Statement 0n the recent Human Rights Concerns in the country

Friday, August 25, 2017 - 12:00

Background

The Uganda Human Rights Commission is the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) that is constitutionally mandated under Article 51 to protect and promote human rights in Uganda. Among its various functions is to monitor the human rights situation in the country and make recommendations to the relevant stakeholders as well as create and sustain within society, awareness of the provisions of the Constitution of Uganda. In this regard, the Commission usually pronounces itself on some critical emerging human rights issues and accordingly provides guidance to the country, in fulfillment of its mandate.

In the recent past, the Commission has noted certain happenings in the country that have caused concern given their human rights implications. We highlight sane of them below.

  • Police use of excessive force

The Commission is concerned that despite its interventions, those by the Uganda Police Force (UPF) and repeated reminders of their Constitutional obligations, the use of excessive force by some police officers has persisted both in the Kampala Metropolitan area as well as in some areas upcountry.

Over the years the Commission has conducted various trainings for police officers in human rights; monitored their policing activities and published human rights violations reported against them in its Annual Reports. It has issued numerous statements to the media like this one today as well as held dialogues and engagements with the Police leadership imploring them to respect and observe human rights. In addition despite the creation of a Human Rights Directorate and the Police Professional Standards Unit to ensure the observance of human rights in execution of police work; the internal mechanisms to reprimand police officers who are accused of violating human rights; as well as prosecuting some perpetrators by the UPF itself, it is evident that the efforts to eliminate the use of excessive force have not yielded much.

The Commission particularly noted the use of live bullets by some trigger- happy Police officers in recent incidents which it condemns in the strongest terms possible. Some of these are:

The use of live bullets during a strike by unarmed students at Old KampaIa Secondary School last month which left one student, Arituwa John injured, as well  as the  violent  clashes  between two factions  of  boda bod    riders  in Nateete (Wakaliga)l, a Kampala suburb on Saturday 22nd July 2017. Even though the Police eventually contained the bodaboda clashes, the Commission's concern is that the force used was excessive and reportedly caused two deaths, as reported on social media platforms. The use of such disproportionate force by some elements within the Police in the course of their work is 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 the police that whereas section 28 of the Police Act allows the use of force by police officers in specific cases, it also provides that the force must be proportionate to the danger posed by the suspect.

The July 2017 incident in Sembabule District in which a police Constable Can a Nkamuhebwa shot and killed a one Paul Tumukunde allegedly following a disagreement.  The Commission,  while  noting  reports  that  the  perpetrator has already been arraigned before the Court Martial and charged alongside his accomplices, strongly condemns the action of the trigger-happy police officer that led to loss of life. This was a violation of one of the cardinaI rights, the right to life, which is provided for under article (1) of the Constitution of Uganda. Deprivation of life is prohibited except if it is in execution of a court sentence after a fair trial by a competent court.

The shooting by a police officer Constable Charles Ayepa that left 16-year-old Emmanuel Ayoo dead and two others injured. The incident happened on Sunday 13th August 2017 when a fracas ensued at  a party organised by football fans in Owalo Trading Centre, Adida parish, Akalo sub county, Kale District in the  Lango sub  region. Even though   media reports indicated that the  perpetrator had been apprehended, the Commission urges  police authorities  to expedite  investigations into  the  matter  to  establish  the circumstances under which life was lost and people got injured so as to ensure that the culprit is appropriately punished and the victims get redress and justice.

The Commission is appalled by the persistent reports of the use of excessive force by some elements of the - security forces and more so against unarmed civilians; as veil as the  unwarranted  shooting  dead  and  injuring of  persons; which  raise questions regarding the training, suitability and discipline of the culprits. We call in the UPF leadership to expedite action to bring the perpetrators to account fully.

  •  Human rights concerns during arrest of suspects

The Commission has noted the overzealousness of some police officers and other security agents which results in human rights violations as they try to manage tatherings of citizens as well as during and after the arrest of suspects. There have been allegations of violation of freedoms of assembly and association; the right to  personal liberty;  as well as freedom  from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Of recent, the Commission particularly noted with concern tile arrest and treatment of 56 reported FDC supporters on Wednesday 19th July 2017, whom police at Kasangati Police Station confirmed to have been picked from various locations including Gayaza, Magere, Gita and Nabutaka, St Kizito Kiti villages in Kyadondo East Constituency. They were charged with holding unlawful

assemblies under SD Ref: 44/19/07/2017 at Kasangati ·Police Station, but were transferred to the National Centre for Special Operations Base at Nalufenya in Jinja, only to be transferred back to Kasangati Police station two days later from where they were released on police bond at 7:00pm.

The Commission is concerned about the manner in which citizens were arrested; the reasons for arrest and what they were subjected  to  thereafter.  The Commission is also investigating allegations by the suspects of being held incommunicado for the  two  days  they  were  incarcerated  at Nalufenya.  These actions are tantamount to violation of freedoms of association and assembly as provided for in the Constitution of Uganda under Articles 29(c) and (d) respectively as well as other regional and international standards that Uganda has ratified.

