EU rights envoy voices concern about Uganda 'torture' sites

Some of the torture marks on Kakwenza’s back. PHOTOS/ DAVID LUBOWA/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Eamon Gilmore said he had raised the bloc's concerns in talks with the veteran Ugandan leader and other officials during a visit to Kampala.

The EU's human rights chief on Wednesday voiced concern about the torture of detainees in Uganda and other rights abuses, calling on President Yoweri Museveni to ensure there is action to stop the practices, not just words.

Eamon Gilmore said he had raised the bloc's concerns in talks with the veteran Ugandan leader and other officials during a visit to Kampala.

His trip comes two weeks after Human Rights Watch issued a report saying the government was using secret detention centres known as safehouses to crack down on opponents and torture the captives.

"We expressed our concern about people being tortured in detention. (It is) a necessity to end that practice, also a necessity to bring to account those who have been responsible for torture," Gilmore said at a press conference.

"We also raised the issue of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, the issue of the so-called safehouses," he added, saying the reports needed to be investigated and those culpable held to account.

The East African country has seen a series of crackdowns on those opposed to Museveni's rule, particularly around the 2021 election, with journalists attacked, lawyers jailed, vote monitors prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.

Responding to the reports of torture, Museveni said he was "addressing it", Gilmore told reporters. "But I understand the practice has continued," he added. "What matters is not what is always said but done."

The March report by HRW featured testimony from several dozen former detainees and witnesses to abductions who described a catalogue of abuse by police, army officials and intelligence agents.

Victims told HRW about being bundled into vans known as "drones", which are associated with abductions of government opponents in Uganda, before being taken to secret detention sites.

They were allegedly tortured, with their captors pulling out their fingernails, burning their bodies with an iron or sexually assaulting them.

In many cases, the whereabouts of those detained remains unknown, HRW said, more than a year after the re-election of Museveni, who has ruled Uganda with an iron fist since 1986.

European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore addresses journalists in Kampala on April 6, 2022. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI

The Ugandan military has dismissed the report as "baseless".

"We do not condone torture as alleged in the report," spokesman Brigadier-General Felix Kulayigye told AFP after the report's publication, adding that the military had "investigated and taken action against our own officers implicated in human rights violations."

The rights situation in Uganda has also been highlighted by the case of an award-winning author and government critic who was charged earlier this year with insulting Yoweri and his powerful son in a series of Twitter posts.

The EU was among those to raise concerns about the case against Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who said he was tortured during his month-long detention and fled the country in February shortly before he was due to go on trial.