Statement on the recent Human Rights Concerns in the Country and UHRC Interventions
The Uganda Human Rights Commission is constitutionally mandated under Article 51 to protect and promote human rights in Uganda. It is in line with this mandate that the Commission monitors the human rights situation in the country and makes recommendations to those concerned. The same Constitution also mandates the Commission to carry out continuous programmes aimed at creating and sustaining within society awareness of the provisions of the Constitution. In this regard, the Commission usually makes various interventions including pronouncing itself on some critical emerging human rights issues to provide guidance to the country.
In the recent past, he Commission has noted a number of incidents around the country which have caused great concern given their human rights implications. We highlight some of the concerns including the Commission’s subsequent interventions and recommendations below:
1.0 Human rights concerns during the arrest and detention of suspects
The Commission has been receiving a number of complaints of alleged human rights violations against some members of security agencies committed during the arrest and detention of suspects. The alleged violations relate to torture, deprivation of the right to personal liberty, denial of access to relatives, lawyers, personal doctors and visitors, poor conditions of detention and deprivation of the right to medical care. The Commission has therefore commenced investigations into these allegations. Some specific cases are highlighted below:
a) Violation of the right to freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
The Commission and indeed the entire country were deeply concerned by a video clip that went viral, showing the brutal arrest of Yusuf Kawooya in broad day light along Colville Street near Christ the King Church in Kampala on Thursday 18th October 2018. The Commission strongly condemns the brutal arrest of an unarmed citizen which was tantamount to violation of the right to freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as provided under Article 24 of the Constitution. We have also variously pointed out that such acts are in contravention of Articles 44 of the Constitution which expressly categorises the freedom from torture as one of the four non derogable rights strictly prohibited under the Constitution, the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The Commission concurs with the recent guidance offered by the President of Uganda in his letter to security personnel that they should handle suspects who resist arrest using appropriate response. Scenes of the security personnel violently hitting Kawooya with the butt of the gun under the claim that the suspect had bitten him on the finger are not only barbaric but regrettable and must attract sanctions against the perpetrators. The disproportionate force used by the arresting officers that day was in contravention of Article 221 of the 1995 Constitution which obliges all security agencies to observe and respect human rights and freedoms in the performance of their functions. The Commission reminds all officers carrying out arrests that whereas sections 28 of the Police Act as well as other international guidelines allow the use of force in specific cases, they also provide that the force must be necessary and proportionate to the danger posed by the suspect.
b) Arrests carried out by non-uniformed people
The Commission is concerned about the increasing reports of non-uniformed people carrying out arrests of suspects. Whereas we recognise that security agencies employ non-uniformed security personnel within their ranks, of recent we have seen many incidents of such persons carrying out arrests without being accompanied by their uniformed counterparts or identifying themselves clearly. This practice has caused panic and anxiety among members of the public who have no means to differentiate between genuine security personnel and criminal elements. There is therefore need for closer coordination within the security agencies to ensure that any arrests they make are within the ambit of the law.
c) Holding suspects incommunicado
Acts of holding suspects incommunicado violate Article 23 (2) (3) of the Constitution of Uganda which provides for suspects to be detained in a place authorised by law; be informed at the time of arrest and detention of the reasons for his or her arrest in a language he or she understands. The Constitution under Article 23 (5) (a) (b) and (c) also provides that the family of the arrested person should at the request of the person be promptly notified of the arrest and place of detention; the next of kin, lawyer and personal doctor be allowed reasonable access to the person and that the suspect be allowed medical treatment.
d) Long detention of suspects
The Commission has received and is investigating a number of complaints related to long detention of suspects which violates Article 23(4) of the Constitution of Uganda which requires that suspects are produced and charged in courts of law not later than 48 hours from the time of arrest. We are concerned about the detention of suspects for long periods without being brought before courts of law which is a violation of their constitutional rights including the right to a fair and speedy trial provided under Article 28(1).
The commission has received a number of complaints alleging long detention of suspects some of whom were later released on either bond or bail, without any charge while others are still in detention without trial to date. We strongly condemn such acts which violate the suspects’ right to personal liberty provided for under Article 23 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.
The Commission reiterates its call to arresting authorities to respect the rights of suspects under their custody and to respect provisions of the Constitution under Article 28(3) (a) which presume every suspect to be innocent until proved guilty by a competent court.
