Statement on the recent Human Rights Concerns in the country

Friday, February 23, 2018 - 16:15

1.        Background

Uganda Human Rights Commission is the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) that is constitutionally mandated 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 in fulfillment of its mandate, provides guidance to the country on how the human rights situation can be improved.    

2.        Human Rights concerns                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

In the recent past, the Commission has noted certain happenings in the country that have caused concern given their human rights implications. We highlight some of them below, including police brutality against journalists, their arrest and detention incommunicado; the increasing lawlessness and unexplained killings; the disagreement between UPDF and a primary school over land in Jinja; persistent road traffic accidents; the current heat wave plus other natural disasters related to climate change; and the recent shortage of blood at the Blood Bank.

  1.      Police brutality against journalists, their arrest and keeping them incommunicado

The Commission is concerned that despite its repeated calls for the respect of the rights and freedoms of journalists and its constant reminders to security agencies to desist from holding suspects incommunicado, such reports have persisted. The police yesterday flogged journalists who scampered for life while being chased and blocked from covering news of the court proceedings at Police Headquarters in Naguru against Assistant Superintendent of Police Muhammad Kirumira, the former DPC of Buyende Police station who is facing a number of charges.  Some journalists were reportedly picked and their whereabouts remained unknown for long periods of time, in total disregard of provisions under Article 23 of the Constitution. 

The Commission is deeply perturbed by the recent reports about the three journalists who were allegedly subjected to this kind of violation. Mr. Charles Etukuri of the New Vision was allegedly picked up by unidentified gunmen from in front of the New Vision Head office on Third Street Industrial Area Kampala on 13th February 2018 only to re-surface on Monday 20th February 2018 at the same place. Rev. Isaac Bakka, of BTN Television based in Arua district went missing for a period of four months from October 2017, only to re-surface on 14th February 2018 at the Nakawa Chief Magistrates’ Court where he was charged and remanded to Luzira Prison. The Commission and indeed the country on Monday 20th February 2018 watched media reports of Mr. Richard Kasule (popularly known as Kamagu) of Top Radio being arrested by police who detained him at Wandegeya Police station on unclear charges.

The Commission condemns such arrests of journalists which threaten media freedoms and freedom of expression in the country.  Whereas the Commission recognises the role of security agencies in keeping law and order and their prerogative to arrest any citizen suspected to have committed an offence, we are also cognisant of the provisions of the Constitution under Article 23 which among others clearly outline the circumstances under which persons should be deprived of the right to personal liberty; as well as the rights of arrested or detained persons that must be protected and respected.

The Commission further condemns the detention of the journalists for prolonged periods of time in total violation of Article 23 (4) (a) and (b) of the Constitution which requires that a person arrested or detained must be produced before court within 48 hours from the time of arrest. The Commission is also concerned that Mr. Etukuri of the New vision and Rev. Bakka of BTN television were detained incommunicado in ungazetted and unknown places where they were denied their rights to be accessed by their relatives, lawyers or personal doctors. This not only caused anxiety among the relatives of the suspects and indeed the country at large, but it was also in contravention of Article 23 (2) and Article (5) (a), (b) and (c) of the Constitution.     

The Commission is therefore deeply concerned and condemns the highhandedness of the police against journalists doing their work and violation of the various human rights of the journalists by the arresting authorities.

  1. Increasing reports of lawlessness in some parts of the country and unexplained killings

The Commission has since the beginning of this year noted media reports of rampant incidents of lawlessness, crime and acts of thuggery which have in some instances led to loss of lives of the victims. In addition to acts of lawlessness, the Commission has noted the recent media reports of mysterious deaths of foreign nationals that have occurred in a number of places in Uganda. The right to life is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 22 (1) of the Constitution and the State is obliged to guarantee, respect and protect it. 

The Commission’s attention has been drawn to cases of unexplained deaths reported by the media to have occurred in Gulu district. Police recovered the body an unidentified man killed early this month in Forest Ward in Laroo Division; the body of a barber found in Gulu Gala Trading Centre on Saturday 16th February 2018; and the body of an unidentified man recovered on Monday 19th February 2018, a few days after two bodies of a couple had been recovered from their house in Pabbo Parish, Layibi Division.

