By Tonny Raymond Kirabira
Recently there have been many horrible media reports about battering of journalists and other civilians during the free Bobi Wine riots that rocked Kampala and other parts of Uganda.
Sadly, many people are still nursing wounds, although the media attention tends to point more towards politicians who are Members of Parliament.
It was reported in the New Vision that the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Gen. David Muhoozi, had instituted a team to inquire into the recent battering of journalists and civilians.
This is not only a positive step by the military to redeem its public image, but also allows the State to move forward in complying with key constitutional obligations in regards to human rights; to identify, try and punish those who violate human rights. In this regard, we should welcome this important step, recognition and apology by the UPDF but also would like to see four aspects in this Team which are truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence of the crimes.
In the aftermath of the Arua by-election violence, an adhoc-committee was quickly sanctioned by Parliament to report about the specific involvement and torture of its members. I watched the recent proceedings and couldn’t help but wonder whether Parliament was guided by any technical personnel regarding how to report about such serious crimes like torture. For starters, the mandate of the Committee was largely vague and no wonder the final report tabled before the floor generated divided opinions-more like or theatre.
This reminds us of the Justice Oder led Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights 1986 which was appointed three months after President Museveni had taken office. Other members included Dr. Jack Luyombya, John Nagenda, Dr. Edward Khiddu Makubuya and Dr. Joan Kakwenzire. Its mandate was very wide to include the investigation of mass murders, arbitrary arrest, detention, unfair trials and torture. The final copy of the Commission’s report was not easily available to the public and little reference has been made to it since its publication in 1994.
I would, therefore, suggest that apart from the UPDF probe team, an independent and impartial commission be instituted to address the issue of torture, illegal detention and kidnaps. The torture allegations in the closed Nalufenya and other detention facilities should also be investigated. If this commission is properly constructed, legal issues of interfering with ongoing court process or sub judice should not arise. It is important that the scope, size and subject matter for consideration be determined at the start to avoid a repeat of the shortcomings of the Justice Oder Commission.
Also, the mandate of the Commission should encompass four aspects of promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence of the crimes.
There should be a proper examination of how victims during riots have died and this requires the conduct of full forensic examinations in order to identify and match external objects like bullets. There should also be an investigation and adequate examination of the use of lethal force by the security forces.
All this, however, requires a clear definition and understanding of the role of all stakeholders. The Commission will have to examine the role of the Police, military and intelligence services.
Our Constitution spells out the mandate of these organisations, but many times there seems to be conflict. Soldiers are often pulled into policing functions that are not really theirs, such as participating in the anti-riot operations and fighting organised crime.
In addressing the issue of journalists’ safety, the Commission should inquire into the security forces operations with regard to public order, the nature of the work of field news reporters and the very restricted circumstances in which these lines will not be crossed.
Finally, the findings of both the UPDF probe team and the independent commission of inquiry should be published as soon as possible. Society has the inalienable right to know the truth of what happened, as well as the reasons and circumstances in which aberrant crimes such as torture are committed.
This evidence from these inquiries should be forwarded to the Director Of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for sanctioning of criminal charges against individuals and further judicial determination.
The writer is a lawyer