Ambassador Ayebare disputes torture victims’ pay-out claims

Uganda’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Adonia Ayebare. FILE PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • Commenting about this publication’s Monday lead story headlined, ‘UN issues tough demands to Uganda govt over torture’, the envoy said the accounts were “fabricated” because Uganda’s Universal Periodic Review was completed in Geneva, where the UN Human Rights Commission is based, in January this year. 

Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Adonia Ayebare, has said the mission he heads in New York has never claimed that the Uganda government sorted out torture victims financially.

Commenting about this publication’s Monday lead story headlined, ‘UN issues tough demands to Uganda govt over torture’, the envoy said the accounts were “fabricated” because Uganda’s Universal Periodic Review was completed in Geneva, where the UN Human Rights Commission is based, in January this year.

Monitor’s reporting, however, is premised on a March 15, 2022 letter signed by an official of Uganda’s New York mission, who did not put a name, and the United Nations Country Team in Uganda’s written contribution to the Universal Periodic Review documentation.

Titled ‘Uganda government report on the alleged human rights violations’, the author noted that various individuals, among them Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Mityana Municipality Member of Parliament Francis Zaake, and journalists including Culton Scovia Nakamya of BBS, were compensated.

All have denied receiving government cash.

In the Monday interview in Kampala, Ambassador Ayebare said Uganda’s Mission in New York never communicated to the global rights watchdog about compensation payment to the victims.

Peter Ogwang, one of the victims of alleged police torture in Dokolo District. 

“Nobody in the New York Mission, including myself, the head of the Mission, has ever talked about compensation of torture victims,” he said.

It remained unclear if the envoy was unaware of the duly-signed March 15 correspondence to the UN Human Rights Committee, transmitted more than a month after January Universal Periodic Review.

Separately, the seventh United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet, in an interview with Daily Monitor last week, condemned the gross rights abuses in Uganda and lies told to the world body to cover it.

“We need to resolve this deeply painful situation, particularly horrific in the black marker of forged and fake reports of detention and interrogation, further escalating families suffering. The families and victims too have a right to the truth realising that the truth is a key step towards accountability and reconciliation,” she said.

The multiple reports filed and reviewed by the UN about Uganda detail abductions, torture, rape, harassment, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, intimidatory tactics to suppress political opposition, and prolonged incommunicado detention.

Our Monday lead also chronicled an erosion of democracy and rights that the UN Country team reported as perpetrated by unpunished state security operatives.

It commended the government for adopting the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act (PPTA) Regulations 2017, which establishes individual criminal liability for acts of torture.

High numbers of torture and ill-treatment cases however still persist, it noted.

According to the report, hundreds of opposition supporters and campaign staff were arrested, and detained and some subjected to incommunicado detention, including in military detention facilities.

A victims shows wounds inflicted on him as a result of torture. COURTSEY PHOTO

“Many of them remained in detention until mid-2021,” it adds.

Ambassador Ayebare on Monday said the UN country team’s report was shared in January and Uganda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gen Jeje Odongo, and the Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, who represented the country during the Universal Periodic Review, responded adequately.

In their submissions, Gen Odongo and Mr Kiryowa stressed broad lines of Uganda’s compliance with signed and ratified rights instruments, both regional and international.

They hoisted Uganda’s flag as that of a democratic country that respects the rule of law, consigning grotesque rights breaches to past governments.

“From a military and dictatorial regime in its past history, the [ruling] NRM government has made significant and commendable strides to improve the human rights situation in Uganda. Our government remains committed to upholding the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights under Chapter Four of the 1995 Constitution…,” Gen Odongo said in his report.

One case of rights abuses cited by rights groups was the brutal suppression of the November 2020 protests in Kampala in which the government admits security forces shot dead at least 54 citizens. Only a couple of soldiers have been convicted, leaving most victims without justice or compensation, mirroring the fate of those killed during the 2016 UPDF assault on the Rwenzururu palace.

Proof. One of the alleged torture victims shows a photo of him reportedly in one of the safe houses while testifying before the Human Rights Committee of Parliament yesterday. PHOTO BY DAVID LUBOWA

In the run-up to and during campaigns for the January 14, 2021 elections, the National Unity Platform (NUP) party presidential flag bearer Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, reported widespread arrests and torture of his supporters by security forces across the country.

Many were held incommunicado, some limped out of detention with life-long injuries while prosecution of those charged in courts has flailed over unending investigations by the state.

Lately, satirical writer Kakwenza Rukiribashaija, who has since fled into exile in Germany, became a symbol of state torture after he emerged from army detention with what he said was a maze of whip marks on his back.

Despite these commissions, government officials during the review gave Uganda a clean bill of health, but the Universal Periodic Review team saw some cracks, resulting in their raft of recommendations including an end to torture and enforced disappearances.

For instance, Mr Kiryowa told the assembly that the Constitution of Uganda guarantees to every citizen the right fundamental to liberty and that every person has a corresponding obligation to not infringe on the rights of others in the enjoyment of his or her rights.

He said the events of the November 2020 protests in which the government admits security forces suppressing the disorder killed 54 citizens, were not peaceful demonstrations or assemblies but the Opposition’s regime change plot.

“These activities were violent, premeditated, and organised riots, characterised by evidence of central command, control, and coordination. The government regrets the loss of lives during the riots and has extended condolences to the families of the deceased,” he said.

The leg of National Unity Platform mobiliser for Kasese District Samuel Masereka (right) with torture marks which he alleges were inflicted on him by officers at the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence in Mbuya, Kampala, where he was detained for more than 30 days. Left is a battered back of writer Kakwenza Rukirabashaija who operatives detained for more than a week since December 28, 2021. PHOTO/COURTESY/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Mr Kiwanuka said the law enforcement agencies in Uganda recognise the sanctity of life and have always upheld human rights in the execution of their constitutional duties, balancing the needs of security, with ethical concerns for the rights and wellbeing of all Ugandans.

“That is why the country remains peaceful and stable,” he said, adding that Uganda government does not involve in extra-judicial killings.