On the other hand, media reports also cited incidents in which policemen were killed and their guns grabbed by unknown assailants last weekend in Kawempe Division, Kampala City and in Busia earlier this week where a gun was grabbed from a police officer after he was assaulted and injured. The Commission therefore strongly condemns these violent acts against police officers and is concerned about the implications of the illegal guns in the hands of thugs. We therefore call on the Uganda Police Force which is constitutionally mandated to secure the lives and property of all Ugandans to strengthen its capacity to deal decisively with such lawlessness and criminality.

The Commission is concerned about the mysterious deaths of foreigners, which were reported in Kampala and Northern Uganda in the recent past. The body of Andreas Nordlander a Swedish national was found in Sheraton Hotel, Kampala while Tuomas Petteri Terasvuori, a Finnish national was found dead in Pearl of Africa Hotel in Kampala. Whereas preliminary findings released by the police last Tuesday indicated that their mysterious deaths were likely to have resulted from an overdose of narcotic drugs, the Commission calls on the security agencies to expedite the investigations and issue a comprehensive report to the public and for the benefit of the concerned countries.   

Two other foreigners who were tourists: Montie Guy Watson, whose body was recovered in a hut in Bwana Tembo Safari Camp Lodge in Nwoya District and Rita Charlotte who died at Pakwach Hospital where she was rushed after allegedly collapsing during a nature walk in Murchison Falls National Park. Police informed the country that its preliminary findings indicated that they could have died of natural causes. Similarly, the Commission is calling for a comprehensive public report to allay the fears of potential tourists to Uganda and to also re-assure the citizens about security in the country.  

  1. Violence against pupils, teachers and parents due to a land wrangle between the UPDF and a Primary School in Jinja District

The Commission condemns the violent actions of the UPDF officers and police as they blocked and dispersed pupils, parents and teachers of Guardian Primary School in Kimaka in Jinja District from accessing the school premises on Monday 19th February 2018 when the school term opened, owing to an outstanding land wrangle. The fracas involving the flogging and violent handling of some pupils, parents and teachers as well as the degrading arrest of the Director of the School, a one James Muwaya that was reported by various media outlets was unfortunate and indeed unnecessary. The Commission further condemns the highhandedness of the soldiers and police who violated the rights of a Bukedde TV journalist Ivan Lubega who is reported to have sustained injuries during the scuffle and whose camera was damaged. Not only were the pupils, teachers and parents physically violated, but the right to education of the affected children was violated as the incident disrupted the normal school programme.  

The Commission reiterates its call to the security organisations involved in the Kimaka scuffle to fulfill their constitutional obligation to observe and respect human rights and freedoms in the performance of their functions as stipulated under Article 221 of the Constitution. The Commission therefore demands that the leadership of the UPDF and Uganda Police Force expeditiously identify and punish the errant officers who were involved in the fracas. The Commission wishes to inform the country that it has also commenced investigations into the human rights violations arising from this incident with a view to bringing the human rights violators to book.

  1. Increasing road traffic accidents and the need to comply with the Presidential directive on observance of traffic laws

The Commission has noted the rising incidence of accidents in the country that have claimed many lives and left scores injured. These senseless deaths and disabilities arising from indiscipline on the road, adversely impact on a whole range of other human rights. For instance the loss of life or injury of a bread winner inevitably leads to loss of livelihood as well as affecting other attendant rights such as the right to health, the right to education, the right to property, the right to food, among many other rights.

Cognisant of the Presidential directive to various stakeholders to strictly enforce traffic laws in order to curb the escalating incidence of danger to the various road users who include the motorists, cyclists and pedestrians across the country, the Commission calls for compliance and urgent action by all concerned.

  1. Climate change and the resultant natural disasters as well as  adverse weather conditions

The Commission noted the efforts by government through the Uganda National Metrological Authority (UNMA) early this week to warn farmers and the public at large of the imminent climate change and the need for communities to put in place disaster risk reduction structures and mechanisms. The country was duly warned about the likelihood of natural calamities such as floods and landslides in disaster prone areas such as Rwenzori and Bugishu sub regions. The Commission also noted the government efforts to contribute to the realisation of the right to food by informing and guiding the country on the onset of the rainy season so that farming can commence and ultimately forestall the incidences of hunger and food insecurity in the country.  

