Uganda Peoples Congress

Report chronicles tales of torture and disappearance

From The EAST AFRICAN, March 20, 2006


The State Department report on Uganda's human rights record documents several events that adversely affected the country's image as it returned to multiparty elections following a 25-year hiatus.

It is not the only report that has raised questions about Uganda's human-rights record. A report presented to the UN Security Council last week by the Control Arms Campaign involving Amnesty International, Oxfam International and the International Action Network on Small Arms named Uganda as one of the countries that continue to trade in illegal arms in the Great Lakes region, in violation of UN arms embargoes, and accuses it of fuelling human-rights abuses in the region.

Other countries accused of taking part in this illegal trade are Russia, South Africa, Burundi, Rwanda, Libya and the United Kingdom.

Ugandan government officials deny the allegations. President Museveni's senior adviser on the media and public relations, John Nagenda, told the press in Kampala after the publication of the Oxfam/Amnesty International report: "I am sick and tired of organisations coming up with every charge against us. Let them bring evidence to back up their claims or shut up."

The report also tracks cases filed before the Uganda Human Rights Commission which, on August 30, ordered the government to pay approximately $16,000 (Ush30 million) in compensation to the family of the late Patrick Owomugisha Mamenero, who died in July 2002 in the custody of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).

"There were no reports of any action taken against security forces responsible for torture-related deaths in 2004 or 2003," notes the report.

The UHRC received approximately 58 complaints of torture during the year, which was less than half the number of complaints received in 2004.

The report says Esther Luggya, a former member of opposition leader Kizza Besigye's political group, the Reform Agenda, which evolved into the Forum for Democratic Change, was reported missing since December 2004 and had not been found by the end of the year.

It also notes, "On November 15, Achikulo Abuko, Amir Yahaya, Kesia Yasin, and Zacharia Obba were transferred from Luzira prison to incommunicado detention. The four men were charged along with opposition leader Kizza Besigye with treason. Prison officials said they were transferred to another prison to alleviate overcrowding. The suspects' lawyers were unable to verify the transfer or meet with them by year's end.

"The whereabouts of 10 members of the opposition Uganda People's Congress arrested by the CMI in July 2004 were still unknown at year's end. The 10 members were arrested with five others who were charged in July 2004 and released on bail," adds the report.

According to the report, on June 25, the UHRC revealed that the government owed approximately $425,000 (Ush790 million) awarded by the tribunal to approximately 60 persons. The UHRC tribunal confirmed approximately 22 torture complaints and ordered the government to compensate the victims. However, many complainants had not received compensation by year's end.

Prison conditions remain harsh and frequently life threatening, primarily as a result of the government's severely inadequate funding of prison facilities, the report said.

There are an estimated 19,258 inmates in the country's prisons and police cells - approximately, by one estimate, three times their planned capacity.

Some of the notable arrests mentioned in the report include that of opposition leader Kizza Besigye, on November 15, and his subsequent trial on rape, treason and terrorism charges, and that of two Members of Parliament belonging to his FDC party, Ronald Reagan Okumu and Michael Ocula, on murder charges.

The two MPs were acquitted and so was Besigye, over the rape case, but his treason case continues in the High Court.

According to the report, opposition parties claimed that about 60 supporters were arrested during the year for political reasons. The UHRC registered approximately 200 detainees held for offences against the security of the state.

There were reports that civilians were detained in military barracks and unregistered detention facilities known as safe houses. There were credible allegations that the CMI ordered detainees held incommunicado at police stations or in so-called safe houses," the report adds.

Another notable arrest was that of Brigadier Henry Tumukunde, a former director general of the Internal Security Organisation, on May 30, on two counts of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline and two counts of spreading harmful propaganda.

The charges were based on his statements that he had been prevented from retiring from the army and that he would not join President Museveni's political party after retirement. Tumukunde is still held at the Senior Officer's Mess in Kololo, an upmarket suburb of the capital Kampala.

The report details several instances in which errant security officers were allegedly not punished. The cases highlighted include the killing, in July 2003, of 21 civilians by UPDF helicopter gunships in northern Uganda and the April 2004 killing, allegedly by soldiers in the 309 Brigade, of five civilians in a mortar attack on an IDP camp.

The report also accuses security agents of rape in the war-ravaged areas.

"On March 25, the UPDF arrested four LDU soldiers for raping four women in an IDP camp in Kitgum District. On April 19, Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi ordered an investigation into the incident after MP Jane Akwero Odwong alleged that more women were raped. There was no further information on the investigation by year's end," it says.

Notable attacks on the media include the closure of KFM radio station and the arrest and prosecution of one of its talk show hosts, Andrew Mwenda, as well an incident on September 10 when "Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, Minister of Water, Lands and Environment, pulled a pistol on a photojournalist who was taking pictures at the scene of a minor accident involving the minister."

Also mentioned is the on-going investigation into the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria which suspended grants worth $201 million (Ush362 billion) to the country after an investigation uncovered evidence of serious mismanagement of funds.

Additional reporting by Bamuturaki Musinguzi.