US report on Uganda accuses Museveni regime of human rights abuses


Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.

Voters re-elected Museveni to a fourth five-year term and returned an NRM majority to the unicameral Parliament in 2011.

While the election marked an improvement over previous elections, it was marred by irregularities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The three most serious human rights problems in the country included: lack of respect for the integrity of the person (unlawful killings, torture, and other abuse of suspects and detainees); restrictions on civil liberties (freedoms of assembly, expression, the media, and association); and violence and discrimination against marginalized groups, such as women (sexual and gender-based violence), children (sexual abuse and ritual killing), persons with disabilities, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Other human rights problems included harsh prison conditions, arbitrary and politically motivated arrest and detention, lengthy pre-trial detention, restrictions on the right to a fair trial, official corruption, societal or mob violence, trafficking in persons, and child labour.

Although the government occasionally took steps to punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere, impunity was a problem.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

  1. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On September 8, media reported security forces in Apaa Parish in the north shot and killed five persons during a land dispute over the government’s border demarcation. Local residents also claimed authorities used tear gas and physically assaulted protesters. The Uganda Land Alliance reported 17 persons were hospitalized, some of whom had bullet wounds. Police claimed they had not fired live ammunition and that they used reasonable force to disperse protesters.

On May 26, a court in Jinja acquitted police officers Patrick Nuwagaba and Julian Mucunguzi of murder in connection with the January 2014 killing of Rashid Ntale, a seventh-grade pupil shot when the officers fired on students rioting in the Bugembe sports stadium. The judge acquitted the officers due to inconclusive evidence following the failure of prosecution witnesses to testify.

There were developments in the July 2014 violence in the western Rwenzori region, in which more than 100 persons were killed in 13 coordinated attacks by ethnic groups and UPDF counterattacks. In the largest of the attacks, a group of ethnic Bakonzo attacked the Kanyamwirima army barracks in Bundibugyo. The Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) reportedly killed up to 50 of the attackers and subsequently buried them in a mass grave along with other victims in Bundibugyo. Local politicians and lawyers claimed that the deceased included civilians caught in the crossfire as they ran toward the barracks to seek shelter, a charge denied by government and UPDF officials.

From July 22 to 26, authorities exhumed the mass grave outside the army barracks and uncovered the bodies of 55 men and one woman.

Of the 183 suspects arrested after the attacks, a court martial in Kasese convicted 11 civilians of murder on August 7 and sentenced them to 25 years’ imprisonment; the other suspects were released.

There were also reports of targeted or politically motivated killings by nonstate actors. On March 30, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Joan Kagezi, the head of prosecution of the International Crimes Division of the High Court.

Kagezi was handling several high profile cases, including prosecution of the suspects from the 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala. The inspector general of police blamed the killing on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); 12 suspects were arrested.

On November 18, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) reported the evidence was inconclusive to warrant prosecution against any of the suspects and returned the file to the police for further investigation.

Unknown assailants killed two Muslim leaders during the year, and another three clerics escaped armed attack, bringing to nine the confirmed number of Muslim leaders killed since 2012. Most attacks were carried out in a similar manner, with a gunman firing shots from a motorcycle at close range.

The government alleged the ADF ordered the killings. Most Muslim leaders disputed that allegation, and many posited that the killings related to a leadership struggle within the Tabliq sect that follows the tenets of Salafist Islam. Unidentified individuals distributed a “hit list” of prominent Muslim leaders at certain mosques in Kampala, and police offered protection to those clerics and other prominent Muslim leaders. While police arrested scores of suspects, there were no convictions by year’s end.

On July 31, soldiers deployed to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) shot and killed seven civilians attending a wedding party in Marka, Somalia. UPDF soldiers reportedly carried out the killings after a bomb attack on an AMISOM convoy.

In August the African Union (AU) reported it indicted three of the soldiers who would be arraigned before a “military judicial process.” At year’s end the UPDF reported the three remained incarcerated and that investigations were being conducted by the AU and UPDF.

  1. Disappearance

Opposition activists reported politically motivated disappearances (see section 3), including that of Christopher Aine, who disappeared after police reportedly detained him on December 17; Aine was a campaign aide and private head of security for former prime minister and presidential aspirant Amama Mbabazi. Prior to Aine’s detention, police said they were tracking him and other suspects due to their purported involvement in political violence in Ntungamo District, during which more than 12 persons were injured.

