By Ian Katusiime
A collection of human rights groups have advised the government to urgently suspend the crime preventers program ahead of the February 2016 national elections.
“Crime preventers” are a volunteer force of civilians recruited and managed by police to report on and prevent crime in cooperation with the police and communities. In practice, crime preventers are strongly affiliated with the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Its members have acted in partisan ways and carried out brutal assaults and extortion with no accountability, the organizations said. These include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Network Uganda (HURINET-U), Chapter Four Uganda and Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI).
“Using volunteer or reserve forces to complement community policing is not a new or inherently bad concept, but these forces need to be regulated, impartial, effectively trained, and held accountable to the highest standards if they take on policing functions,” said Maria Burnett, Senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Crime preventers should not be undisciplined and unaccountable recruits who become the eyes and muscle of the ruling party in every village.”
Scant information is available about the exact mandate, command structure, and number of crime preventers, and there is no legal statute establishing the program. Although the government has said that a bill will soon be brought to parliament, there is insufficient time before the elections for parliament to adequately debate such a law and for the government to implement it appropriately, the groups said.
Official statements indicate that the program is vast and that recruitment rapidly increased in the months leading up to the official start of the presidential campaign period in November 2015.