Holding persons incommunicado violates Article 23(5)(a) and (b) of the Constitution of Uganda as well as human rights standards in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which requires the next of kin of the detainee to be informed and access to the detainee by the lawyer and personal doctor. Allegations of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are also being investigated, for if they are true, the suspects’ rights under Articles 24 and 44 (a) of the Constitution of Uganda would have been violated. In this regard, the Commission reminds law enforcement agencies, particularly the police against negating their obligations on freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which is a non-derogable right, the violation of which is strictly prohibited under the Constitution, the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the ICCPR.
2.0 UHRC Interventions following the recent human rights concerns
The Uganda Human Rights Commission has been monitoring the human rights situation in the country specifically of recent, with regard to the rights of suspects. As mentioned earlier, we have received a number of allegations of human rights violations relating to the rights of suspects during arrest and detention.
a) Initiated investigations into alleged violation of the human rights during arrest and detention of suspects
The Commission as earlier pointed out has so far received a total of 18 complaints of alleged human rights violations against security agencies commonly relating to torture during arrest and detention and deprivation of the right to personal liberty among others, since January to date at our Kampala Central Regional office alone. In line with our mandate under Article 52 (1) (a) therefore, the Commission is investigating these cases of alleged human rights violations against suspects during their arrest and while in detention. The Commission has also on its own initiative as provided under the same constitutional provision initiated investigations into alleged human rights violations against Yusuf Kawooya who was brutally arrested on the streets of Kampala last month.
The Commission learnt of Kawooya’s release on 25th October 2018, and on viewing televised pictures of his condition and media reports of his hospitalization at Kampala Hospital, we dispatched a team that visited Yusuf Kawooya at the hospital on Saturday 27th October 2018 and interviewed his wife.
b) UHRC monitoring visit to Kireka Special Investigations Division (SID)
The Commission is also concerned about increasing allegations of the practice of holding suspects incommunicado by various security agencies. The Commission whose other mandate under Article 52 (1) (b) is to visit places of detention and following the many complaints received from relatives of suspects for allegedly being held in unknown places and for long periods without trial, I personally led a team of officers to the Kireka Special Investigations Division facility on 30th October 2018, to establish the whereabouts of among others Ssenfuka Sulaiman who was arrested early October from Kazo Angola in Kawempe; Lubega Robert Walusimbi Baker who was allegedly re- arrested in court premises after he was granted bail and Lukumbuka Brian Robert. All the suspects had allegedly been denied access by relatives, lawyers and personal doctors. The Commission was able to access the four suspects and interviewed them to assess their condition. The Commission subsequently informed their families who had naturally become anxious about the suspects because they had been allegedly denied access to the detainees.
Following the Commission’s intervention, Ssenfuka Sulaiman was produced before court and remanded to prison while Robert Lubega and Abdulrahman Namwanja were released. The Commission is working out modalities with security agencies to ensure that the rights and entitlements of these and any others that are incarcerated provided for under Article 23, 24, 44 and 28 of the Constitution such as access are respected and actualized even while in detention.
Today I, however wish to take this opportunity to clarify to the public about Article 53(2) (a) of the Constitution. Whereas the Uganda Human Rights Commission has been widely misconstrued to have abdicated its powers as provided in this Constitution which give it powers to order the release of a detained person if satisfied that there has been an infringement of a human right or freedom. There is need for those reading this Constitutional provision to interpret it in context of the provisions that follow right below this same Article i.e. 53 (4) (a) (b) and (c). There is need for the Article to be read in its entirety which in effect makes these provisions on the other hand to bar the Commission from handling any matter before court or judicial tribunal; matters involving relations or dealings between the Government and any foreign state or international organisations and matters relating to the exercise of prerogative of mercy.
3.0 UHRC high level engagements with the leadership of the various security agencies
The Constitution of Uganda under Article 52 (1) (h) also enjoins the Commission to monitor Government compliance with international treaty and convention obligations on human rights. The Commission therefore as the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), is the constitutional body that advises government on matters of human rights in the country. One of the ways used by the Commission to advance the protection and promotion of human rights is through regular meetings with key Government agencies.
Following the recent human rights concerns in the country especially with regard to allegations of human rights violations by some security personnel during arrests and detention, I caused a series of meetings with leaders of security agencies, with a view to finding ways of addressing factors that impede the full enjoyment of human rights by all citizens.
