The world annually commemorates the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture every 26 June providing an opportunity for human rights defenders and survivors to speak out against the crime of torture and to remember and support victims and survivors of torture throughout the world.
As we once again commemorate this year’s United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on Thursday June 26th, all players including citizens, civil society and most importantly the State reflect and re-commit themselves to the preservation, promotion, protection and creation of a conducive environment for the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights especially the right to freedom from torture.
In Uganda, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), members of the Coalition Against Torture (CAT) led by the African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture (ACTV), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Center (HRCUG), Uganda have adopted the theme: ‘Fight Torture: Implement the Law.” The focus this year is on popularization of the new Anti-Torture Law and the need for law enforcement agencies to make effective use of the new law to offer justice to torture victims and to urge members of the public including victims and all concerned citizens to fight the vice by reporting acts of torture to the nearest police station or police post or to the Uganda Human Rights Commission or any other relevant institution or body having jurisdiction over the offence.
This year’s advocacy activities to commemorate the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture are premised on the main objective of this new anti-torture law which has made torture a criminal offence with punitive, deterrent and effective penalties in Uganda. The new law which has also widened the definition of torture to include private individuals and non-state actors has provided for individual liability for torture offences. The new law therefore guarantees the respect of human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment by prohibiting any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in Uganda. In Uganda, the 26th of June yet again offers an opportunity for human rights defenders to demand for accountability from the State and all other players in the fight against torture and implementation of the new law since its enactment in 2012.
Uganda has ratified a number of international and regional instruments that prohibit torture. In Uganda, freedom from Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment is also guaranteed by Article 24 of the Uganda Constitution and made an absolute freedom by Article 44(a) of the same Constitution. However, the UHRC and partners realized a gap in the legal framework pertaining to the prohibition of torture in Uganda. The Uganda Human Rights Commission therefore together with the Coalition Against Torture (CAT), comprised of civil society organisations initiated the process of enacting the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture law in Uganda in 2009 which culminated into its enactment in 2012.
As we commemorate the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the UHRC, OHCHR and CAT note that despite the current new Anti-Torture Law and other efforts to fight torture in Uganda, recent reports especially those published by the Uganda Human Rights Commission and other human rights organizations still reveal that cases of torture still rank high among other categories of human rights violations. It is therefore imperative that all actors actively and effectively use the new anti-torture law in order to curb the vice.
Additionally, with an outstanding bill of over 3 billion Uganda shillings in compensation awards, some of which date back 12 or more years, it is evident that government has been slow in fulfilling the payment of compensations awarded against the state to victims of torture. UHRC and the coalition Against Torture with the other partners strongly note that this state of affairs breeds impunity on the part of perpetrators and further impoverishes the survivors of torture some of whom have had their livelihoods completely disrupted and destroyed, yet it is expected that the compensation awards would contribute to the rehabilitation of the lives of survivors of torture.
As we commemorate this year’s UN International Day in support of Victims of Torture, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Coalition Against Torture, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-Kampala, the Human Rights Center Uganda and other partners would like to make the following calls in order to contribute to a torture free Uganda:
1. call upon all law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to effectively utilise the Anti-torture law to offer timely offer redress , rehabilitation and compensation of survivors of torture;
2. urge all key actors including the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Coalition Against Torture, civil society organisations, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to widely disseminate provisions of the new anti -torture law in order to popularize it;
3. strongly urge members of the public to report all cases of torture witnessed to the nearest police or Uganda Human Rights Commission or any other relevant institution recognized under the law;
3. strongly urge law enforcement agencies particularly the police and the army to carry out their duties in strict conformity with provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda and other regional and international human rights standards signed and ratified by Uganda.
4. Urge state and non-state actors to jointly fully commit themselves to the elimination of torture;
5. once again call upon government to urgently ratify the Optional Protocol to the UNCAT and adhere to all its provisions as another step towards the stemming of torture from Uganda and comply with all its provisions.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission, OHCHR, members of CAT and other partners have lined up a number of activities starting with the Community Dialogue here at Nakasero Market and the press conference to raise awareness about the new anti-torture law in Uganda. Other activities include community barazas and radio talk shows in Northern Uganda covering Kitgum on Monday 23rd June 2014; Pader, Amuru-Pabo on Tuesday 24th June 2014; on Wednesday 25th June 2014 in Lira and the main event at Gulu Kaunda Grounds on Thursday 26th June 2014.
In Kampala today’s activities will be followed by a Public Dialogue on the theme for the year to be held on Wednesday 25th June 2014 at Hotel Africana during which major key actors will lay out strategies of effectively implementing the new anti-torture law. Commemoration activities will be crowned with a peaceful procession starting at the Chogm Square on Thursday 26th June 2014 and an exhibition by survivors of torture and human rights defenders at the Kampala Railway Grounds.
Finally, we urge government and all other actors to enhance their commitment to the fight to eliminate torture in Uganda and call upon government to protect, fulfill and uphold its duty to promote and protect human rights and human dignity for ALL.
For God and My Country
Mr. Agaba Maguru
Acting Chairperson UHRC
For and On Behalf of the Coalition Against Torture (CAT).