The ignorance of some law enforcers is a calamity to us
What you need to know:
- The Bible readers will agree with me that even when God handed the 10 commandments to Moses, he asked him to have them read to all the children of Israel and thus became binding. In that sense, whether you paid attention to what was read or not, you were bound. We as citizens have a duty to know the law.
On Tuesday, I watched a very disturbing video on Twitter where Rtd Col Dr Kizza Besigye had been stopped by security operatives inter alia the Uganda Police and some UPDF officers in uniform holding guns.
His vehicle was surrounded by these men and women as he tried to access a hotel for a meeting. His question was “under which law?” and the officer supposed to do the requirements of Article 23 could only keep saying, “this conference has not been cleared by the Inspector General of Police” and he had nothing useful to add but rather to pick out his phone and act as if he had received a timely call from a redeemer.
Dr Besigye wondered that if criminality is perpetuated by the people supposed to enforce the law, what kind of country are we in? I was deeply appalled by this scene and wondered whether this is the way all security officers do their work.
This is not the only scene I have encountered where a police officer is unable to elaborate to the alleged law breaker on the law so faulted. Some months ago, a friend was stopped by a traffic police officer and he inquired about the law that he had faulted. The officer looked green, he forged words but unlucky for him, he was speaking to a lawyer. Upon knowing that the person before him was a lawyer, he looked ashamed and asked to have a look at his permit.
At another event some Makerere Alumni were arrested during the convocation elections and I happened to reach out to one of them. My concern was on whether they were informed accordingly of the offence they had committed. I was shocked to hear that they were just thrown into the police cell, had their clothes removed and left with inner tunics with which they spent a night and a day in the unhygienic cell.
Another disturbing video alleged to have been recorded during the Kyambogo University guild elections showed a riot police officer fighting with someone alleged to be a student. It is confusing how a police officer who has gone to structure such a situation ends up alone throwing fists and kicks against a university student. I wonder what order is kept then.
The ignorance of some law enforcers has been passed over for a long time. It is an ulcer that is eating up the essence of having the law and law enforcers. They act ignominiously without any regard to what the law actually says.
In fact, some of them know the law from rumours. “Etteka ligamba…” then they add their own words. The victims of this ignorance are not the police officers themselves but the innocent citizens.
The idea of presumed innocence under Article 28(3) is arguably not part of their vocabulary or thought. The manner in which people are arrested appears to be some form of execution of a court decision; there is guilt prima facie. People receive countless beatings just on arrest; an act which faults a number of national and international laws.
A case in point, Articles 24 and 44 outlaw such kinds of beating. In fact, Article 44 makes freedom from such torture a right that cannot be derogated. United Nations sat in December 1984 and adopted the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and Uganda was among the first countries to sign this convention in November 1986.
This explains the existence of the aforementioned articles in the constitution. The incomprehension and lack of appreciation of such laws by law enforcers has led us to where we are.
It is worse when this ignorance meets possible manipulation from political actors. It would have been vindictive if they actually knew the law. These people would have done their best to avoid being seen as the ones breaking it.
Unfortunately, day by day the citizens live at the whims of these enforcers. What is forlorn is that the people themselves are ignorant about the law and this makes it easier for the former to act in any manner they want provided their statements are preceded by “the law says…” The populace should know that the law itself presumes knowledge of it. That is why under section 6 of the Penal code Act, no person can plead ignorance as a defence. The more ignorant you are, the easier you make it for ignorant enforcers to take advantage of you.
The Bible readers will agree with me that even when God handed the 10 commandments to Moses, he asked him to have them read to all the children of Israel and thus became binding. In that sense, whether you paid attention to what was read or not, you were bound. We as citizens have a duty to know the law.
I, therefore, implore all entities in position to make the law known to Ugandans and the Uganda Law society to take it up. The law enforcement agencies too need this kind of learning and theirs has to be enhanced since they are not just obligated to obey it, but also to enforce it.
Allan Richard Aijuka, Law Student, Makerere University
[email protected] -Email