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UHRC urges legislators to expedite the Witness Protection Bill

Wangadya (L) appearing before the humans rights committee

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is calling for expeditious passing of the Witness Protection Bill, 2015.

The bill which is still in draft form seeks to provide a holistic protection of crucial witnesses in a case who face a threat or risk.

The chairperson of UHRC, Mariam Wangadya who appeared before the Committee on Human Rights on Thursday, 03 March 2022 said that the tribunal is limited in carrying out its duties due to absence of the law.

“Witnesses are the most important people in a case thus there is need for them to be protected. Eyewitnesses are hesitant to interface with the commission due to lack of a proper framework that will protect them after the interface,” she said.

Wangadya said that the commission receives a number of cases but face challenges of funding.

“Investigations are critical for the tribunal. Funding was previously given to us by Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) whose operations in Uganda were suspended leaving the commission stranded,” she said.

Buhweju County MP, Francis Mwijukye asked the commission if they had interested themselves with claims that torture happens mostly in safe houses.

“What does the chairperson think about safe houses in this country? Do you think they are there? Have you heard about them? Have you visited them? Are they safe as the word indicates?” Mwijukye asked.

Ruth Ssekindi, the Director, Monitoring and Inspections at UHRC said they are working towards disbanding safe houses.

“We visited various safe houses in Kyengera, Zaana and one in Kalangala where they were illegally detaining suspects and ensured that they were disbanded. That said, a safe house can be a personal house, an office or a small shop but we are on the lookout for these,” Ssekindi said.

UPDF Representative, Col Charity Bainababo, inquired from the commission if they were sensitising the public about their rights during and after arrest.

“I would like to know if you have sensitised the people about their rights. Do they know that before an arrest, the officer has to have some sort of identification?” she asked.

Director Research, Education and Documentation, Kamadi Byonabye informed the meeting that sensitisation was being done although on a small scale.

“Sensitisation is done but the resources are not enough. Nonetheless we do tell them about their rights and talk about how to react while being arrested,” he said.

The Witness Protection Bill, 2015 seeks to establish a Witness Protection Agency and a national Witness Protection Programme to provide protection and safety of a witness in proceedings, to facilitate witnesses in the witness protection programme to testify and give evidence during proceedings.

The Witness Protection Agency is meant to provide the framework and procedures for giving special protection on behalf of the state to persons in possession of important information and who are facing potential risk or intimidation due to their cooperation with prosecution and other enforcement agencies.



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