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Friday,November 27,2020 21:01 PM

Sh1.5b lost over torture

By Vision Reporter

Added 17th October 2008 03:00 AM

Sh1.5b can buy de-wormers for all primary school children in Uganda. However, that is the amount that the Government spends on paying torture victims as a result of the reckless actions of some law enforcement officers.

Sh1.5b can buy de-wormers for all primary school children in Uganda. However, that is the amount that the Government spends on paying torture victims as a result of the reckless actions of some law enforcement officers.

By Chris Kiwawulo

Sh1.5b can buy de-wormers for all primary school children in Uganda. However, that is the amount that the Government spends on paying torture victims as a result of the reckless actions of some law enforcement officers.

It is the amount that the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has awarded various torture victims since 2003 to compensate for the damage inflicted on them during arrest and detention.

In 2006 alone, torture cost the government sh261m, representing 71% of the awards for human rights abuses, according to the 2007 UHRC report.

That year, the tribunal heard and concluded 61 cases of human rights violations. Of these, 38 were on the right to freedom from torture, representing 62.3% of the total cases decided before the tribunal.

The report names the Police and the army as the agencies that torture suspects most.

It also mentions crime units, military intelligence and Prisons as other security bodies that engage in torture of suspects.

According to the Penal Code, anyone suspected of committing a crime can be arrested. You do not necessarily have to be a wrongdoer. The power to arrest lies primarily in the hands of security agencies, although members of the public are also eligible to effect arrests and hand over suspects to the Police.

Whereas the Constitution, the Criminal Procedure Code Act and the Police Act give the Police and other security agencies powers to arrest suspects, the same statutes forbid degrading treatment and torture of suspects.

UHRC chairperson Margaret Ssekagya states that arrests must be done within the law.

Ssekagya says the Criminal Procedure Code Act Cap 116 (section two) provides that while effecting an arrest, the officer is allowed to touch or confine the body of the person being arrested, “but torture is not allowed.”

The code also states that if a person forcibly resists arrest or attempts to escape, the arresting officer may use all means necessary to effect the arrest.

“But nothing in this section shall justify the use of greater force than was reasonable in the circumstances of the arrest,” Ssekaggya points out. She explains that a suspect should not be subjected to more restraint than is necessary to prevent his or her escape.

Greater force means that force which is not proportionate to the force that the suspect uses while resisting arrest.

There are a number of arrests where unreasonable force has arguably been used. These include; the recent arrest of suspected marijuana smokers in Kalerwe, Kawempe division, which resulted into the death a school boy and a Special Police Constable.

Kampala woman MP Nabilah Naggayi Ssempala was almost undressed as she was being arrested for allegedly holding an illegal rally at St. Balikuddembe Market.

“In case someone is not armed, why should you cock a gun or shoot in order to arrest him/her? When someone is running away, why should you shoot to kill?” asks Ssekagya.

According to the Police Act Cap 303 (section 28), a Police officer may use a firearm when a convicted felon escapes from lawful custody.

The officer may also use it against a person who through force, rescues another from lawful custody or against a person who through force, prevents the lawful arrest of himself/herself or any other person.

But before the officer resorts to the use of a firearm in the circumstances provided, he/she must have reasonable grounds to believe that it is the only way he/she can prevent the act (of escape or resisting arrest).

“The officer must issue a warning to the offender that he/she is going to resort to the use of a firearm,” Ssekaggya states.

The Police officer must believe that he/she or the other person is at the risk of grievous bodily harm if he/she does not resort to the use of a firearm, Ssekagya adds.

A person arrested, restricted or detained shall be informed immediately, in a language that the person understands, of the reasons for the arrest, restriction or detention and of his or her right to a lawyer of his choice, states the 1995 Ugandan Constitution.

During inspection of several prisons countrywide by UHRC commissioners , cases of torture were found in Kiburara Prison in Ibanda district, Lwamagwa and Kayanja in Sembabule district, Amuria government prison and Sentema Prison in Wakiso district.

Other cases of torture were reported at Soroti Central Police Station (CPS), Busia CPS, Kaliro Local Administration Police, Busesa in Iganga district and Mbale CPS.

Inside prisons, it is common for suspects or inmates to be beaten to the extent of sustaining serious wounds. This is mostly done by Prisons or Police officers or prisoners’ team leaders commonly referred to as katikiro, who often beat others with instructions from officers.

There were some extreme cases of torture unearthed by the Commission during inspections last year in Pece, Murchison bay and Sentema.

At Pece Government prison in Gulu district, a juvenile was tortured and denied medical treatment until the regional human rights officer intervened and had him taken to hospital.

In Luzira, the officer-in-charge of the Prison tortured an inmate who had attempted to escape. The victim was badly tortured that by the time of the Commission’s visitation, the inmate was still in Murchison Bay Hospital and was unable to walk or stand, the report reveals.

The Commission, through a letter to the Uganda Prisons authorities, recommended that the officer involved be removed from the position of command and be made to account for his brutality.

In Sentema Prison in Wakiso district, one inmate was found tortured by a katikiro who was acting on orders of the officer-in-charge (OC) of the prison. Both the katikiro and OC were cautioned.

The commission, in its previous reports has recommended that Parliament enacts a law to prohibit acts of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The law has not been enacted and no efforts have been made by Government at drafting the bill on torture.

Failure to enact a law criminalising torture contravenes the obligations undertaken by the government under the UN Convention Against Torture.

“We commend the efforts of Civil Society Organisations under the Coalition against Torture under the leadership of the African Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, for taking the lead in drafting the bill. The commission will work closely with civil society to ensure that the draft bill is completed. We urge the MPs to support the bill when it is ready,” says Ssekagya.

In the face of these challenges, Ssekagya says UHRC has embarked on sensitisation and education of security agencies, especially the Police, on how to go about arrests and avoid using excessive force.

This in the long run will help in saving the Government huge sums of money lost in compensation of torture victims.

UHRC is of the view that individual officers who torture suspects must be held accountable instead of the ministries/bodies they work for.

Though torture cases dropped from 286 in 2005 to 264 in 2006, the commission believes a lot more needs to be done to fight it. Torture was second to child neglect among the human rights complaints registered in 2006, the UHRC report shows.

Even when the commission awards damages to victims of human rights violations, there is still a challenge of Government delivering.

In its previous annual reports, the commission made recommendations to the Government to effect timely compensation, to no avail.

“The Commission has over the years made awards to victims of human rights violations whose cases were proven successfully but the majority of the victims awarded compensation have not been able to access it,” notes the report.

The mode of payment itself leaves a lot to be desired. For example, someone who was awarded sh59m had as at December 31, 2007 been paid in two installments but still remained with a balance of sh15.3m.

This defeats the purpose of the tribunal making such awards.

The Attorney General attributes the delay in payment to insufficient funds in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

UHRC, therefore, recommended the establishment of the Victims’ Compensation Fund to enable timely compensation.

The modalities for governing the administration of the fund, UHRC adds, should be left to the responsible ministry (justice).

Sh1.5b lost over torture

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