Uganda required a foreigner who wanted to apply for adoption to have previously stayed in Uganda and fostered the child for 12 months. Of course, such fostering would be done with the knowledge of the relatives of the child. Also, the law of Uganda provided for the consent of the parents or guardians of a child to its adoption by foreigners. At least this was the position before the 2016 amendments. Almost all American prospective parents applied for legal guardianship of children, legal guardianship would be granted on special protective terms.
So what would happen after the Ugandan processes?
When the American parents arrived in the USA with the children, they went back to the international children placement agencies to provide reports to assist them to apply for adoption in the US courts. In most cases, adoption was granted to American parents by US judges. Apart from court rulings granting legal guardianship orders, there was no further input from Uganda.
Was the US embassy in Uganda or other US authorities somehow involved?
The American embassy in Uganda used to carry out its own investigations before granting immigrant visas for taking children. This involved interviewing all persons connected with each case. At one time a US top official came from the department of child affairs in Washington. He came with staff from the American embassy in Kampala to meet with judges of the Family Division. I represented the Principal Judge at that meeting. The judges explained all the legal procedures, guidelines, and safeguards followed in handling applications for legal guardianship. The American contingent was grateful for the information provided.
Why did they turn on you then?
The American sense of justice. Before imposing sanctions against me I was not notified or consulted or asked to explain anything. I was not given any chance to be heard or represented. In Uganda, I do not know what really happened. I saw no due process of the law. I only learned of sanctions through the media. Now sanctions are being implemented against me, even here in Uganda. If it is not high-handedness then I do not know what to call it.