The series of meetings with the IGP and Deputy IGP; Chief of Defence Forces of the UPDF; the Minister in Charge of Security with the Directors of ISO and CMI achieved consensus on the following as key steps to be taken in taking forward the advancement of human rights in Uganda:
- That Security agencies including intelligence and military agencies, should observe human rights in accordance to Article 221 of the Constitution, and desist from committing acts of torture or ill-treatment. Security agencies should have a zero tolerance for torture, and there should be institutional will to dissuade staff from the use of torture. They should ensure disciplinary action and punishment of their personnel who perpetrate acts of torture preferably under the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act of 2012 and that this would act as a deterrent to other officers. Officers should be reminded that torture and ill-treatment often leads to unreliable information and false confessions and that suspects subjected to severe physical or mental pain or suffering are likely to say anything to make the pain stop. The pain inflicted also creates problems for memory, mood, and thinking, resulting in unreliable information.
- Security agencies are also reminded of the new Government policy requiring MDAs to meet the cost of compensation awards by Courts of law or UHRC tribunals to victims of violations rights.
- Security agencies were reminded to always enforce the standard operating procedures while carrying out arrests as provided for under Article 23 of the Constitution and the Police Act of 1994. That persons arrested, restricted or detained should be kept in places authorized by law and should be produced before court within 48 hours as stipulated under Article 23 of the Constitution. Arresting officers should also observe suspect’s legal safeguards such as the right to access of the next of kin, the right to a lawyer, the right medical care or personal doctor, the right to remain silent, the right be produced before court within 48 hours among other provisions under the law.
- Security agencies should consider improving the investigative and interviewing skills of their officers. This should include training their officers in modern investigative and interviewing skills as well as investing in using science and forensics during investigation. With thorough and effective investigations, security agencies do not have to rely on confessions and information from suspects. It also minimizes the risk of torture. This is because, evidence collected out of an investigation is more convincing and reliable in court other than confessions and confessions got from torturing a suspect is not admissible in court according to the new the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act of 2012.
- That there is need for security agencies to conduct background checks on persons recruited within the Security agency, to ensure that they have no criminal record or violent past. This is important to ensure eliminate persons who have a likelihood of committing acts of torture.
- That UHRC and Heads of Security Agencies should hold regular collaborative meetings to jointly address any emerging human rights concerns in the country
4.0 Human rights violations arising from rampant land evictions
The Commission has noted with concern human rights violations that occur during forced land evictions. The Commission has received complaints from some of the victims and has seen media reports of the incidents the notable ones having taken place at Sekanyonyi-Lusanja in Kasangati Town Council in Wakiso district where 70 families and 350 houses were allegedly destroyed and at Kirangira and Wanyonyi in Nama Sub County in Mukono district.
Although there have been some interventions by the President when he visited the victims of the Lusanja land eviction incident on October 2018, they still suffer the impact of a range of human rights violations including destruction of property; lack of adequate housing; loss of livelihoods; displacements and injury to persons among others. The Commission is concerned that the current rampant land evictions have left many people homeless and worse still mainly affect the already vulnerable and disadvantaged people such as women, a number of whom are often head of households, older persons, persons with disabilities, and persons with chronic diseases, children and youth. The land evictions have also in some instances resulted into violence, death, arrests, detention, insecurity and tension within communities.
While the Commission acknowledges the importance of development and how it facilitates the enjoyment of human rights, there is need for key players to ensure that the processes do not infringe on the human rights for whom it is intended. The Commission therefore maintains that the question of rampant forceful land evictions and land conflicts in the country needs to be comprehensively addressed if violation of human rights is to be curbed. We therefore urge Government to urgently take all necessary measures to end the massive land evictions without perpetuating the attendant human rights violations against victims that arise therefrom.
Given the current condition of victims of land evictions which has left many without adequate shelter; poor or no sanitation and social amenities such as toilets, beddings and loss of livelihoods leading to economic hardships and deprivation of access to social services including health facilities and schools for children from affected families among many other infrastructure, the Commission is calling for on Government to urgently resolve the land question in Uganda in line with its obligations to its citizens and put in place measures to enforce adequate and timely compensations to the victims to guarantee them acquisition of alternative places to stay/reside.