Associates of Aine denied he was involved in the incident. Authorities denied involvement in Aine’s disappearance or any other politically motivated disappearances. In September police arrested Aine following an altercation with police during a campaign rally in Jinja District. Police originally denied holding him but later released him.

  1. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The 2012 Antitorture Bill stipulates any person convicted of an act of torture may be subject to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of 7.2 million shillings ($1,970), or both. The penalty for conviction of aggravated torture is life imprisonment.

There were credible reports security forces tortured and beat suspects. The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and international and local human rights organizations reported incidents of torture by security forces, including rape, severe beating, and kicking.

Through June the UHRC awarded 520 million shillings ($142,000) to victims of torture and other abuses. The director of litigation in the Office of the Attorney General, however, reported the government had not paid victims since May because the Ministry of Finance had not released money. Between January and June, the African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) registered 284 allegations of torture against police, 37 against the UPDF, 28 against local council officials, and 25 against crime preventers (individuals trained by police to provide village security).

In addition the ACTV assisted 87 former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abductees in filing claims against the LRA for torture in years past.

Security force use of excessive force and torture during arrests and other law enforcement operations resulted in casualties. On April 1, UPDF soldiers and Uganda Police Force (UPF) officers injured 56 persons protesting their eviction during a land dispute in Apaa Parish.

Protesters claimed security forces beat them with sticks and kicked them. The UPDF acknowledged the 4th Division was deployed in the area at the time and stated the allegations of brutality would be investigated.

There were numerous reports of torture and abuse in police detention facilities. For example, on June 8, the police Professional Standards Unit arrested Officer Orest Muhire in Kabale District for allegedly depriving five suspects in custody of food.

Muhire was charged with assault and misconduct.

On May 9, the police spokesperson reported the conclusion of the investigation into the August 2014 alleged torture and extortion by police of Hassan Matovu, whose case was forwarded to the DPP for further advice. On November 19, however, the DPP’s office in Mityana District reported it was unaware of the case.

The UPDF continued its investigation of a September 2014 Human Rights Watch report that documented 24 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM personnel. The UPDF sent two teams to Somalia to investigate the claims and identified five instances of consensual encounters.

Three of those cases were linked to UPDF soldiers, who faced court martial charges for conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline under Section 178 of the UPDF Act. The UPDF investigation of the charges of sexual exploitation and abuse continued at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained poor and, in some cases, life threatening. Serious problems included long periods of pretrial custody, overcrowding, inadequate food, and understaffing.

Local human rights groups, including the Foundation for Human Rights Initiatives (FHRI), received reports security forces and prison wardens tortured inmates, particularly in government prisons, military facilities, and unregistered detention centers.

Reports of forced labor continued (see section 7.b.). Most prisons across the country were not designed to accommodate persons with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding remained a problem. On September 30, Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) spokesperson Frank Baine said a system with a maximum inmate capacity of 19,000 incarcerated more than 45,000 persons.

Prison authorities blamed overcrowding on the criminal justice system because it did not process cases in a timely manner.

Although separate facilities existed for female prisoners in the central prisons, services and facilities for women in local prisons, including separate cells, were lacking in some areas.

The UPS had no budget for accommodating pregnant women or mothers with infants but claimed all pregnant mothers received antenatal care services and special diets.

In prisons where antenatal services were unavailable, pregnant inmates were referred to the nearest government hospital. As of August, 235 babies stayed in prison with their mothers. Some women’s prisons also had day-care facilities. Due to lack of space in juvenile facilities, the prisons service held minors in prisons with adults.

The UHRC observed that 91 juveniles were held in adult detention facilities in 2014. In Kampala authorities separated pre-trial detainees from convicted prisoners but not elsewhere due to lack of space.

Unlike in the previous year, local human rights groups did not report any deaths of prisoners from abuse, although FHRI received reports of prison staff and fellow inmates beating and abusing prisoners.

Outside Kampala, some prisons lacked food, water, medical care, means to transport inmates to court, bedding, adequate infrastructure, and sanitation facilities.

