Statement on emerging human rights issues in the country following the Arua Municipality by-election held on Wednesday 15th August 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018 - 21:00

Background

The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is a national human rights institution constitutionally established to protect and promote human rights in Uganda. We are deeply concerned about the recent developments in the country that directly or indirectly curtailed the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly personal liberty, right to life, freedom of assembly, expression and media freedoms, as well as freedom from torture. These put the supremacy of the Constitution and the sanctity of human dignity in jeopardy.

Human Rights concerns noted over the past two weeks

As you all know, the country has been awash with media reports of the violent clashes that occurred on Monday 13th August 2018 after the final election campaign rallies for the Arua Municipality by-election. They involved the alleged stoning of the presidential convoy, leading to the shooting to death of a one Yasin Kawuma the driver of Hon Robert Kyagulanyi and the consequent brutal arrest of suspects who included members of parliament, journalists and civilians.

The Commission was also appalled by the Monday 20th August 2018 media reports showing the violent crackdown by security operatives on the riots in some parts of Kampala and Mityana where some sections of the public were allegedly demanding for the release of the detained Members of Parliament. A vehicle reportedly carrying football fans to Mukono District for the Buganda Kingdom’s football tournament was caught up in the violent riots in Mityana and shot at by police killing a one Samuel Ssekiziyivu and injuring many others.

The brutality meted upon journalists who were carrying out their lawful duty of reporting the riots in Kampala last Friday by security personnel are regrettable. We condemn this blatant violation of media freedoms which also affected the right of the public to information and contravened Articles 29 and 41 of the Constitution of Uganda.  Journalists working for both local and foreign media were clobbered by armed and stick- wielding security personnel.

We strongly condemn the violation of the right to life during these incidents which was in contravention of Article 22 of the Constitution as well as the brutal, cruel, inhuman and degrading manner in which the arrests were effected in total violation of Article 24 of the Constitution which guarantees the respect of human dignity as I pointed out in my press briefing last week. The Commission wishes to remind security agencies that Article 44 of the Constitution provides for freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as a non-derogable right.

The Commission has through its inspection visits received complaints of loss and abuse of suspects’ property during arrest. Some suspects alleged to have lost huge sums of money and phones on arrest which were taken away from them without signing the Acknowledgement of Prisoners’ Properties Form (APP) as required by law. We also received complaints of suspects’ phones taken by security as exhibits being used to call their contacts who are allegedly summoned and they too end up being arrested. This violates their right to own property which is guaranteed under Article 26 (1), {(2) (a)} of the constitution of Uganda.

The Commission has also observed the growing irresponsible use of social media by sections of the public. We have noted comments that tend to propagate ethnic and tribal sentiments. This is in contravention of Article 21 (2) of the Constitution which promotes equality and freedom from discrimination.

Interventions by the Uganda Human Rights Commission

The Commission’s constitutional mandate to protect and promote human rights in Uganda under Article 52 entails monitoring the human rights situation in the country and making recommendations to the relevant stakeholders; creating and sustaining within society awareness of the provisions of the Constitution of Uganda; and investigating complaints of human rights violations and ordering redress. In this regard, the Commission has made the following interventions in respect to the said incidents: 

  1. Monitored the pre and post-election situation of the by-election for the Member of Parliament of Arua Municipality on Wednesday 15th August 2018. A report of the findings will soon be shared with the Electoral Commission and other relevant stakeholders.
  2. Monitored the state of human rights following the violent clashes in Arua and opened files for further investigations of human rights violations for some of the victims who sustained injuries during the scuffle, some of whom are  currently still hospitalized.  More than 30 complaint files have so far been opened at the Arua, Gulu and Central Regional Offices and investigations commenced.

