How do you calculate the value of a lost arm, or a lost leg, cut away ears and a mutilated nose, lips and plugged-out eyes and annihilated eyesight of living people, Bience Gawanas, Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union in Ethiopia wondered recently
Gawanas was quoting the former President of Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda while questioning the extreme brutality of torture, at a meeting held in Ethiopia.
In the words of the commissioner, torture is a barbaric act and a gross violation of national, regional, and international human rights. Torture is inflicted indiscriminately on women, children and the elderly, many times by both sides of the conflict.
Interesting to note is that one would expect torture to exist mainly in times of conflict. But no! Even in peaceful times such as now when there is relative calm in the country, torture still does exist. So why torture?
Institutionalised security agents such as the Police, Violent Crack Crime Unit (VCCU), Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and prison warders will advance the reason that captives must be tortured to extract information from them. In the strictest sense of the word, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT), to which Uganda is a party, defines torture as â€œany act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on the person for the purpose of, among
others, â€œobtaining from him or a third person information or a confessionâ€.
Torture has severe implications on the physical and mental health, and social functioning of an individual as well as the closest relatives. As an organisation that provides holistic treatment to victims of torture in this country, the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims feels that there are other ways in which information can be obtained from people without subjecting them to such loathsome and ghastly treatment.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has no doubt done a commendable job in offering torture victims legal redress.
Many torture victims have taken the Government to court and UHRC has awarded them damages. But the question, as Kaunda and Gawanas might put across is, can money, no matter how much, mitigate the trauma of torture? Will lost limbs ever be recovered?
While officiating at a Human Rights workshop at Ridar Hotel in Mukono recently, Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, proposed that human rights need to be practised at home and taught in institutions of learning right from nursery school.
Will this perhaps reduce the statistical figures of torture victims in this country? A little something I suppose is better that none at all. Our Government is also greatly indebted to the people it serves.
As a country that has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, it is obligated to incriminate the perpetrators of torture who most worryingly are agents of security institutions.
While torture perpetrators should be made accountable for their actions, torture victims on the other hand have the right to restitution, compensation and rehabilitation. The onus is on us to live in this world harmoniously or not.
The writer is the Communications/Advocacy Officer with African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims
No amount of money can atone for torture