Govt: Torture not our official policy

Suspects in the murder of former police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi display torture marks as they arrived for trial at Nakawa Chief Magistrate’s Court on May 5, 2017. PHOTO / ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

What you need to know:

  • Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Muruli Mukasa says the government was not aware of the reported grotesque rights violations allegedly orchestrated by security personnel.

Torturing incarcerated suspects, whether government opponents, critics or criminals, is not an official government policy, a minister told Parliament yesterday.

Mr Muruli Mukasa, the Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, said the government was not aware of the reported grotesque rights violations allegedly orchestrated by security personnel.

Two men, satirical novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija and National Unity Platform (NUP) party coordinator in Kasese District, Mr Samuel Masereka, have become the latest faces of alleged State brutality after they publicly displayed a maze of whip marks and torture wounds on their bodies.

They claimed that they were tortured at the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) headquarters in Kampala’s suburb of Mbuya. 

CMI was until last month, led by Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, whom the United States sanctioned in early December 2021.

His crime, according to Washington, included superintending an organisation whose personnel illegally held incommunicado and tortured critics and political opponents of President Museveni’s government.

In accounts offered to journalists in Kampala, Mr Rukirabashaija and Mr Masereka separately said while in custody, they were assaulted and deprived of sleep, their flesh torn off with pliers, and they were scalded with hot water.

The former also said tormentors repeatedly struck his ankle with batons, painfully disabling his feet, even though he was forced to dance non-stop, while Masereka said his genitals were squeezed and on occasion hit with sticks.

Their harrowing tales alongside an Opposition walk-out of the August House over unabated torture claims added to a chorus of condemnation of the government by rights activists and development partners, most notably the US and the European Union.

After weeks of scrutiny, both at home and abroad, the government capitulated to demands for an explanation about the state of torture in the country in contravention of the Constitution and provisions of the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture Act, 2012.

“Criminal offences in Uganda are a creation of the law. So too are the procedures of arrest of suspected offenders. Political party affiliation does not invite criminal liability under our laws… Breach of due process in enforcement of the law also has remedies for those who feel mistreated or unlawfully treated,” Mr Mukasa said, reading from a prepared two-page text.

He said the “government does not know and doesn’t intend to know the political inclination of all the suspects in custody”.

He warned that nobody is above the law and any attempt to politicise the handling of offenders breaches the spirit of the Constitution and the impartial administration of justice.

“It would also promote impunity,” he said, adding: “Those suspects the Honourable members of the Opposition claim to speak for, and indeed all the suspects in custody, are entreated to have recourse to the remedies provided for in our laws in pursuing the management and conclusion of their cases.”

He spoke in the chambers yesterday afternoon, shortly after the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP), Mr Mathias Mpuuga, announced that they had formally notified the Speaker of their intention to table a censure motion against Security minister Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi.

The minister’s fault is taking a “backseat” in the face of violations by security personnel, according to the legislators currently absconding from House proceedings for a fortnight as a disapproval of government’s handling of the torture complaints.   

Minister Mukasa said those who commit such atrocities do not act on behalf of the government, and if, or when found guilty, would be held accountable.

“Torture is not a policy of government nor is it even a method of interrogation. The law on this is very clear. The President has in his own words stated the position and policy of government… Any person who conducts himself or herself in such a manner does so in his or her personal capacity and shall be handled in accordance with the Iaw,” he said.

Following minister Mukasa’s statement, lawmakers subscribing to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party and their Independent counterparts, as well as Deputy Speaker Anita Among, voiced concern over the unchecked rights abuses.

They argued that continued reports of torture of civilians in detention smudge the reputation of the government and Uganda as a country.

Ms Among said the commissions are a breach of the Constitution, and a vote of no confidence in the government that should be accountable to, and for, all its citizens.

“Reports of human rights allegations by security operatives keep coming up, day in and day out. There is need for security agencies to provide us information so as to build confidence and transparency among the public...the public needs to know if someone has been arrested, where that person is, why he has been arrested,” the Speaker said.

She added: “I know people are being tortured, we may not understand why or where…when you look at Chapter Four of the Constitution, and see what the State operatives are doing, you feel ashamed and wonder if we should continue having Chapter Four of the Constitution.”

The cited provisions of the supreme law of the land entre civil liberties, among them the right to be treated with dignity and protected against torture, while enjoying the freedom to associate, including politically.

In a rare rebuke, Deputy Speaker Among, herself a member of NRM party, enjoined the different branches of government to respect the Constitution that prohibits degrading and inhuman treatment.  

“The errant persons who are causing problems must be brought to book. And who makes them do that? Are they above the law? Government must be accountable for all its citizens,” she said.

Meanwhile, the government is investigating cases of missing persons based on submissions by the Opposition to the Security minister.  However, officials said they are finding it hard to locate the supposedly missing persons due to unclear particulars.

Mr Felix Odoi, the chairperson of the Parliament Committee on Human Rights, said they will file a comprehensive report within 45 days after thorough investigations into the state of human rights abuses.