- The Uganda constitution 1995, in Article 24 under the bill of rights provides for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment
- Special investigations should be instituted to bring to book all the police officers who have been involved in gross violation of human rights including the torture of suspects
- Under Uganda’s criminal justice system, suspects are presumed innocent until proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction
- There is need for a robust human rights protection mechanisms involving both the rights holders and duty bearers
By Moses Sserwanga
Kampala- The rising number of cases of suspects being tortured by police officers and other security operatives while in detention centers have convulsed the country and whipped up unprecedented public outcry.
Television and radio interviews of torture victims have been recorded while video clips of victims narrating their ordeal have gone viral on the social media.
And yet this worrying trend is against the NRA/NRM long held doctrine against torture and political assassinations dating back to the bush war days spanning from the early 1980s. When President Yoweri Museveni launched the NRA/NRM revolution and the bush war some 36 years ago, he maintained a zero tolerance for torture as a means of extracting intelligence information or illegal confessions from suspects.
It is therefore, surprising and utterly disreputable that in the recent past, some police officers have taken it upon themselves to torture suspects while in police custody and other un-gazetted detention centers. As a result, in 2016, Uganda Human Rights Commission, awarded Shs 50 million to be paid to the survivors and families of the tortured people in West Nile. Some of the torture by the security forces claimed lives of people in West Nile.
For instance, Ms Serepta Ubai, was awarded Shs 15 million after her grandson was tortured by policemen in 2008. The suspect died at police cell shortly after the torture. The Commissioner, Meddie Mulumba, also awarded Shs 30 million to the family of late Fred Odama, who was tortured by police and he died at the police cells in Arua district.
A special committee of the police force led by the Director of Legal and Human Rights, Mr Erasmus Twaruhukwa and whose other members included Dr John Kamya, James Kushemererwa and Mr Emilian Kayima, the Uganda Police Spokesperson recently recommended the closure of Nalufenya after it found that the detention facility did not meet minimum standards required of a holding place for suspects.
Ugandan Police Spokesperson, Mr Emilian Kayima
And whereas, the new police administration led by the Inspector General of Police, Mr Martin Okoth Ochola should be commended for their brave action to close the Nalufenya detention facility following wide public protests -that it was one of the most recognized torture chambers in the country, special investigations should be instituted to bring to book all the police officers who have been involved in gross violation of human rights including the torture of suspects.
The Uganda constitution 1995, in Article 24 under the bill of rights provides for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment. It states thus: ‘no one shall be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.’
The Prohibition and Prevention of Torture Act read together with other international legal instruments inter-alia, the United Convention Against Torture also- outlaws torture in any form including but not limited to physical and psychological torture, holding suspects incommunicado and denying them adequate medical care.
The courts of Uganda have gone ahead to uphold these principles that govern the fundamental human rights of suspects and one of the recent cases being the 19 suspects in the Kaweesi murder case . The High Court held that there was gross violation of the suspects human rights when they were subjected to various forms of torture while in detention at Nalufenya.
Ugandan police handling a suspect in a degrading manner. Photo by AP
The court observed and rightly so that the rule of law is not a self-effecting doctrine where it’s enforcement is a function of the will of people but rather has institutions charged with enforcing it, especially the police and the judiciary.
The practice of torture, therefore, is in stark contrast to the doctrine of the rule of law. All suspects in the custody of the state should be accorded their fundamental human rights as enshrined in our constitution. Under our criminal justice system suspects are presumed innocent until proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. The Uganda police and other security agencies should not be allowed a free hand to torture suspects because anyone can fall victim any day.
And in its continued effort to clean up a badly tarnished police image, the new police administration should carry out regular independent inspections of all detention facilities across the country to stamp out human rights violations. It is in the best interest of society that police cells and other detention facilities meet the intentionally acceptable standards to ensure the observance of human rights and promotion of the rule of law.
We need a robust human rights protection mechanisms involving both the rights holders and duty bearers. All is not lost on us.
The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Uganda and Media, Communications Consultant/trainer.