Opposition skeptical about Museveni U-turn on torture

A man shows torture marks on his hand in court in 2017. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The head of State advised investigators to go by the book when interrogating criminals other than employing torture. 

President Museveni on Saturday warned security forces against attempting to gather information through torture. Mr Museveni outlined far-reaching consequences, including courts not admitting evidence obtained through torture. 

“It must not be used again if at all it was being used like I see some groups claim in the media,” Mr Museveni said of torture claims, adding: “Why do you beat a prisoner? Coerced confessions by criminals are unnecessary if investigators do their work well.”

It is not clear why Museveni has come out strongly against torture having previously either boasted of the heavy-handed approach of his security forces or turned a blind eye to acts of torture. On Saturday, the President said he does not want to lose gains fought for in the bush.

Mr Museveni said security forces must not reverse the gains of the 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.

The head of State advised investigators to go by the book when interrogating criminals. They could, he offered, use fingerprints, photographs, eye witnesses, sniffer dogs and other scientific methods.

November killings
Mr Museveni also addressed himself to last November’s killings where more than 50 people were shot and killed during a government crackdown in Kampala.

‘‘The only ones that faced our fire were those defending or promoting illegitimate interests including denying people free elections like the NUP party that was using terrorism and intimidation,” he said, adding: “Killing is only in battle or by order of court. It is a strategic mistake to shoot someone that has already been arrested or one that has surrendered.”

Ugandans have been split down the middle in response to Museveni’s latest address. It’s exactly two years now since the elite force that protects Mr Museveni — Special Forces Command (SFC) — descended on supporters of former Arua Municipality legislator, Kassiano Wadri Ezati. 

Opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi’s driver, Yasin Kawuma, was shot dead. Scores, including Kyagulanyi, Night Asara and Shaban Atiku were left seriously injured. 

While passing out police trainees in Kabalye last year, Mr Museveni maintained that the SFC officers who beat Kyagulanyi “in a good way” only acted in self defence.

Sceptical Opposition
Mr Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, who claims to have had his private parts pinched using a pair of pliers back then, labelled Museveni’s latest pronouncement on torture hypocritical. 

He said: “I can imagine how the victims of his brutality feel as they watch him shamelessly spew out lies, completely unconcerned about their plight. To you all victims of torture, illegal detentions and abductions, I can assure you that there will be a day of justice.”

The NUP leaders said the international community is finally bringing pressure to bear on Mr Museveni’s “murderous regime”, forcing Uganda’s long-serving president to speak “like an opposition leader against his own regime.” 

Former Opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye, who has severally faced the wrath of heavy-handed security forces, said Mr Museveni’s U-turn should open the eyes of those who enforce the acts of torture.

“If you commit human rights abuses under junta rule and protection, you may be taken to [the International Criminal Court] and the junta leader may turn against you tactically to try and save himself,” Dr Besigye said.
He has for long accused Mr Museveni of meting out brutality on Ugandans and petitioned the International Criminal Court over the issue last year.

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago told this newspaper that Mr Museveni’s “sudden change of mind” about torture “is still bothering some of us.” 

Mr Lukwago, another victim of torture at the hands of security forces, described the U-turn as “a political gimmick…targeting a particular interest either to appeal to donor community or those who could be following him up.”

He, however, said the statement lacked concrete action plans and, therefore, does not offer any solutions to the torture victims.

“His statement was full of lamentation. A statement which was strongly worded like that ought to have been followed by some actions. For that matter, someone would have expected him to say we have witnessed some murders and these are the steps we are taking. We have arrested some of the perpetrators and they are going to face the full wrath of the law. He admitted that there have been assassinations perpetrated by elements within his government, there has been torture, killing of political prisoners, and detention without trial. By his own admission, he is a candidate for ICC,” Mr Lukwago added.

Less talk, more action
Ms Margaret Sekaggya, the former chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission, said the current exposure of torture cases by media has firmly put Mr Museveni’s government on the spot.

“When such issues keep on coming back, it affects his leadership and it is good that he has responded,” Ms Sekaggya said, adding: “However, we hope the culprits will be brought to book. It is not only enough to talk about it but they should be investigated and prosecuted.” 

Ms Sekaggya also cast doubt about whether the latest pronouncement on torture will change things for the better. She said torture has been ongoing in the country for a long time and that action needs to be taken decisively. 

“At the moment, the situation has escalated because there is a lot of visibility by the media. There is now both internal and external pressure because these torture issues are being exposed and, therefore, he has to act,” she said.

Ms Alice Alaso, the secretary general of Alliance for Transformation political party, however, said instead of lamenting, Mr Museveni should have offered practical solutions.

“It was such a personality conflict of one Museveni against the other. He seemed to be responding to someone or something because we have lived with President Museveni for more than 30 years and we know when he is angry.

This time, he was not angry, but even the way he was reviewing the footage showed that he was not serious,” Ms Alaso said.