The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is deeply concerned about the recent clashes reported in the Rwenzori region and particularly in the districts of Bundibugyo, Ntoroko and Kasese. The UHRC whose Constitutional mandate is to among other functions to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country, quickly sent its team of officers from its Fort Portal office to the affected areas to make an on- the- spot assessment of the situation and any human rights concerns arising from the clashes.
The UHRC monitoring team interviewed various people in the affected areas including officers from security agencies, District leaders, local leaders, Resident District Commissioners, DISOs, some survivors, bereaved families and some leaders of the various cultural institutions in the Rwenzori region.
In Kasese the UHRC team also visited the reception centre which was set up to receive those who participated in the attacks as part of the amnesty extended to them by the Government.
In Bundibugyo, the team also attended the Court Martial hearings, interviewed the UPDF 2nd Division Spokesperson and the Judge Advocate of the Court Martial.
Preliminary findings by the UHRC
1. Triggers of the recent clashes in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko
The UHRC learnt that although the 5th July 2014 attacks in the districts of Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko were to a large extent caused by the long standing tribal differences between the Bakonzo and the other minority ethnic groups in the region, it is not possible at present to give a conclusive cause of the recent attacks because investigations by Police and other security agencies are currently on- going.
However, the UHRC monitoring team found that the following underlying issues may have triggered the recent attacks in the Rwenzori region:
a) Land disputes /conflicts:
The decision by government to re-settle the Basongora who were displaced to give way to the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Banyabindi minority groups in parts of Ibuga and Mubuku has been perceived by the Bakonzo in Kasese as having resulted into the re settled people occupying their land. Therefore, the UHRC team established that this had angered the Bakonzo and yet, on the other hand the Basongora community, too, is not satisfied with government compensation for the land they lost to the game reserves. In other areas of Karusandara, Rwehingo, Bukangara and Nyakatonzi, land was re-distributed among the cultivators (Bakonzo) and the pastoralists (the Basongora) at a ratio of 1:3 respectively, which also angered the Bakonzo who believe that they were treated unfairly.
b) Perceived discrimination against the Bakonzo in Bundibugyo on cultural grounds:
Although the Bakonzo in Bundibugyo make up a big part of the entire population of the district, it is alleged that they felt marginalized and culturally alienated. They cite incidents such as when government blocked their King (Omusinga) from attending their Peace Day in Bundibugyo in May last year and another incident in which the Bakonzo youth were stopped by police from holding ceremonies to renovate their cultural shrine, and this was done to avert a clash between them and other ethnic groups. This feeling of alienation and discrimination was aggravated by the installation of the Omudhingiya (Bamba King) in May 2014.
c) Considerations of secession by the small ethnic groups in the Rwenzori region (‘Yira’ Republic talk):
The UHRC team learnt that the historical omissions in the Independence Constitution and the Tooro Kingdom constitution which did not recognize Bakonzo as an ethnic group in Uganda, had created sentiments of marginalization among this group. However, the monitoring team learnt from Bakonzo cultural leaders that these grievances were since resolved by the 1995 Constitution which recognizes the Bakonzo as an ethnic group in Uganda. The Bakonzo leaders therefore dismissed the allegation that the recent clashes were in pursuit of a long term project by the Bakonzo to secede from Uganda and establish their own republic. They however did not rule out the possibility of some radical elements within the Bakonzo community still continuing to harbor the intentions of a separate state. These views were echoed by members of the other ethnic groups who were interviewed and who included the the Bamba and Banyabindi.
d) Respect for the Rule of law:
Whereas interviews with voluntary returnees who surrendered following government’s offer of amnesty to those who participated especially in attacking Police and the Army installations revealed widespread sentiments of perceived alienation and discrimination. As such, investigations are still ongoing to get to the bottom of what could have motivated the attackers to also direct their vicious attacks on government security facilities and installations. The UHRC is deeply disturbed by such actions of lawlessness and the growing culture of using violence to express grievances by some sections of the public. The Uganda Human Rights Commission therefore strongly condemns these acts of lawlessness exhibited by the July 5 attackers in the Rwenzori region.
e) Radio hate campaigns:
The UHRC team received information of alleged hate messages having been aired on Development FM radio in Bundibugyo, rallying the Bakonzo community against other ethnic groups in the district. The Uganda Human Rights Commission also strongly condemns such actions which served to inflame an already bad situation.