Holding persons incommunicado violates Article 23(5)(a) and (b) of the Constitution of Uganda as well as 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 forture (CAT) and the ICCPR.

  • Public consultations on issues of governance {Land Amendment Bill and Article 102 (b) }

The  Commission  has noted the current heightened public debate on the Land Amendment Bill that was tabled before Parliament on Thursday 13th July 2017 on various fora including the mass media, social media,    online platforms, consultative meetings by some members of parliament and public assemblies by some political parties. The unprecedented interest shown by several stakeholders in proposals to amend Article 102 (b) on the presidential age limit has also been noted even though no  such  Bill has  been  tabled               in Parliament  yet. The Commission is cognisant of the role that citizens play in matters of governance which rights and activities are guaranteed under Article 38 of our Constitution as long as they are peaceful. The Commission further underscores the importance of Article 29 of the Constitution which provides every person rights to freedom of speech and expression; association as well as peaceful and un-armed assembly and demonstration among other rights. These rights and freedoms have also been regulated under the laws of Uganda such as the Public Order Management Act of 2013 among others.

The Commission has learnt from media reports of some scenes where citizens who have gathered to express their views for and against the above issues of governance have been violently dispersed by Police. The Commission has also noted the swiftness with which Police moves to disperse public gatherings of citizens expressing their views on issues of governance compared to their response to other acts of lawlessness or to distress calls from citizens. A case in point was the boda boda clashes in Nateete, Wakaliga which were reported to have lasted close to two hours causing unnecessary disruption to business in the area and allegedly loss life. We once again condemn the use of excessive force by the Police in dispersing peaceful assemblies by citizens and urge them to instead enable such engagements to be peacefully carried out by providing the necessary security. This will go a long way in facilitating the enjoyment of rights and freedoms by the citizen's, particularly their participation in issues of governance as provided for under Article 38 of the Constitution as well as enabling the State to fulfill its human rights obligations to its citizens.

Relatedly, the Commission has also noted televised incidents of clashes and confrontations between some individual citizens and groups with divergent views on the Land Amendment Bill and Article 102 (b). In the same breath the Commission strongly urges citizens wishing to exercise their freedoms of expression, association, assembly and demonstration to comply with the guidelines and laws that govern public gatherings to avoid unnecessary clashes. a nd violation of other peoples' rights. The Commission strongly condemns all acts­ of intolerance among the citizens and calls for respect for divergent views .

  • Human rights concerns arising out of forced evictions by KCCA law enforcement agents.

The Commission has also noted with concern human rights violations reported during operations conducted by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) law enforcement agents especially as they forcefully evict vendors and chase other informal traders from the city. The Commission has received complaints from some of the victims and has seen media reports of the incidents.

The Commission has previously raised and condemned  the  human  rights violations arising out of the high handedness of some KCCA law  enforcement officials during forced evictions which caused loss of lives and injuries; destruction of property; loss of livelihoods. KCCA was urged  to  offer  timely  compensations and alternative  places to affected vendors.

Noting some of the challenges that KCCA faces in managing the city including the obstinacy of the persons being evicted, the Commission is concerned that the forced evictions mainly affect the already vulnerable and disadvantaged people such as women, a number of whom head households, older persons, persons with disabilities, persons with chronic diseases, children and youth.

However, the Commission is concerned that cases of high handedness of some KCCA law enforcement officials have persisted. Indeed the Commission condemns the regrettable incident that was recently witnessed when a woman vendor Olivia Basemera drowned in a city drainage channel as she fled the · KCCA law enforcement agents on 4th August 2017, leaving behind orphans. We note the reports that four KCCA enforcement officials who were involved in the  incident were arrested and therefore call for a fair and speedy hearing so that the victims can get justice while the culprits account for their unwarranted actions. The Commission would like to see this act as a deterrent to other KCCA law enforcement officers as well as a lesson for them to start respecting the human rights of everyone in the city including suspected lawbreakers.

The Commission urges KCCA to reign in its law enforcement officers and put a human face to their operations to avoid any such incidents in the futu·re and provide appropriate capacity building to its law enforcement officers on how to effectively  enforce the  law in the  city without  violating  human rights.

  • Unrest in Amuru District due to land conflicts

The Commission also noted the negative consequences of two long-standing land conflicts in Amuru District. On the one hand, a bitter conflict has persisted for decades between the Acholi and Madi communities over disputed borders of land in Juka village, Apaa parish, Lakang sub-county, Adjumani district. The situation has become  even  more complex with the Uganda Wildlife  Authority  claiming the land in question as a game reserve. On the other hand, another decade-long land conflict remains unresolved in Amuru district over 10,000 hectares of land that government wants to give to an investor Amuru Sugar Works Ltd under the Madhivani Group to establish a sugar factory. Some political leaders and community members have resisted the Government move citing a number of reasons including the  customary rather than public ownership of the land in question and the lack of consideration of the interests of the community in the project among others.

