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UHRC faulted for failing to investigate alleged torture in safe houses

FILE PHOTO: Members of Parliament denied access to Kyengera safe house

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Members of Parliament on the Human Rights Committee have faulted the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) for not investigating torture allegations in suspected safe houses.

Officials from UHRC led by the Chairman Meddie Kaggwa on Wednesday appeared before the committee chaired by Buvuma Woman MP Janepher Nantume Egunyu.

Kaggwa told MPs that his Commission was aware of torture allegations at the Kyengera Safe House but had no knowledge about the suspected safe house in Nalukolongo, which MPs were denied access to on Tuesday.

Asked whether the Commission is aware of the number of Safe Houses in the country, Kaggwa said that they cannot know their number apart from the few that people complain to them which he declined to name.

Kaggwa further said that they carry out visits to security installations without permission but mentioned that for military installations, they submit formal communication before their visits.

His response attracted bitter responses from the MPs who accused the Commission of not being visible and failing to carry out their mandate as required by the Constitution.

Section 52, 53 and 54 of the Constitution provide for the existence of the UHRC, its functions and powers.

“In the performance of its functions, the Commission shall have powers of a court. The Commission may if satisfied that there had been an infringement of a human right or freedom order the release of a detained or restricted person, payment of compensation or another legal remedy or redress,” reads part of Section 53 on the Commission powers.

Section 54 says that the Commission shall be independent and shall not, in the performance of its duties be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.

Nantume said that seeking permission to visit military installations compromises the Commission’s independence.

Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi questioned the reason behind the Commission first seeking permission before visiting a military installation and whether they expect to find much after the process.

“Upraise this Committee about issues of Safe Houses. What are you doing as a Commission, Do you categorize them as places supposed to be there? How many Safe Houses do you know as a Commission and how many Ugandans are being kept in these Safe Houses?” asked Magyezi.

He said that without providing answers to the questions, the Commission was abetting crime and needed to be held accountable.

Kigulu North MP Bwino Fred Kyakulaga expressed disappointment saying that he expected to receive information about their investigations on torture in the alleged Safe Houses vis-à-vis what they have heard.

Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi wondered how the Commission would fail to perform despite the mandate upon it by the constitution. He accused the Commission of having been rendered impotent and abetting crime.

Bukooli County MP Abbot Ouma questioned whether the Commission was executing its mandate in captivity and whether it was really independent. Kalungu West MP Joseph Sewungu weighed in demanding that the Commission leadership resigns since it had failed in its mandate and in the process failed Ugandans.

Commission Chairman Kaggwa maintained that his Commission was executing its mandate effectively.

“I don’t accept that we have failed. We are the best Human Rights Body in Africa. I am equally shocked when I heard a question of who we work for, we work for the people of Uganda. We cannot be the investigators and implementers, we file reports and you have a responsibility to help us,” Kaggwa told MPs.

He added that they cannot be cowards to resign since they are working for the people also noting that there are good things done by the Commission.

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