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Human rights situation in Uganda

By dicta assimwe

Military improving while police back at top of the list of abusers

The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), a constitutional body financed by the Uganda government, released their annual report with mostly bad news for the police but some goods news for the military. The UHCR reports that there are no longer military torture chambers and the living conditions of inmates in military detention centres has improved, but goes on to say that these inmates serve the longest periods on remand.

According to UHRC, Sgt. Deo Kyamanywa has been on remand at Makindye military barracks for the last 15 years. If he is tried and is found innocent, Kyamanywa will have served more years than Lt. Ramathan Magara who shot at a crowd of Dr Kizza Besigye’s supporters during the 2006 general elections killing two and injuring others, including one confined to a wheel chair for life.

While the report does not show his crime, the reason for the long remand period is that the general court martial convenes irregularly. Even when it convenes, the report shows that it frequently adjourns.

Kyamanywa is not alone; the report shows that most of the people who have served long periods on remand are waiting for trial by the military court martial.

Others like Baptist Jean Nganizi could also follow the same route. The commission says Nganizi claimed not to know his alleged crime but has been on remand for one and half years at Mbarara police station, Makenke Army Barracks and Mbuya military quarter guard.

Capt. Amon Byarugaba on the other hand was allegedly arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for being a suspect in the People’s Redemption Army (PRA). He has spent four and a half years on remand at Makindye military barracks and is being tried in the general court martial. Sgt. Mugerwa Lukwago another suspect at Makindye barracks has been on remand for five years but has never been subjected to the court process.

The other prisoners who have been on remand for long periods are in Moroto prison. Most of them are being held for murder, theft, illegal possession of firearms and possession of war materials. Moroto government prison, according to the commission, says it has at least 25 suspects who have been on remand from one to four years due to delay of trial by the military court martial.

Human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi says he is not surprised by such happenings at military court martials since they are not a court but an administrative tribunal put together by the commander in chief to manage rebellion in the army. If Rwakafuzi’s reasoning is to be taken, then suspects like Nganizi and most of the 25 suspects in Moroto prison are awaiting trial in the wrong court. The commission report of the last year also said most of the suspects waiting for trial in the military court martial are civilians.

The Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) spokesperson Felix Kulayigye on the other hand says it is not possible for anyone to be on remand for that number of years. According to him the court martial sits regularly to commit or acquit suspects.

He says the only place where the trial of suspects could have delayed is in Moroto where suspects have rejected state lawyers and want their own lawyers. He says this is cumbersome because these civilian lawyers stay in towns and are unwilling to go to Karamoja for the trial of suspects in the military court martial.

When the suspects reject state lawyers they deny themselves justice, said Kulayigye.

The other station with prisoners who have been on long remand sentences is Soroti Central police station where seven prisoners have been on remand for three to four years. Their cases either stem from defilement or murder, and the report says their reason for being on remand for long periods is delay in trial. Rwakafuzi says this can be explained by the lack of high court judges; suspects are presented before magistrates, yet the magistrates cannot try their cases. He says they intend to solve this by changing committal proceedings where such suspects are not taken to the magistrates court.

While the report says the conditions in military centres were satisfactory, the detention centres in civilian prisons do not yet meet the required standards because most are overcrowded. UHRC also stated that torture in prisons has resurfaced after it went down in 2008. It stated that the commission found prisoners with fresh torture marks in Ntungamo prison and Erute prison farm.

They also say that violation of the 48 hour constitutional requirement was mostly pronounced in Kampala. The Rapid Response Unit in Kireka holds the biggest number of such suspects followed by central police station in Kampala.

The commission, however, seemed to have omitted what the public saw as major human rights violations in 2009. For example the commission committed a single paragraph to the human rights violations that occurred during the demonstrations that followed the government’s refusal to allow the Kabaka of Buganda to go to Kayunga. The commission also registered a lower number than the official numbers of people who died as a result of live ammunition during the demonstrations. Other human rights activists have said the people who died were more than the official figure of twenty seven.

Moreover, after a year that saw closures of radio stations and introduction of strict media laws, the commission, which has always had a chapter committed to media freedom in the past, did not have one in this year’s report.

The other section where observers say the commission’s investigations did not reflect the picture on the ground is the health sector. According to the commissions report there was improved access to maternal health care due to the increase in health centre IVs. The commission also said important steps were taken to mainstream human rights into the health sector human rights desk at ministry of health.

However, Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director for the Human Rights Initiative, said it was not possible that the health sector had improved because the effects of this improvement have not been felt by the public.

According to Sewanyana the report also missed details on the trends of legislation. He said legislation of laws like the public order management bill and amendment to the journalists act, did not show an improvement in respect for human rights by the government. Sewanyana added that the commission has failed to access how much power has been given to them by the constitution to improve human rights abuses. Med Kaggwa, the Chairperson of the commission, has said before that their duty is to report to parliament so that it can act on their recommendations.

The former chairperson of the commission Margret Sekajja said the commission report was good since it covered a range of new subjects that include rights to work and the rights of workers, the right to health as a basic human right, the human rights situation of persons with disabilities, hunger and the right to food.

The report said the Uganda Police Force was the biggest human rights abuser with 285 in 2009. The commission received a total of 916 complaints of abuse down from 1060 in 2008 but they only registered 785 to other government institutions.

The increase in human rights abuses moves the police from the number two human rights abuser in last years report to number one this year. The last report had ranked private individuals as number one ahead of the police and Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF). The UDPF kept its number three position with 106 abuses cases, while private individuals who went to number two, registered 256 abuse cases.

The report sites torture and cruel inhuman treatment or degrading treatment or punishment as the most common form of abuse contributing 314 cases, which constitutes 31 percent of total abuse cases. Unlawful eviction is amongst the least common abuse and contributes to just 0.1 percent of the registered abuse cases. Child marriage, denial of freedom of movement, forced disappearance and forced labour also each contributed to 0.1 percent of the registered abuses.

As a way to solve the high number of torture cases, the commission recommended to parliament to hasten the process of enacting the bill on the prohibition and prevention of torture into law. The bill, which has been on the shelves for a year now, would make individual perpetrators of torture criminally liable and would in turn reduce the number of cases committed.

Whether the report will have an effect other than being a source of documentation is unknown since parliament rarely discusses these human rights reports.

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