2. Suspects subjected to the due process:
The UHRC team attended Court Martial hearings in Bundibugyo and Kasese. The team learnt that suspects were being tried by the Court Martial because they had launched attacks on Police and Military installations in the three affected districts. Suspects were also alleged to have used guns among their weapons, to murder and rob people during the attacks, while others stole or attempted to steal guns from the Police and the Army. Suspects were therefore charged with offences such as assault, murder, attempted murder, arson, unlawful possession and acquisition of firearms/ammunitions and aggravated robbery. This is because such offences are triable by the Court Martial under the Ugandan laws such as the UPDF Act (2005) Section 119 F (g) (h), the Firearms Act Cap 299 and the Penal Code Act Cap 120.
3. Police Officers under detention
Although the UHRC recognizes the police efforts to discipline its officers for alleged negligence and failure to respond to the incidents in the Rwenzori region in a timely manner, the UHRC is deeply concerned about the continued detention of the six police officers including the DPC of Bundibugyo since 17th July 2014 to date. The UHRC notes that this is a violation of the 48-hour Constitutional rule.
4. Timely response by Government:
The Uganda Human Rights Commission commends government’s timely intervention, which involved among other measures, the physical presence in the Rwenzori region of the Inspector General Police and personnel from some of the police departments such as the Police Standards Unit; the Chief of Defence Forces and other senior army officers and political leaders. The interception and recovery of 50 brand new pangas and knives by the police which were being ferried to Mukanga landing site, is plausible. Additionally, the recovery by the joint security team of about 14 guns out of the 22 that were reportedly lost during the attacks in Bundibugyo, is also recognized and applauded. Efforts to commence early court proceedings against the suspects within a period of about ten days (10) are also a step in the right direction. The current joint efforts by the various stakeholders including security agencies, local leaders, politicians and cultural leaders to pacify the region and to carry out sensitization of the affected communities on the use of alternative solutions to people’s grievances as opposed to violence, is also a welcome move.
5. Opening Reception Centers and granting Amnesty:
Government has set up reception centers in Bundibugyo and Kasese districts to receive self-confessed attackers/fighters under the amnesty. A total of about 237 attackers had surrendered and given themselves up at Kasese and Bundibugyo reception centers as of Tuesday 22nd July 2014. The UHRC therefore commends government for extending amnesty to the people willing to denounce violence and instead, to cooperate with the agencies investigating the Rwenzori attacks.
5. Human Rights Concerns:
UHRC has the following human rights concerns which need to be addressed:
a) Loss of life, injury to persons, loss of property and disruption of normal life
The UHRC team learnt that a total of about 92 people from Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko districts including civilians, police and UPDF officers had lost their lives during the clashes. Bundibugyo district registered the highest number of deaths for attackers, which occurred at Kanyamwirima Army Barracks, Stanbic Bank and other areas within Bundibugyo Town Council. In addition, several people were injured, properties destroyed, some families temporarily displaced and there was general disruption of normal life and business in the affected communities.
b) Suspected mass graves:
The UHRC team also witnessed alleged mass graves in Bundimurombi village, Kirumya Sub County in Bundibugyo district. The Police PRO Mr. Enanga Fred has informed UHRC officials that the police had secured a court order and also dispatched a team of experts early this week to exhume the alleged bodies and carry out the necessary DNA and other forensic investigations. This Police action followed a petition submitted to the IGP by Bakonzo elders in the area, and it is intended to establish the true identities of the dead in the alleged mass graves and the causes of their death and to hand over the bodies to the rightful relatives.
c) Delayed production of suspects in Court:
The team established that a total of about 181 suspects were arrested from the three districts as a result of the July 5th tribal clashes, and they have been produced before the Court Martial starting from 16th July 2014 at Bundibugyo. One of the major human rights concerns in this respect was the failure by investigators to observe the 48-hour Constitutional rule. However, although UHRC takes note of the insecurity that had engulfed the region at the time, and government priority to restore calm in the area, the relevant investigations arms within the Police should have acted swiftly to handle this matter on time.
d) Process of screening suspects:
The process of screening is being carried out by the prosecution team and the relevant intelligence personnel to identify the suspects to be charged before the Court Martial. The screening is based on the role played by the suspects during the attack, and the people screened include those arrested at the scene of attack, the attackers arrested while fleeing the different scenes of the clashes, those who planned and organized the attacks and those who aided and abetted the attacks. The UHRC wishes to caution that the process is carried out in an impartial and fair manner.
e) Alleged torture of suspects:
Although the UHRC team visited Bundibugyo and witnessed the first proceedings of the Court Martial on Wednesday 16th July, they could not speak to the suspects who were already undergoing trials in the Court Martial. The team was therefore not able to establish how the suspects had been treated during arrest and while in Police custody. The UHRC has however, watched the NTV footage showing the already restrained suspects being beaten by security personnel and plain clothed men at the time they were arrested. Whereas the UHRC finds the actions of the security personnel in this television footage disturbing and therefore strongly condemns the same, we urge the relevant authorities to establish the authenticity of this footage. We also urge the police and the army to make thorough investigations into this alleged incident with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice once the alleged assault is established to have taken place. The action taken should be made public.
f) Disruption of normal life and enjoyment of various rights and freedoms for the communities:
The Uganda Human Rights Commission noted that some of the rights such as education and health were disrupted by the attacks and during its aftermath. Reports of closure of some schools or low-turn up of students as well as closure of some Health Centers in Bundibugyo district and other areas, are of concern to the UHRC.
