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Increasing torture in detention cases

Why accused security institutions shouldn’t use public relation stunts and or window dressing

 COMMENT | OLIVIA NAKAWOMBE | In the recent past the media has been awash with distressing and extremely depressing pictures and video footage of tortured victims. One of the trending videos on social media shows a one Samuel Masereka with sustained wounds and torture marks on his legs and feet. Similarly, the images and video footage of writer and novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s are probably worse without a preferable option. Kakwenza’s arbitrary arrest and later abduction from his residence last year over allegations of insulting the First Son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, ended in a sordid tale of torture endured while in captivity.

The worst thing from these torture experiences is that they are only a fraction of the numerous torture cases registered in the country, majority of which do not make news headlines like these two have done.

For the record, Article 44 recognises that the right and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is a non derogable right irrespective of the circumstances. Further 24 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (As amended) outlaws torture. In addition, other legal frameworks like the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, 2012 and the Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2019 equally and expressly prohibit torture.

With the backing of the above legal framework, the state is obliged to protect its citizens from any forms of torture. However, this obligation has been undermined by Security agencies as a growing number of citizens mainly supporters of opposition political groups and those with dissenting views have been reported to the media to have been subjected to inhumane degrading treatment from the time of their arrest to continued stay in detention.

Many times, the forms of torture meted out on those arrested include but not limited to flogging, battering, burning and sexual abuse, according to Amnesty International. No wonder, one popular cartoonist known as Jimmy Spire Ssentongo has demonstrated in one of his satirical cartoons that the ongoing torture acts in Uganda exonerate the past regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote. This may however not be far from reality because for a country that has just been on the spot for a deplorable human rights record, it’s indeed shameless to see it continuing to make headlines at the international level, this time round for being torturous to none other than its own citizens.

More disturbingly, the government through its security and justice institutions have continued to be blind to allegations of torture. In some instances where such institutions have come out to make clarifications on torture, they have instead addressed it with public relation stunts and or window dressed it. This has thus created anguish among the citizens some of whom have witnessed or experienced this torture.

This then defeats President Yoweri Museveni’s communique that was issued in August 2021 during the COVID 19 lockdown calling upon security agencies to refrain from meting out torture in the detention facilities.

Additionally, the fact that security agencies have made it a practice to abduct people in broad day light and later taken them to torture chambers suggests that our government has institutionalised torture as a tool to deal with mainly its opponents.

This therefore suggests that to reverse this trend, we need to demand for accountability from Parliament to ensure that the perpetrators of torture are brought to book and dealt with as prescribed by the law.

There is need to implement the enactment of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, 2012 and the Human Rights enforcement Act 2019 which altogether provide for response mechanisms to hold the perpetrators of torture accountable. The media should also be commended for shining a light on all sorts of violations, including torture, thus enabling us as human rights actors and bodies to act. Furthermore, my urge to the international community is to continue putting sanctions on individual persons found culpable of propagating torture.

In a nutshell, every Ugandan deserves to live in a country free from torture, we can therefore achieve this by condemning torture and acting responsibly by the government to ensure an end to it.

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Olivia Nakawombe is a lawyer working with LASPNET as the Lobby and Advocacy Officer.

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