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Is Uganda losing the battle against torture?

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th July 2019 06:45 PM

UPDF spokesman Richard Karemire has re-affirmed the army’s commitment to sensitization of its personnel and more training in human rights to completely eliminate torture by its men and officers.

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UPDF spokesman Richard Karemire has re-affirmed the army’s commitment to sensitization of its personnel and more training in human rights to completely eliminate torture by its men and officers.

Uganda seems fighting a big battle against torture against its people. While the overall respect for human rights in the country is growing steadily, the element of torture has been described as persistent and rampant by different human rights agencies, including the official Uganda Human Rights Commission.

And so as the violation of most human rights falls, torture assumes the lion’s share of abuses, accounting for a whopping 70% of reported abuses.

Torture in Uganda is carried out against the people both by members of security forces as an investigative technique and by non-state actors for private gain. The good news is that some security institutions are committed to fighting torture, with the army currently ‘celebrating’ over being named Number Two in the perpetration of torture by its officers, better than police at Number One.

UPDF spokesman Richard Karemire has re-affirmed the army’s commitment to sensitization of its personnel and more training in human rights to completely eliminate torture by its men and officers.

UHRC’s 2018 report released ahead of the World anti-torture day June 26th, and the report of Africa Centre for the rehabilitation of Torture Victims ACTV paints a disturbing picture of the state of torture in the country.

And as if torturing people which sometimes results in death is not bad enough, the torture agents habitually deny the victims access to medical treatment, making recovery upon release from unlawful detention harder or even impossible.

To crown it all, the government does not prioritize the lawful compensation of torture victims, and UHRC chairperson Medi Kaggwa recently lamented the failure to release the compensation awards amounting to sh5b, which would have enabled torture victims to access treatment.

And although the operation of torture chambers known as safe houses is outlawed in Uganda, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI)’s research director Dr. Sekindi maintains that the so-called ‘safe houses’ or ungazetted detention centres are thriving in the country.

Strengthening the credibility of the damning reports of UHRC, ACTV and FHRI, recently found the state minister for Internal Affairs minister Obiga Kania desperately trying to prevent the consequences of police brutality that reportedly resulted into loss of life.

Obiga Kania personally intervened to stop an irate mob from burning the Kira Police Station over alleged torture of a suspect. The suspect only identified as Abiriga from West Nile died in the cells.

“I have asked the Inspector General of Police to carry out an investigation and bring all those involved to book,” he said when contacted by Sunday Vision.

 Not so far away from the Kamwokya-based treatment centre for torture victims, we found a medical professional called Chris (surname withheld on request), who has been urinating blood and is undergoing treatment from intensive torture meted on him while in service in the army where he was recruited after attaining his qualifications in pharmacy in 2010.

In 2014 when financial losses occurred and he was listed among the suspects, he was subjected to an extended period of intensive torture seeking to extract a confession for a crime he says he knew nothing about. Doctors treating Chris, however, say there is more to the physical issues as the victim is suffering post-trauma depression that will take longer to heal.

Ironically, while Chris has found hope and hopefully recovery at the Kamwokya NGO facility, some torture victims at Mulago National Referral Hospital next door didn’t make it. Two young men tortured at Clock Tower police post after a swoop of petty offence suspects in the city died in the big hospital, obviously brought in when it was too late to save them.

While security agencies conduct physical torture to extract confessions from suspects, in defiance against the express written warning issued by their commander-in-chief President Yoweri Museveni last year, non-state actors use torture as well. This often happens in financial disputes and to break resistance to land grabbing and evictions.

Our investigations over the past four weeks have unearthed a disturbingly high number of torture victims scattered across the country wallowing in different levels of morbidity and disability inflicted on them during illegal detention by security forces.

And while the Inspector General of Police Okoth Ochola, closed down the notorious Nalufenya detention facility in Jinja soon after taking office early last year, an indeterminate number of torture chambers have still sprung up in different parts of Greater Kampala.

And although the notorious Flying Squad of the Uganda Police was also disbanded by Ochola, his men under different units are still accused by the population as being the worst torture agents.

Although some of the torture survivors we have interviewed are still trying to seek redress, most victims have lost hope of ever getting justice from their country for the enduring disabilities and trauma inflicted on them by people paid by their taxes.

The war against human rights abuses is steadily being won, with the increasing awareness of citizens of their rights, the vigilance of civil society organisations, access to formal education and improved services like the registration of births and of persons.

But the battles against torture seems to get lost every year, for now, calling for more awareness and demand for accountability by the security services in Uganda.

Torture Methods and Venues Unlimited
While Uganda Human Rights Commission was lamenting government’s nonpayment of the compensation awards to torture victims earlier in the week, Parliament’s Human Rights committee was tabling its report on UHRC’s 2016 report to the plenary.

Three years have passed since UHRC issued the report, and the Parliament will hopefully debate it next week. In three years, that have passed, many of the torture victims have died, as have some of the perpetrators.

Hopefully, Parliament will approve the recommendations of UHRC, presented by its own committee.

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