The UHRC inspected 180 of the country’s 247 prisons and found only 100 of those inspected provided three meals a day to inmates. The UHRC found only 23 prisons had onsite provisions for the needs of expectant mothers and persons living with HIV/AIDS.

Administration: Recordkeeping remained a problem due to an insufficient number of computers and other technical problems. The UPS reported 10,542 minor criminal offenders had received the community service option since 2014.

The prisons service had an officer with the rank of commissioner who investigated and mediated complaints between management and prisoners.

The prison ombudsman is responsible for ensuring that complaints, disputes, or deaths are verified or resolved as they occur. Prison authorities acknowledged a backlog in the investigation of complaints.

Independent Monitoring: Information was limited on conditions in unregistered and illegal detention facilities. Unlike in the previous year, local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including FHRI and Human Rights Network (HURINET), did not register any complaints of illegal or unregistered detention facilities or safe houses.

Persons were held at unidentified facilities before being transferred to police facilities, according to media reports and unverified reports received by a foreign embassy.

Authorities allowed international NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), foreign diplomats, and local NGOs to conduct prison visits with advance notification. FHRI inspected 31 prisons during the year.

Improvements: The government took several steps to improve prison conditions. In April prison authorities hired 1,228 staff, bringing the total number of prison staff to 7,448.

According to Commissioner General of Prisons John Byabashaija, staff levels still were inadequate. The UPS reported funds were allocated to provide flush toilets in the remaining 58 of 247 prisons that had none.

  1. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, security forces often arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, including opposition leaders, politicians, activists, demonstrators, and journalists.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The UPF, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has primary responsibility for law enforcement. The UPDF, under the Ministry of Defense, is charged with external security.

The UPDF Act also authorizes the UPDF to aid civil authorities in instances of riots or other disturbances of the peace. The Internal Security Organization and External Security Organization–security agencies and intelligence-gathering entities under the Ministry of Security–occasionally detained civilians.

The Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence is legally under UPDF authority and may detain civilians suspected of rebel or terrorist activity. Other agencies included the Directorate of Counter Terrorism, the Joint Intelligence Committee, Special Forces Brigade, Special Revenue Protection Unit, Popular Intelligence Network, and the State House Counterintelligence Unit, among others.

The UPF was constrained by limited resources, including low pay and lack of vehicles, equipment, and training. The UPF’s Professional Standards Unit (PSU) investigated complaints of police abuse, including torture, assault, unlawful arrest and detention, death in custody, mismanagement of case documentation, and corrupt practices.

The UPF was the sole government agency with responsibility for investigating charges of impunity. As of September the PSU registered 172 complaints of human rights violations by police officers.

In conjunction with the UHRC and international organizations, including the ICRC and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UPDF and UPF trained officers in internationally recognized human rights standards. During the year the UHRC trained 1,110 police officers in human rights and the 2012 Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act. The UPF, UPDF, and UPS also used human rights manuals in their training programs.

The UPF, through its community policing initiative, trained civilian youths as “crime preventers.” Crime preventers, who receive one to two months of training, have authority to arrest suspects and nominally are under the authority of district police commanders. Estimates varied as to how many crime preventers had been trained. UPF officials stated they aimed to place 30 trained crime preventers in each village in the country.

On August 30, Dennis Wangutu, a crime preventer in Bududa District, reportedly shot and killed 16-year-old Daniel Wanzama, whose soccer ball hit a police post. Police arrested the crime preventer and an officer who was in charge of the station. According to media, a police investigation continued at year’s end.

Impunity was a problem. Trials of security forces officers accused of using excessive force were frequently delayed due to weaknesses in investigative mechanisms, and some cases were not investigated or brought to trial.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that judges or prosecutors issue arrest warrants before arrests are made, unless an arrest is made during commission of a crime or while in pursuit of a perpetrator. Authorities often arrested suspects without warrants in other circumstances, however. The law requires authorities to charge suspects within 48 hours of arrest, but they frequently held suspects longer.

Authorities must try suspects arrested under the Antiterrorism Law within 120 days (360 days if charged with a capital offense) or release them on bail; if the case is presented to the court before the expiration of this period, there is no limit on further pretrial detention.