In view of the rampant land evictions of squatters by alleged land owners and the threat posed by the current land disputes, government should endeavour to fulfill its obligation to refrain from and to protect citizens from unlawful evictions as is enshrined in the Constitution and other international and regional instruments. Articles 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); 11 of the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the Resolution adopted by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), provide for such protection. In addition to the international and regional provisions, Article 26 of the Constitution of Uganda guarantees the right to property; protection of individuals’ right to own property and conditions under which compulsory acquisition of property by government may be allowed. These conditions are that compulsory deprivation of property should only be done within the law; in public interest; and there has to be prompt and fair compensation prior to taking possession of the property. Any person aggrieved in the process of compulsory acquisition of property has to be guaranteed the right to legal redress.
In line with its mandate therefore, the Commission will conduct comprehensive investigations into the land conflicts and advise government accordingly.
5.0 Human rights concerns arising from recent Landslides in Bududa District
Bududa District has been repeatedly affected by landslides over the years. Although emergency response was provided by the District Disaster Management Committee and the OPM team as well as the Uganda Red Cross Society who visited the scene to assess the situation of the victims, the Commission is deeply concerned about the human rights violations occasioned by the recent landslides in Bududa which among others led to loss of lives; property; livelihoods; injury to persons and displacement of entire villages.
Whereas the Commission acknowledges efforts by Government and other relief agencies such as the Uganda Red Cross, we wish to reiterate our earlier call for Government to urgently operationalise the Disaster Management Policy which is the comprehensive framework constitutionally proposed Disaster Management Commission which will deal with natural disasters in the country in an effective and timely manner. We reiterate our earlier call to Government to institute an effective mechanism for dealing with any hazard or disaster arising out of natural calamities or any situation resulting in general displacement of people or serious disruption of their normal lives as provided under the National Objectives and Directives Principles of Sate Policy under the Constitution. We also urge Government to expedite the process of acquiring land to implement the resettlement programme of the displaced persons currently living in displacement camps which do not have the necessary social services and amenities to enable the victims to live a dignified life.
On our part, the Commission will continue to monitor disaster affected areas and make recommendations to mitigate their impact on the human rights of affected victims to the relevant stakeholders. As I speak now, our team headed by Commssioner Katebalirwe Amooti is in Bududa to assess the condition of the Bududa land slide survivors and then make appropriate recommendations.
6.0 Call to the public to respect and observe the rule of law
We have also noted with regret the resurfacing reports of criminality in some parts of the country involving killings using pangas. We strongly condemn such violent acts which violate the right to life provide under Article 22 of the Constitution. There have also been incidents mob action which violate the presumption of one being innocent until proved guilty by court and is tantamount to lawlessness. We urge members of the public who feel aggrieved and discontent about anything to always seek redress through established lawful procedures and mechanisms.
Whereas it is our constitutional mandate to protect and promote the rights of citizens by pointing out incidents that impede full enjoyment of the same, it is equally the duty of the Commission to continuously urge members of the public to exercise their rights and freedoms within the confines of the law and desist from acts of lawlessness. The Commission therefore reminds all people in Uganda that their human rights come with duties and responsibilities which they are obliged to fulfill as provided under Article 17 (b) and (f) which calls on every citizen to respect the rights and freedoms of others and to cooperate with lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order.
We remind citizens of our aspirations as country summed up under the duties of a citizen in part 29 (f) of the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of Uganda’s Constitution. The provision underscores the principle that enjoyment of rights and freedoms goes hand in hand with duties and obligations of every citizen to promote the rule of law among other duties.
In conclusion therefore, the Commission calls on all the Security Agencies to observe and respect human rights and freedoms at all times in the performance of their functions. The institutions concerned are urged to bring to book their members who violate human rights by commission or omission by subjecting them to the full force of the available laws.
We also urge Government to urgently address and resolve the question of land ownership and use in Uganda in order to eliminate incidents of mass land evictions and displacement of people. In addition Government is called upon to comprehensively address the management of natural disasters especially in those areas that are prone to such disasters to minimize the attendant human rights violations suffered by the victims.
Finally the Commission reiterates its earlier calls for members of the public to fulfill their duties and responsibilities and to respect and observe the rule law in order to avoid anarchy. On our part, the Commission will continue to play its Constructional role by working to protect and promote human rights for all.
For God and My Country
Med S. K. Kaggwa
Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission