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ANALYSIS: Torture in 2018

Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (Bobi Wine) appears in court in the northern town of Gulu to answer several charges slapped against him by the state, among which include unlawful possession of a firearm and bullets.

Justice Katureebe pain and Bobi Wine’s pockets

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Many Ugandans, including Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, agree that this year has been one of the worst for human rights violations.

This year coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but in Uganda, it has been dominated by extra-judicial killings of civilians, abductions and violent arrests of suspects, as well as forceful evictions of people off their land.

The most significant human rights issues included unlawful killings and torture by security forces, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary detention, restrictions on freedoms of press, expression, assembly and political participation; official corruption and criminalization of same sex consensual sexual conduct, including security force harassment and detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute or punish officials who committed human rights violations, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a problem.

For Katureebe, it appears one particular event stood out this year as it catapulted Uganda on the world map for human rights abusers: the violent arrest of MP, Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine).

The Arua incident which also saw Kyagulanyi’s driver, Yasin Kawuma, gunned down triggered protests in various Ugandan towns and even spilled over into major cities around the world including; Nairobi, London and New York, with protesters demanding the unconditional release of MP and pop star, Kyagulanyi.

At the event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Kampala on Dec.10, Katureebe narrated how the Kyagulanyi incident confronted him, not in Uganda but in New York, USA. He was there for a conference.

“When I introduced myself, a judge from Iceland talked of the events in Arua,” Katureebe said.

It was unexpected and led Katureebe to reflect on it.

“As a country and as leaders, it is time to reflect on where we have gone wrong and how we can make our country a better place to live,” he said, “We cannot continue to be identified by these events.”

Katureebe said the methods of pepper spraying suspects, kicking and beating them with gun butts violates the suspects’ rights. Uganda must build strong institutions and systems if it is going to turn around its ugly past that has been characterized by gross violations of human rights, he said.

Human rights agencies both within and abroad, including Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s director for East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes demanded that Kawuma’s killers be found through a thorough independent and impartial investigation into how he was killed. The investigation did not happen.

Instead security agencies continued to abuse the human rights of many Ugandans.

Lubega Medard Sseggona, the shadow minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs told The Independent that the death of Yasin Kawuma, Bobi Wine’s driver, is one clear example that shows that Ugandans are slowly losing the most sacrosanct right: the right to life.

“The trend is worrying because the respect for human rights in Uganda is going down,” said Sseggona, “The state and non-state actors have continued to violate rights with impunity.”

Sseggona told The Independent on Dec. 14 that the fact that there has not been a prosecution let alone an investigation yet “it is very clear who shot and who killed him is worrying.”

Nicholas Opio, the executive director of Chapter Four, a Kampala-based civil liberties non-profit noted how the re-emergency of the Internal Security Organization (ISO) and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) in criminal investigations has seen a return to “disappearance” of people.

“People disappear, then they are held incommunicado, then later you find out they have been tortured before they eventually get released.”

Opio also finds attempts by security agencies to ignore court orders in cases where court orders have been issued as a worrying trend.

“For them to subject those court orders to other interpretations other than the court orders is worrying,” he said.

He also notes how the year began with cases of extra-judicial killings of women in Kampala and what he called the “shambolic response” by state agencies.

Abuse of human rights is a pattern from the past. In many surveys, they have topped the list of human rights abusers with police leading the list of shame.

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