What you need to know:
- Government spokesperson, Mr Ofwono Opondo described the torture as isolated incidents by undisciplined security personnel.
- The United States’ statement, however, comes barely a day after Opposition Members of Parliament on Thursday walked out of a parliamentary session in protest of reported torture of citizens by security operatives, detention without trial, and missing supporters.
The United States Mission in Uganda has condemned what it termed as recurring credible accounts of forced disappearances, arbitrary detention and use of physical and mental torture against Ugandans by the country's security forces.
In a Friday evening statement, the embassy said the actions by Ugandan security forces against fellow citizens reflect poorly on the government and undermine the East African nation's Constitution which under Article 24 says "No person shall be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
"We urge the government of Uganda, as a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, to protect the rights of its citizens and to hold accountable those who violate these rights. We recognize the courage of the victims in sharing their experiences with the public, and or concerned citizens calling for the full expression of their constitutional rights and protections. We also commend the media for shining light on these stories and raising awareness,” the statement reads in part.
The statement was prompted by several reports of enforced disappearances and torture of some Ugandans who have been in security detention following last year’s violent presidential poll in which Mr Yoweri Museveni, 77, who has been in power for the last 36 years was declared victor.
Gruesome images of tortured victims
Gory images of Ugandans allegedly tortured in custody of Ugandan security forces have been making rounds in the media, sparking debate in the public with a section of the Opposition politicians claiming the actions by security operatives were only witnessed during the past regimes which Mr Museveni, has on several occasions condemned for human rights abuse- one of the reasons he went into the bush to lead a guerrilla war to topple then president, Milton Obote’s regime.
The most recent examples include novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija and the coordinator of the Opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) in Kasese district, Samuel Masereka who were allegedly abducted by security forces and tortured in detention for days.
Mr Masereka who was arrested on December 7, 2021 and held for over 30 days told journalists that he was interrogated about the activities of NUP, their source of funds, and their plans.
On the other hand, Mr Rukirabashaija was arrested in late December 2021 and charged on January 11, 2022 with offensive communication over a series of unflattering Twitter posts about President Museveni and his son, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
Government speaks out
However, while appearing on local television and radio stations, government spokesperson, Mr Ofwono Opondo described the torture as isolated incidents by undisciplined security personnel.
“There is no standing order to torture. Regrettably, we keep having recurring cases of torture from an otherwise disciplined section of the UPDF, which we regret. There is no denying that there was no torture. Even bishops sometimes don't follow the 10 commandments,” Mr Opondo said while appearing on a political talk show, NBS Frontline on Thursday evening.
Museveni condemns torture
President Museveni himself has in the past condemned torture of suspects in security custody saying “It must not be used again if at all it was being used like I see some groups claim in the media.”
“Why do you beat a prisoner? Coerced confessions by criminals are unnecessary if investigators do their work well,” Mr Museveni added in a televised address on August 14, 2021.
During the address, Mr Museveni said security forces must not reverse the gains of the [NRM/NRA] struggle and that what forced them to go to the bush should not come back to haunt them.
“Nobody should be in the uniform of the army when he does not respect the interests of [Ugandans]. When you respect the people of Uganda, you must observe the following: do not bark at people, do not beat the people, do not beat the public and even do not beat criminals and not even the children,” he said.
However, having previously either boasted of the heavy-handed approach of his security forces or turned a blind eye to acts of torture, a section of opposition politicians and human rights activists were skeptical about Mr Museveni’s message.
Opposition politicians react
On Thursday, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine who, Mr Museveni at one time said had been “beaten properly” by his security forces during a by-election in Arua District in 2018, said: “All Ugandans of good conscience need to stand in solidarity with the Members of Parliament, in this protest against torture, illegal arrests, long periods of detention without trial and military trials. If each one of us does what we can, the criminal regime will be no more!”
During and after last year’s presidential campaigns, Mr Kyagulanyi who contested against Mr Museveni, his supporters and other Opposition presidential candidates were allegedly subjected to torture as Mr Museveni sought to extend his rule to 40 years.
On November 18 and 19, over 50 Ugandans were killed by security forces who were deployed to quell protests following the arrest of Mr Kyagulanyi.
Reacting to US Mission’s statement, Dr Kizza Besigye, a four-time presidential contender on Friday tweeted: “Thanks @usmissionuganda for the concern about the abuse of Human Rights and commission of heinous crimes by the (rogue) regime in Uganda- violating the law and constitution with impunity. Please stand with the people of Uganda when they resist State terror and the gross injustices.”
MPs walk out of Parliament
The United States’ statement, however, comes barely a day after Opposition Members of Parliament on Thursday walked out of a parliamentary session in protest of reported torture of citizens by security operatives, detention without trial, and missing supporters.
Mr Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of Opposition led the walkout and was followed by MPs from different opposition political parties after he disagreed with Deputy Speaker, Ms Anita Among regarding the delayed action by the government on the continued torture of citizens, detention without trial, and abductions.
“The tortured victims have been witnessed and while that is going on, the State actors are unable to explain the killings that are illegal and extrajudicial, the disappearance of citizens, the torture of so many citizens…those we have seen, known and those unseen. That is taking place in all parts of the country,” Mr Mpuuga told journalists.
Last December, the U.S slapped financial and travel sanctions against the then Chief of Military Intelligence, Maj Gen Abel Kandiho after he and officers under him were accused disappearing and torturing Ugandans, especially Opposition supporters during campaigns. Maj Gen Kandiho was last month removed from office as head of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and posted to South Sudan as the head of security monitoring mechanism.
Worsening restrictions on civic space in Uganda
After the 40th session of Universal Periodic Review of human rights held in Geneva, Switzerland on January 24, 2022 the U.S said in a January 27 statement delivered by Delaney Felker, Foreign Affairs Officer, that it’s concerned about worsening restrictions on civic space in Uganda.
“The United States appreciates Uganda’s longstanding policy of open borders for refugees seeking safety, including ongoing efforts to support individuals from Afghanistan relocated by private organizations. However, we remain concerned about worsening restrictions on civic space,” the statement reads in part.
In its recommendation, the U.S said Uganda should lift ongoing suspensions of civil society organizations to contribute to promoting and protecting freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; pursue a full accounting of the violence and killings committed leading up to the 2021 elections, particularly enforced disappearances and the November 2020 actions of security forces, to ensure accountability and build public trust in institutions; and lastly, ensure respect for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons, including by ending the use of forced anal examinations on them.
The US gives Uganda nearly $1 billion annually, mainly for health and security support. In return, the Kampala regime has positioned itself as an anchorman of stability in the volatile Great Lakes region, including running security errands, more significantly fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia.