The State Minister for Internal Affairs has sent out a strong message to perpetrators of torture that government is committed to punishing them. While officiating at the Commemoration of the UN Day in Support of Torture Victims on Wednesday June 26th, 2019 organized by the Uganda Human Rights Commission together with partners under the Coalition Against Torture (CAT), Hon. Mario Obiga Kania who was standing in for the Minister of Internal Affairs General Jeje Odong assured the country that government is committed to having a torture free Uganda.
“Torture is an individual act. The individuals who torture just hide under institutions as a cover. I think if someone tortures, he or she must be culpable by meeting the cost of compensation to the victim even if it means selling their property. The perpetrator must feel that it is not just dangerous professionally but also economically for one to torture, if his or her property is used to compensate the victim. I think the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and its partners should have a debate along these lines if we are to conclusively stamp out this vice other than letting individual MDAs suffer budget cuts to compensate victims,” the minister said during his speech at the main commemoration activities at the Peoples Space, Hotel Africana.
Noting that the UHRC and other human rights bodies’ annual reports have consistently ranked the police as having the highest number of complaints of torture reported against it, the Minister made the police officers present at the function to stand in front of the audience. “These are human beings; they are our brothers and sisters; they are our friends. They are not torturers. Some could have tortured like any of us in our communities but like my brother Frank Baine (Uganda Prison’s Spokesperson/Master of Ceremonies) said; it is not the uniform that tortures, it is the body in the uniform that tortures.”
Hon. Obiga further revealed that as government, they are encouraged by the interventions by UHRC in form of regular monitoring and reports on torture and trainings to security agencies aimed at causing action against torture. He said that government is committed to seeing that men and women implicated in torture can be tried in the civil courts to ensure transpoarency. He assured the country that government and indeed the Uganda Police do not want the mandate of punishing perpetrators of torture to be done behind closed doors.
“As we commemorate this day, government recognizes the work of the UHRC by ordering compensation to the victims. Government also recognizes the work of other human rights institutions that are supporting the work of government in ending torture. I commend the UHRC and its partners for the joint actions and strategies they have been engaged in as a build up to this day. My advice is that there should be a sustained debate and interventions on the fight against torture in order to ensure that institutions and individuals are deterred from committing torture,” he said.
The Minister, who is also the MP for Terego County also noted that the efforts of the UHRC and its partners have led to the passing of the decentralization policy which in effect is the newly introduced measure of deducting compensation costs directly from the budget of the culpable Ministry, Department or Agency to compensate torture victims. He said he was optimistic that the new measure of decentralising compensation costs will ensure close supervision of staff by MDAs to avoid deductions from their budget allocations. He said government had made some strides in eradicating torture in Uganda by entrenching articles against torture in the Constitution and has also domesticated international conventions on the prevention and prohibition of torture and other degrading treatment or punishment, by enacting the Anti-Torture law in 2012 and passing its regulations in 2017.
The Chairperson of the Uganda human rights Commission Mr. Med S.K Kaggwa said incidents of torture and degrading treatment or punishment are still prevalent in the country as noted in the UHRC and ACTV recent annual reports. “Progress has been made but we call for operationalization of the law. On the issue of compensation; it is hoped that after a person is awarded compensation, they use it to rehabilitate themselves. The President has severally called upon the Ministry of Finance to clear the Shs 5bn arrears in compensation. It is my prayer that the Ministry of Finance clears this outstanding as suggested so that the victims can be rehabilitated,” he said. He also said the UHRC and the Uganda Police Force have made resolutions to strengthen structural engagements at all levels including re-activating the regular meetings with heads of security agencies. He was also optimistic that these interventions will help to among other things end torture.
Speaking at the main commemoration event, Mr. Kaggwa also called upon the Ministry of Health to mainstream the treatment of torture and rehabilitation of survivors in its health centers country-wide. “This is critical because it is only the African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) with only two centers here in Kampala and in Gulu that are specialized to offer treatment and rehabilitation to victims of torture. It is therefore necessary for the Ministry Health to come up with a comprehensive policy to aid torture survivors to access professional medical care” he said.
The Head of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda Mr. Ayeda Robert Kotchani read a joint statement from the UN human rights experts for justice and rehabilitation in Geneva which is comprised of three member organization; namely the UN subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the UN Committee against Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. In their joint statement, the UN experts noted that victims of torture have a right to redress, including compensation and rehabilitation. “Timely identification and documentation of the physical and mental signs of torture is essential for securing the evidence necessary for investigation and prosecution and ultimately, for obtaining justice in a court of law,” Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture was quoted by Mr. Kotchani saying. He noted that the ‘Istanbul Protocol’ Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and other Cruel, inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment assists competent authorities in ensuring that investigations are prompt, impartial, independent and thorough. “The consistent application of the Protocol, including as a standard for investigation, is of paramount importance,” Jens Modving, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture is also quoted by Mr. Kotchani from the joint statement read out. He also quoted the Chairperson of the Sub Committee on the Prevention of Torture, Sir Malcom Evans, stating that the effective implementation of the Istanbul Protocol is vital to the prevention of torture and ensuring that torture is identified and properly documented, which is essential if appropriate preventive measures are to be put in place. “Its significance as a tool of prevention cannot be overstated,” Sir Malcom said in the UN joint statement.
H.E Henk Jan Bakker the Ambassador of the Royal Kingdom of Netherlands in Uganda who represented the development partners under the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) said that the European Union today reiterates its strongest opposition to any kind of acts of torture worldwide. “Torture is a crime that can target anyone through different forms and in different settings, and all victims of torture, including those who are unacknowledged, neglected or overlooked, are at the forefront of our policy. At a time when this prohibition continues to be challenged all over the world, the European Union repeats its call for the UN Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol (OPCAT) to be universally ratified and effectively implemented by all States,” he said.
Other distinguished guests who made remarks at the function included the Acting Secretary to the Commission Ms. Margaret Lucy Ejang who through her representative Ms. Theopista Twembi welcomed the participants and partners to the commemoration event. “Your presence is a demonstration of your commitment to a torture free Uganda. The Commission and its partners have organized a series of activities to raise awareness that torture is real, reflect on the efforts being made and find out how far we have gone in the fight against torture in order to devise more effective strategies and means of ending it,” she said.
Speaking at the same function, the Chairperson of the Torture Survivors’ Association, Uganda (TOSA-U) Mr. Fred Baguma said torture must be condemned in the strongest terms possible. “Despite our long silence, today we have spoken more because of the platform we have been given. Torture is detestable. These people who torture are sadists, they are criminals, they are barbaric, they are not human, they are anti-Christ because the Bible says love one another and we are here to speak to them,” he said. He also said that those who torture cause long-term effects on the victims’ lives and therefore torture must be condemned and punished. He however thanked the UHRC and government for having come up with a law that makes perpetrators personally liable but decried the minimal compensation that is awarded to victims and the delay it takes one to receive it.
The Vice Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of Parliament Hon. Taaka Wejuli who spoke on behalf of Parliament pledged their continued support towards all the efforts being done in the prevention and prohibition of torture and degrading treatment or punishment.
Mr Nsubuga the Chief Executive Officer of ACTV and Chairperson of the Coalition Against Torture (CAT) together with the Board Chairman of ACTV Hon. Livingstone Okello Okello, both highlighted some of the challenges faced in the fight against torture namely Government failure to ratify the Optional Protocol on Convention Against Torture, 2006 (OPCAT) which if done would improve the inspection of detention facilities by granting NGOs free access to the facilities which would enhance efforts to prevent the incidence of torture.
“We recommend that the police should implement the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act indiscriminately. Torture is Torture whether against a civilian or a serving officer,” they further noted. They also recommended that errant officers should be charged in the mainstream courts as opposed to the institutional disciplinary courts. They added their voices to earlier speakers in calling on the Ministry of Finance to fast-track compensation to victims to avoid delayed payments which in some cases have sadly been made long after the victims have died.
A series of week-long activities were carried out by the UHRC and CAT member-organizations in the week preceding the D Day on June 26, 2019 as a way of popularizing the fight against torture in Uganda. Some of the joint build up activities carried out included a half-day public dialogue that took place at Hotel Africana on Tuesday June 25, 2019 which was spearheaded by the UN OHCHR. The Refugee Law Project (RLP) and CAT members also carried out a camp at Old Kampala Primary School offering free psycho-social, medical and legal services to torture victims on Friday June 21, 2019. In addition, two half-day community dialogues and medical outreach on torture were held at Royal Gardens in Kasubi, Kampala and in Arua, West Nile on Monday June 24, 2019 and were spearheaded by ACTV. A Secondary School debate competition between Panyangara S.S and Kotido S.S which was also spearheaded by ACTV was held on Sunday 23rd of June 2019 in Kotido, Karamoja sub region as one of this year’s commemoration activities.
This year’s commemoration activities were crowned with the main event held at the Peoples Space at Hotel Africana on Wednesday June 26, 2019. The main and national event which was kick-started with a peaceful procession through Kampala streets flagged off by Hon. Obiga Kania the State Minister for Internal Affairs was the main highlight of the commemoration of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in Uganda. The procession which started from the Peoples Space at Hotel Africana and ended at the same venue for the main event, drew a total of 339 participants of whom 174 were male and 165 female. The Peoples Space event was attended by a cross section of people that ranged from representatives of government ministries, departments and agencies; the legislature; CAT organisations; international agencies; sister Commissions; foreign missions; the media; religious organisations and the general public, to mention but a few.
While the main national commemoration activities took place in Kampala on Wednesday June 26, 2019, other commemoration activities concurrently took place in other parts the country to expand the fight against torture to a greater part of the Ugandan populace. Commemoration activities held in locations outside Kampala D Day included two peaceful processions in Arua, West Nile sub region and Kotido, Karamoja sub region spearheaded by the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV), UHRC and other partners. Others were a community dialogue on torture and the law and a drama presentation on the effect of torture that took place in Kotido, Karamoja sub region and spearheaded by Caritas Kotido and the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV). The refugee Law Project also spearheaded commemoration activities in Lamwo, Adjumani and Kiryandongo targeting the refugee communities in those areas on June 26, 2019.
This year’s commemoration was held under the Theme; Torture is Real, Speak Out, Take Action and all commemoration activities around the country were aimed at actualizing this theme.