Protestors breach Uganda’s rights record defence at UN

The Attorney General (AG) Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka. PHOTO/ DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • In a two-day defence, the last on November 10 being disrupted by protestors, Attorney General (AG) Kiryowa Kiwanuka informed the committee members sitting in Geneva, Switzerland, that the government sanctions rights violators and compensates victims in proven cases.

Uganda has told the 75th Session of the United Nations Convention on Torture (CAT) that it does not condone torture and State actors implicated in rights violations do so on their own and against the law.

In a two-day defence, the last on November 10 being disrupted by protestors, Attorney General (AG) Kiryowa Kiwanuka informed the committee members sitting in Geneva, Switzerland, that the government sanctions rights violators and compensates victims in proven cases.

He provided no data to back up the claims during his live-streamed presentation of Uganda’s second periodic report as a state party to the Convention Against Torture.

“Several orders have been made including compensation awards to victims of torture, discontinuation of criminal proceedings on the account of torture against suspects as well as holding the perpetrators of torture personally liable and accountable,” he said, proclaiming that Uganda was the first in Africa and second in the world to enact laws against torture.

He submitted that security forces have integrated rights observance in either their training curriculum or policies while Cabinet has activated a Sub-Committee to regularly appraise both Parliament and Cabinet on rights abuses in the country and offer a remedial blueprint.  Mr Kiryowa, who as the AG also doubles as the chief legal government adviser, submitted that “like any other country, Uganda has challenges in ensuring full enjoyment of some human rights” he did not specify.

“In that regard”, he added, “the government will continue to sensitise and create national awareness on human rights. Knowing our past history, we are proud of the progress we continue to make in this regard; protection and promotion of human rights of our people”.  “This we do not because of any pressure, but because we firmly believe [that] it is good for our people and it is informed by our turbulent history,” Mr Kiryowa said.

However, when he returned the next day, on November 10, to substantiate his claims, the Attorney General, like the committee members, were taken by surprise when a handful of strangers --- who turned out to be Ugandan demonstrators --- invaded the session to proclaim that Mr Kiryowa was “lying”.

“Uganda is bleeding, the Attorney General is a liar,” shouted one demonstrator as his colleagues implored the UN to press for justice for torture victims in Uganda and sanction culpable government officials or those concealing the crimes.

They wore t-shirts emblazoned with images they identified as of mainly supporters of the Opposition NUP who they alleged were killed, tortured or missing in the hands of security forces.

Celebrity musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, heads NUP and was its presidential flag bearer in 2021 elections. His arrest during the campaigns triggered demonstrations in the capital, Kampala, and other nearby towns and President Museveni, in a televised address, said security forces shot dead at least 54 of the protestors, majority of who he described as “terrorists”.

This month marks the second anniversary of those shootings, and protestors in Geneva cited the failure to identify or punish the shooters of the November 2020 protestors as evidence of impunity that Uganda was seeking to evade scrutiny for, and lying about.

Security escorted the demonstrators out and tasked them to delete all images captured during the session, a day after AG Kiryowa, accompanied by nearly a dozen officials from different security and government institutions, said Uganda does not run illegal torture chambers, ironically known by the moniker “safe houses”.

In a rejoinder on twitter, Bobi Wine christened the chief government legal advisor a “consummate liar”.  “You can’t serve (President) Museveni and not become a consummate liar yourself,” he tweeted.

Police report

A police investigation, whose findings this newspaper serialised, concluded that only 13 of those shot dead following the arrest of Robert Kyagulanyi during the 2021 election campaigns had anything to do with the protests, which turned violent, while the rest succumbed to “stray bullets”.

The disparate official accounts of what Uganda Law Society previously categorised as “extra-judicial killings” prompted demands for justice and accountability by rights campaigners, including by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that petitioned President Joe Biden to act on the abusers.

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