The Commission notes that human rights concerns arising from climate change and natural disasters range from loss of lives, property and livelihood; disruption of the enjoyment of rights such as right to food due loss of crops, right to education due to closure or destruction of schools, rights to health due to closure or destruction of health centers/facilities, displacement and its impact on many rights such as loss of the right to culture due to relocation of victims to distant areas as was the case when the Bagishu were relocated to Bunyoro and other parts of Uganda.

  1.  Shortage of blood and its negative impact on the right to health

The Commission is concerned about the recent reports of shortage of blood at the Uganda Blood Transfusion Service (UBTS).  During its monitoring visits to health facilities across the country, the Commission has always noted with concern the dire need of blood for transfusion and the chronic shortage of blood supplies, which have resulted in loss of lives and general ill health related to aneamia.  Blood is one of the critical ingredients that all health consumers require to enjoy their right to health particularly in cases of emergency; therefore its shortage has a direct negative effect on the realization of this right.

The Uganda Blood Transfusion Service as a national institution has an obligation to collect and stock up adequate quantities of blood in the country in order to save as many lives as possible. The Commission is cognisant of the numerous campaign drives by Uganda Blood Transfusion Service commonly known as the Blood Bank to encourage willing members of the public to donate blood in order to meet its national target which is reported to be about 380,000 units per year. However, the recent allegations that the Blood Bank declined a blood donation from a drive they had reportedly organized with the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), an opposition political party, were in the least disturbing.  The Commission would like to state categorically that donation of blood is a noble cause which should not be politicized or treated casually. The need for blood does not know any distinctions as it can affect anyone anytime. Therefore any blood donation should be welcome as long as it meets the set medical requirements.  

3.        Recommendations

The Commission would therefore wish to make the following recommendations:

  1. The security agencies should respect and observe the rights of journalists and promote media freedoms and freedom of expression in the country.
  2. Security agencies are reminded to at all times respect all the rights of suspects under their custody as enshrined in the Constitution and to fulfill their constitutional obligations in the performance of their functions.
  3. The Uganda Police Force should as a matter of urgency strengthen its capacity to address the increasing lawlessness by stepping up their community policing/neighbourhood watch progammes, increasing their investigative effectiveness as well as  enhancing the security of their armed personnel so that they are not targeted by thugs.
  4. The Uganda Police Force should expedite investigations into these reported crimes to their logical conclusion so that perpetrators can be brought to book.
  5. The Uganda Police Force should expeditiously investigate the mysterious murders mentioned above and make their final reports public to reassure citizens, tourists, investors and all foreign visitors of adequate security in the country.
  6. Whereas the UPDF spokesperson has issued an apology (Daily Monitor of Thursday 15th February 2018) on the Kimaka incident, the UPDF and the Uganda Police Force should to take disciplinary action against their errant officers who were involved in the scuffle with journalists, pupils, teachers and parents of the Kimaka Guardian Primary School in Jinja.  
  7. Both the UPDF and the Guardian Primary School authorities should respect the ongoing court process to resolve the land wrangle, and as much as possible work towards an amicable resolution of the dispute.
  8. The Police and all concerned stakeholders should ensure strict compliance with the Presidential Directive on observance of traffic laws. All road users should fufill their constitutional duties as stipulated in Article 17 of the Constitution in order to eliminate the indiscipline on the road.
  9. The Ministry of Disaster Preparedness should strengthen their early mapping and warning mechanisms to proactively minimize the impact of climate change disasters, for instance communities at risk should be re-located to more secure areas as opposed to dealing with them after the disasters have struck.
  10.  The Uganda Blood Transfusion Service and the FDC should urgently resolve the impasse as the need for blood surpasses any differences in principle the two organisations may have had, so that blood can be collected from those that had offered it.

4.        Conclusion

The Commission will continue to monitor the human rights situation in the country and in particular how the specific government institutions referred to in our recommendations will take appropriate action on the concerns we have raised. We are committed to fulfilling our constitutional mandate to ensure that rights and freedoms are enjoyed and respected by all persons in the country.

For God and My Country


Stephen Basaliza

For: Chairperson