The UHRC team also established that many residents of the three affected districts were still living in fear, and some had fled from their homes. We note that the current state of affairs in the Rwenzori region has disrupted communities and also prevented them from engaging in productive work which will inevitably impact the status of food security, among other consequences.
Recommendations to address the tensions in Rwenzori region
The Uganda Human Rights Commission recognizes the interventions so far made by government and other stakeholders aimed at restoring peace in the Rwenzori region since the 5th July attacks. The UHRC however, being the body charged with protection and promotion of human rights in this country, would like to add its voice to the others by making the following recommendations:
1. seriously discuss the report of the Ministerial Commission set
up in 2005 (Kajura Commission) as a matter of urgency with a view to allowing for implementation of the recommendations contained therein in order to solve the long standing tribal conflicts and land tensions in the Rwenzori region;
- establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to comprehensively and holistically address the grievances of all the ethnic groups in the Rwenzori region;
- complete the resettlement program of the Basongora, Banyabindi and Bakonzo within the Rwenzori region with a clear map and land titles of the resettled land;
- initiate development programs for the idle youth who are susceptible to engaging in unlawful activities;
- expedite the extension of social amenities and infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity in the Rwenzori region;
- ensure that security prevails in the region by maintaining law and order within the communities in the region;
- provide a comprehensive and holistic solution to the ambiguities in Article 246 of the Constitution by reviewing it to clearly define the powers and functions of all cultural institutions in Uganda;
To the Uganda Police Force:
- strengthen public sensitization through community policing programmes;
- strengthen and adequately equip security agencies in the Rwenzori region with intelligence gathering mechanisms and response capabilities within the region in order to forestall the occurrence;
- expedite the process of investigating cases of suspects with a view to respecting the legal provisions of the 48-hour rule;
- expedite the court hearing process and police internal disciplinary processes in order to ensure a fair and speedy trial for the suspects; and
- expedite the process of investigating the cases of the six police officers still under detention with a view to releasing those found innocent and expeditiously prosecuting those having cases to answer.
To the Uganda Communications Commission:
- closely monitor all activities of both local and international media houses, especially radio stations in the region which can easily be used to incite and manipulate/misinform the public and thus, lead to violence in the already polarized communities;
To the Judiciary and Court Martial:
- ensure that the Court Martial process is the best available option for justice for the suspects in the Rwenzori incident;
- ensure that the Court Martial must exercise its judicial powers in an impartial manner; and
- ensure that the human rights of the suspects are respected throughout the trial, including access to legal representation and access by relatives to the respective suspects;
To the politicians and cultural leaders:
- avoid politicizing the situation for political gains but instead, join hands with other stakeholders to sensitise the communities on the need to transcend sectarian and parochial tribalism by looking at themselves as Ugandans;
- need for political, cultural and religious leaders to preach unity and co-existence among the communities of the region, and to work as a team to promote peace, reconciliation and development in the region; and
- cultural leaders within the Rwenzori region should form a forum where the various cultural leaders and their subjects can meet , discuss and agree on various issues to do with cultural activities in their region.
To the communities in Rwenzori region:
- to fulfill their civic obligations and responsibilities by respecting the rule of law;
- to learn to co-exist with other tribes; and
- to endeavor to address their grievances through the legally established procedures and dialogue instead of resorting to senseless and destructive, violent and unlawful actions.
The Rwenzori region has experienced ethnic divisions for the biggest part of post-independence period. The region is at the moment a fractured community torn apart along ethnic lines. Whereas the current Police and Army deployments have created security guarantees in the areas that experienced violence, there is still need to explore all other possible avenues of ensuring that co-existence of the different tribal groups in the region is made sustainable so that the communities are willing to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors.
There is therefore an urgent need for a reconciliation programme in the region among other short and long term interventions, in order to foster unity in the ethnically polarized region.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission pledges to continue with sensitization programmes aimed at creating awareness on people’s rights, duties and responsibilities and the need for the different communities in the Rwenzori region to co-exist.
FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY
Dr. Katebalirwe Amooti Wa Irumba
Acting Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission