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It is time for a judicial inquiry into the UPDF

By Vision Reporter

Added 26th September 2005 03:00 AM

A learned friend and astute analyst

Abu Mayanja

One of the stories that hit the headlines and provoked intense and widespread discussion last week was the publication of the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the violations of human rights in northern Uganda.

A learned friend and astute analyst

Abu Mayanja

One of the stories that hit the headlines and provoked intense and widespread discussion last week was the publication of the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the violations of human rights in northern Uganda.

A learned friend and astute analyst

Abu Mayanja

One of the stories that hit the headlines and provoked intense and widespread discussion last week was the publication of the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the violations of human rights in northern Uganda.
The culprits named are the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgents of Joseph Kony and the UPDF officers and men.

Entitled “Uprooted and Forgotten” the report states that “soldier in Uganda’s national army have raped, beaten, arbitrarily detained and killed civilians in camps.... some beatings are inflicted for minor infractions such as being outside the camp a few minutes past curfew ... but the Government has failed to pursue prosecutions of the military officers before national courts that could put an end to such violations.”

Calling upon the US government and other international donors to condition their military aid to Uganda on real human rights performance, the report recommended that the International Criminal Court should investigate the army and the rebels and bring the guilty parties to book.

But the report was immediately challenged not only by the northern army spokesman Capt. Paddy Ankunda, but also by the defence and military spokesman Lt. Col. Shaban Bantariza who pointed out that the UPDF was “the only post-independence army that has instituted strict discipline on its forces in regard to its relations with the public.”

Giving the examples of the two UPDF corporals who were publicly executed for robbing and killing an Italian Catholic priest in 2002, as well as the three UPDF soldiers who were publicly executed in 2003 in Namukora for killing civilians, Bantariza invited the Human Rights Watch and their “misinformers to come here and witness the cordial civilian-military relations in northern Uganda.”

As though all that was not sufficient chiding and lecturing, the Minister of Defence himself, the Amama Mbabazi came out towards the end of the week and demanded, on behalf of the Government of Uganda, that the Human Rights Watch should immediately withdraw their report whose contents he castigated as “sweeping statements which read as political pamphlets of the Uganda political opposition.”

Accusing the rights body of deliberately ignoring the available police and military records of soldiers convicted and sentenced for even minor offences such as stealing civilians’ clothes, Mbabazi continued, “the government of Uganda cannot but conclude that HRW has abandoned its impartiality and allowed itself to be partisan in the run-up to the 2006 elections.” He warned that the government would use any options at its disposal if HRW did not withdraw its report.

While we awaited with abated breath the outcome of the stand-off between the government and HRW, the Weekly Observer last week came out with a bombshell in the form of excerpts from the testimony of former Army Commander, Major General James Kazini to the committee that the Army High Command had set up to investigate “ghost” or non-existent soldiers in the UPDF.

According to the Observer, this committee was chaired by the Amama Mbabazi himself and consisted of Lt. Gen. Salim Saleh and Lt. Gen. David Tinyefuza, with 12 co-opted members from the UPDF and the Ministry of Defence.

The highlights of Kazini’s evidence were that President Museveni was made to promote 1,300 soldiers on the eve of the 2001 presidential elections who included hundreds of deserters, and dead ones and that every month, the Ministry of Finance sends to the Ministry of Defence a surplus of sh1.9b being the salary of “official” ghosts and that this money is credited on the “Below the Line” Account in the UPDF in the full knowledge of top officers in the UPDF and the Ministry of Defence who include the permanent secretary of that ministry, the director of Finance and Principal Accountant of the UPDF.

As far back as 1996, they discovered there was no army on the ground and that the person (a woman) sent by the commander-in-chief to investigate the matter had to run away because her life was threatened.

the question of paying solders, it was reported, was not the responsibility of the Army Chief of Staff and that the Inspector General of Military Equipment does not know how may guns he has.

The Army headquarters does not know where these guns are kept; that the field officers can deploy them as they like without headquarters knowing; and that the army is being run and security maintained not on the basis of its internal organisation but because of the good politics of the President. At one time when Brig.

Henry Tumukunde was the commanding officer of the 4th Brigade, he planned to attack Kony at a place called Lubanga Tek in Sudan without telling Kazini who was the chief of staff and that after flagging off the forces he (Tumukunde) flew off to America leaving the forces without a commander.

the operation failed because it had no food and other supplies and the President had to recall it home when a third of its strength was on stretchers. It seems to me that combining these excerpts — to which no one has yet reacted —with the HRW report, there is a strong case for an independent Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the recruitment, training, organisation, administration and deployment of the UPDF especially in northern Uganda.

If there is no recruitment policy, if there is no central control of the weapons of the UPDF but any commander can deploy them at his discretion; if high ranking officers can order an operation and then go to visit foreign countries and if in fact a former army commander can testify that the strength of the army on the ground is not known and that our national safety is guaranteed only by the President’s good politics, is it not time for Ugandans to be worried?

There is need for a thorough and impartial judicial inquiry, headed by a judge of the superior courts, with experienced lawyers, accountants, retired army officers, retired permanent secretaries and representatives from the Uganda Human Rights Commission.

The Commission should probe not only the findings in the HRW report, but also the revelations by the former Army Commander and all other alleged shortcomings in the UPDF.

It is time for a judicial inquiry into the UPDF

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