 

Notable matters the Commission is investigating at its own volition involve Anguyo Philliam a resident of Pangisa Ward, Oli Division in Arua Municipality who was allegedly shot in upper left leg; Asea Innocent of Juruso village Adalafu, in Oli Division in Arua Municipality who sustained injuries in the left arm and Enzama Isaac a resident of Oninia Village, Onzoro Parish Katrini sub county Arua District who was allegedly shot through the back. Two other victims namely Gilbert Eyote and Michael Abiriga are currently admitted in Rhema Hospital after sustaining gunshot injuries.

  1. The Commission on Tuesday 14th August 2018 made an inspection visit to Gulu Central Police Station to monitor the condition of 34 suspects, including four members of parliament and journalists that had been transferred there from Arua. 
  2. The Commission on Thursday 16th August 2018 established that three people including two journalists had been released on police bond before the 31 remaining suspects were arraigned before the Gulu Magistrates Court and remanded to Uganda Government Prison, Gulu.
  3. On Friday 17th August 2018, a Commission team again made an inspection visit to  the Uganda Government Prison, Gulu to physically assess the condition of the remanded 31 inmates  in order to ensure that their rights as provided under Article 23 (2), {(5) (a), (b) and (c)} were respected. These rights require that suspects are detained in a gazetted place; information regarding their arrest is provided to their next of kin; and that they are accessed by their next of kin, lawyers and personal doctors.

 

The Commission established that whereas the majority of the inmates had received medical treatment from the prison medical facilities for some minor injuries such as bruises and body pains reportedly sustained during their violent arrests in Arua, three of them had reportedly been severely tortured and were receiving specialized medical attention from outside the prison. These are:

  • Ms. Asarah Night, a 38 years old female inmate who said she was in deep pain and could not walk on her own. She had a bandage on her right arm, bruises on her right thigh, a swelling on the knee and was passing blood.
  • Hon. Paul Mwiru complained to the UHRC team of pain and paralysis of the left arm which he suspected could have been fractured due to alleged torture at the time of arrest. He requested for an x-ray of the arm, which has since been done by the prison authorities following the Commission’s intervention.
  • Atiku Shaban who was limping and walked with the support of other people complained of pain in the back and ribs and also looked weak. He has since been admitted at Gulu Referral Hospital owing to our intervention.
  1. The Commission set out to establish the whereabouts and condition of Honourables Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine  of Kyadondo East and Zake Francis of Mityana Municipality following contradictory reports in the mainstream media and on social media. In the process, the family and lawyers of Hon. Kyagulanyi twice approached the Commission expressing similar fears and appealing for reliable information. To allay their fears and address the tensions in the country caused by inadequate information and/or misinformation, the Commission made the following interventions:
  1. The Commission team which I personally led established that Hon Kyagulanyi was at Makindye Military Barracks to where he had been remanded on Thursday 16th August 2018. We visited him on Friday 17th August 2018 after which we issued a public statement on his whereabouts and condition. During the visit we recommended immediate further medical examination for him and demanded that authorities permit regular visits by his family.
  2. We secured initial access to Hon Kyagulanyi for his close family members led by his wife and brothers, as well as two of his lawyers who finally saw him on Friday 17th August 2018. Subsequently, Hon Kyagulanyi was granted regular visits by his family in accordance with Article 23 (5) (a) and (b) of the Constitution.
  3. The Commission again secured on Monday 20th August 2018 initial access for Hon Kyagulanyi’s  personal doctor who was accompanied by Barbie Itungo Kyagulanyi the wife of the incarcerated legislator. I again personally coordinated and led team.
  4. In respect to Hon Francis Zaake who had been reported missing, the Commission established on Friday 17th August 2018 that he had been hospitalized in Rubaga Hospital, Kampala. Our team which had set out to establish his whereabouts was informed by the Executive Director of the Hospital that Hon. Zaake was in great pain due to multiple injuries on the head, arms and legs and although he had been put on oxygen, he was able to talk. The UHRC team was therefore informed by the Hospital Executive Director that his family had requested for him to be given time to recuperate before he could start receiving visitors. These developments were also shared during the press briefing that I addressed here last Friday.
  1. The Commission sought out the eight journalists that were allegedly tortured both in Arua and on Monday 20th August 2018 in Kampala, to initiate our own investigations into the circumstances under which they were physically attacked by some security personnel and their equipment damaged or lost in the course of their work. The eight journalists are from the following media houses: The Observer, NBS, NTV, Dream TV and Reuters. One of them has already registered a formal complaint with the Commission and the rest will be registering their complaints in due course.
  2. The Commission has planned a series of inspection visits to detention facilities in all areas where suspects were detained arising from the recent by-election, demonstrations and riots to assess their condition and the status of their human rights. As I speak, a team is at the Kampala Central Police Station.

 

Demands by the Uganda Human Rights Commission

Given the Commission’s constitutional mandate to offer guidance on any emerging human rights issues in the country and given that the human rights issues I have raised are of grave concern requiring urgent attention and action by government and other stakeholders, we make the following demands to UPDF, Uganda Police Force, Judiciary and the general public:

  1. Prosecute individually under the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, 2012,  the security officers who allegedly tortured the suspects arrested in the Arua fracas; and ensure adequate compensation and reparation to the victims for injury and losses suffered in the process;
  2. Immediately institute criminal proceedings against police officers suspected to have shot dead Mr. Samuel Ssekiziyivu, when they fired live bullets at a commuter minibus carrying soccer fans injuring scores of others in Mityana  last week;
  3. Immediately institute investigations into the killing of Yasin Kawuma in Arua and the alleged torture of all the suspects arrested during the Arua fracas with a view to identifying  and prosecuting the individual officers involved, for the heinous acts;
  4. Desist from the use of live bullets and other unorthodox weapons on unarmed demonstrators and non-violent suspects;  
  5. Expeditiously streamline the modalities of joint security management of public demonstrations and riots to ensure that the police is appropriately equipped, adequately resourced and supported to effectively play its constitutional role as the lead agency in keeping law and order. 
  6. Immediately release all suspects who have been detained illegally following the Arua fracas and respect and fulfill the rights of those currently in detention as constitutionally provided under Article 23. Ensure a fair and speedy hearing for those before courts of law as provided under Article 28 of the Constitution.
  7. Expedite the prosecution of officers of the Uganda Police Force and the UPDF who assaulted, tortured and damaged the property of journalists as they covered the Arua by-elections and the recent demonstrations.
  8. Respect freedom of expression and media freedoms and allow journalists to perform their legitimate role without undue interference;
  9. Urgently allow the suspects that are nursing serious injuries including Hon Francis Zaake, Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi and the three suspects detained in Uganda Government Prison, Gulu access to private medical treatment at their cost in accordance with Article 23 (5)(c) of the Constitution.  
  10. Ensure that suspects’ property is registered using the APP form, safely kept and returned as and when necessary.
  11.  The public should ensure responsible use of social and other forms of media to guard against xenophobia tendencies.

Conclusion

In conclusion therefore, the Uganda Human Rights Commission once again condemns in the strongest terms possible the acts of torture and other violations visited upon some of the suspects as mentioned above. The Commission reiterates its call on security agencies to fulfill their duty to observe and respect human rights and freedoms in performance of their functions, as provided for in Article 221 of the Constitution of Uganda.

 

The Commission urges government to fulfill its obligations of facilitating its citizens to enjoy their rights and freedoms and to only impose restrictions that are acceptable and justifiable in a free and democratic society. On the other hand we appeal to the general public to be law-abiding and to exercise their rights and freedoms within the law and to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. The Commission appeals to the public to remain calm; maintain the peace and allow the due process of the law now underway to reach its logical conclusion.

 

On our part, the Commission will investigate and hold accountable those found to have violated human rights as enshrined in the Constitution. The Commission will also continue performing its constitutional mandate of advising the government on how the human rights situation can be improved, and to use all available avenues to ensure the protection and promotion of rights and freedoms in the country.

For God and My Country

Med S.K Kaggwa

Chairperson

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