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UHRC launches pre-trial detention guidelines

By Joan Akello

Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) officials say more than half of the inmates in prisons are on remand awaiting trial therefore the need for the institutions in the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) to implement the guidelines adopted from the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Every person arrested has a right to a fair and speedy trial but this is not the case resulting in high number of detainees on remand and congestion in prisons.  As of July, of the 41,837 prisoners, there are 18,566 convicts, 23,020 remands and 251 civil debtors. However, available occupancy capacity of prisons is a daily average of 16,034 prisoners. But this is exceeding by over 25,000 inmates.

Slow and weak investigations by police, financial constraints corruption, a backlog of cases and also limited human resource in the JLOS are cited as factors hindering suspects from getting justice.

Speaking at the half day event, Justice David Wangutusi of the commercial Court says that unfortunately, court is the last on the chain yet suspects are usually arrested before investigations are concluded and they have to be released after 48 hours on bond.

Wangutusi says it is worsened by police parading suspects before the media.

“If someone has already been identified as a criminal on Television, which court can believe the witness is telling the truth,” Wangutusi said, “ Suspect identification is very important in a trial…“I expect the police public relations officers …to be aware of the law.”

In such cases, suspects can demand damages because they have been treated as convicts even before trial regardless of whether they are acquitted or convicted hence a cost on tax payers. Wangutusi says it can be avoided if police follows the law and that with the pre-trial guidelines in place, it should be easier for the JLOS institutions to act within the confines of the law.

One of the guidelines on the conditions for pre-trial detention states that accused persons on trial should be segregated from convicted persons and given separate treatment appropriate to their status.

Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa, the director of the Directorate of Monitoring and Inspections at the UHRC says fulfilling the rights of an arrested person and the conditions of detention in Uganda is a challenge as most of the rights are violated and the conditions for detention are not met.

“Despite a legal framework that is, on the whole, compliant with international human rights standards, implementation of the procedural safeguards for arrest and detention is still weak in Uganda,” said Segawa.

Some of the commissions’ recommendations include strengthening Internal and External National Oversight and Accountability Mechanisms; reviewing the Law and Practice to address the causes of Pre-trial Detention and using the Regional and International Mechanisms to improve the situation.

Also in attendance were politicians, members of parliament, government officials from the JLOS and human rights related civil society organisations.

Mitooma district Woman MP Joviah Kamateeka, also head of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee says there has been improvement in cleanliness and also feeding of prisoners despite congestion challenges. She is however urging the prisons officials to fast track and phase out the ‘bucket’ system.

In October 2012, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Commission agreed that  there is a need to develop guidelines on conditions of police custody and pre-trial detention in Africa, and these are the guidelines  UHRC says Uganda  has to implement following the launch on Aug.8.

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