The conflicts, which have had spates of violence, have resulted in loss of several lives, injuries to persons, destruction  of homes and other  property, displacement, arrests and detention, insecurity and tension. They have also seen unprecedented nude  protests,  the  latest  having  been  last  week  on  10th  August  2017  when politicians and community  members  blocked the  Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development on her way to launch the survey of the land. The Commission condemns reports of injuries to persons occasioned  by the use of live bullets by the police and alleged incitement of residents by some political leaders. We note that the commissions  and omissions  of such violations  of  human  rights  and the irresponsible  acts  of all the  parties  involved  in the  conflicts  have  resulted  into range of human rights concerns.

While the Commission acknowledges that development facilitates the enjoymen1 of human rights, the lack of it cannot be a justification for infringing on human rights. In other words, human beings should be at the centre of development efforts and human rights should not be violated in the process of facilitating development projects that are expected to improve the wellbeing of the people . Therefore  the  Commission  maintains that the  persistent  land conflicts  in the Acholi sub region need to be comprehensively addressed if violation of rights is to be curbed. Government is urged to take all necessary measures to end these conflicts without perpetuating the human rights          violations that have characterized previous attempts to  resolve  them.  In line with its mandate therefore,  the  Commission  will  conduct  comprehensive  investigations  into the land conflicts and advise government accordingly.

In view of the KCCA evictions and the threat posed by the Amuru land disputes, government should endevour 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 CulturaI Rghts (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    (ACH PR),  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; 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.

The Commission notes that owing to the indivisibility of human rights, acts such as unlawful compulsory acquisition of land and forced evictions on top of affecting directly some rights, are likely to also violate a range of other rights such as life, liberty, security of the person, privacy among others, as well as economic, social and cultural rights of the people whose livelihoods could be affected.

  • Incidents of lawlessness by some sections of the public

Having noted the  incidents in which the  rights of citizens were violated  by public officials,  the  Commission  also  strongly  urges  members  of  the  public  to  exercis their  rights and freedoms  within the  confines  of the  law and desist from  acts of lawlessness.  The  Commission  reminds  all  people  in  Uganda  that  their  huma11 rights come with  duties  and  responsibilities  which  they  are obliged to  fulfill. The Constitution    of Uganda under   Article    29(1)(d)   provides   for   the right  to demonstrate   together   with  others  peacefully  and  unarmed  and  to  petition. In many  incidents  including those  cited  above,  elements  of  irresponsibility  and lawlessness on the part of the public have been noted.

The bodaboda clashes in Wakaliga, Nateete for instance, turned violent as stick­ wielding men attacked each other in acts of hooliganism. Even if they had a good cause to protest, the methodology they used  was  in  contravention  of  human rights standards. The Commission calls for amicable resolution of disagreements and urges people to desist from acts of lawlessness in the name of  protesting human rights violations. We therefore call on the Police to arrest and charge the bodaboda riders who perpetrated violence so that they can be tried in court in accordance with the law. ·

In  the  incident  of  the  woman  vendor  who  drowned  while  fleeing  KCCA  law enforcement agents, the Commission observed some of her angry colleagues turning violent  as they  confronted the  police that  was  restraining them  from storming the KCCA premises and as they fought for her body. In previous forceful evictions of vendors, there were some cases of defying eviction order notice1, while there have been reports of incitement of the vendors by some politicians. The Commission calls on the affected parties in these incidents to desist from defying lawful orders  as  well  as violence  and  hooliganism  to express  the r discontent without recourse to established lawful procedures.

The Commission is also concerned about reports of mob action by sections of the public especially in urban areas who have persistently taken the law into their hands. The recent killing of a one Revence Kalibwami, an IT expert by a mob on suspicion of being an arsonist is a classic example of lawlessness. This happened at Cafe Javas along Parliamentary Avenue  in Kampala on Thursday 31st  August 2017   leading  to  deprivation   of   life.  The  Commission   strongly  condemns  t actions  of  the  mob  in this  incident  as  it  had  previously  done  on  several  sue occasions  as it is in contravention  of Article  22 (1) of the  Constitution  of  Ugan as earlier pointed out. We urge the police to carry out expeditious  investigations into  this  case  with  a  view  to  apprehending  and  charging  those  who   killed Kalibwami.

Conclusion

In conclusion therefore, the Commission calls on the Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies {MDAs) including the Uganda Police Force and KCCA in ddition to the Political Leaders to respect, protect and fulfill human rights at all mes. The institutions concerned are urged to bring to book their members who ave violated human rights by commission or omission in the specific cases we ave raised above. The Commission also urges members of the public to fu Ifill their duties and responsibilities by respecting the human rights of others and cooperating with lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order. It is incumbent upon all those that have been aggrieved to always use the lawful redress mechanisms available as opposed to resorting to lawlessness.

 

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Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission

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