While the law requires authorities to inform detainees immediately of the reasons for detention, they did not always do so. The law provides for bail at the discretion of the judge. Judges generally granted bail, albeit with stringent conditions.

The law requires detainees to have access to a lawyer, but authorities denied many of them their legal right to representation. According to the law, the government provides attorneys for indigent defendants charged with capital offenses, but funds were rarely available to retain counsel.

During the year complaints of incommunicado detention dropped dramatically. In contrast with 2014, FHRI and HURINET did not register any complaints concerning incommunicado detention. A foreign embassy, however, received reports of political activists held incommunicado in unmarked facilities (see section 3).

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests during police sweeps remained a problem, as were arbitrary arrests allegedly based on preventive action, suspicion of treason, disobeying lawful orders, and incitement of violence charges.

On October 15, police arrested and detained presidential aspirant Kizza Besigye–former head of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)–and FDC spokesperson Ssemujja Nganda to prevent them from attending a rally in Iganga District and the openings of party offices in Kampala suburbs.

Police preventively arrested both as they deemed the rally a “campaign” being held in violation of Electoral Commission rules. The FDC maintained the rally was a legal “party mobilization” event. Police released Besigye and Nganda the same day without charge.

Arrest cases from previous years continued in court. For example, on November 5, activists Jonathan Odur and David Angulu appeared in court again following their February 2014 arrest for disobeying lawful orders and participating in unlawful assembly. The court adjourned their case to February 1, 2016.

Trials in the 2012 treason case against FDC deputy electoral commissioner Michael Kabaziguruka, FDC chairperson for Ntungamo District John Kareebe, former UPDF soldier Frederick Namara, and primary school teacher John Rutagorwa had not begun by year’s end.

The suspects remained free on bail but were required to report monthly to court.

Pretrial Detention: Case backlogs in the judicial system routinely contributed to pretrial detentions of two to three years but sometimes extended to seven years. The UPS reported that more than 54 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees.

Suspects complained of long periods of pretrial custody. FHRI reported police arrested Moses Tumusime in 2008 on murder charges. He last appeared in court in 2008 and remained in custody in Kitalya Prison. In November the officer in charge of the prison reported that Tumusime was still held on remand and that his file was sent to the High Court in 2012.

Amnesty: In June the minister of internal affairs, based on powers enumerated in the Amnesty Act, extended the act for 24 months. Since 2000 the government has offered blanket, unconditional amnesty for all crimes committed by individuals who engaged in war or armed rebellion against the government. Between January and June, the Uganda Amnesty Commission processed 28 cases, of which 17 were LRA returnees.

On April 8, the Supreme Court ordered Thomas Kwoyelo, a former LRA rebel, to be tried in the International Crimes Division section of the High Court, overturning a 2011 Constitutional Court ruling that Kwoyelo should receive amnesty (see section 5).

  1. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision. Corruption, understaffing, and inefficiency were problems in the lower courts. Authorities generally respected court orders.

The president appoints Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, and High Court judges, and members of the Judicial Service Commission (which makes recommendations on appointments to the judiciary),with the approval of Parliament.

A shortage of judges in the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, High Court, and the lower courts affected the delivery of justice during the year, since the lack of a judicial quorum meant cases could not be heard. On March 5, after nearly two years without a chief justice, the president appointed the most senior judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Bart Katureebe, as chief justice.

Judicial corruption was a problem, especially in the lower courts. The media reported numerous instances of magistrates arrested for taking bribes. On March 6, lawyer Bakampa Brian Baryaguma stated court clerks at Nakawa High Court demanded bribes when he attempted to file a bail application for a client held in pretrial detention since 2011.

According to section 119 of the UPDF Act, civilian suspects may be tried by court martial if they attack the military with firearms, accompany military officers in an attack, or are found in illegal possession of firearms. Military law establishes a court martial appeals process.

Only senior UPDF leadership may grant appeals of sentences, including the death penalty. If deemed exigent military authorities may convene a field court martial at the scene of an alleged crime. The law does not permit appeal of a field court martial conviction.

On August 7, a court martial in Kasese District convicted 11 civilians of murder and sentenced them to 25 years’ imprisonment (see section 1.a).

Trial Procedures

An inadequate system of judicial administration resulted in a serious backlog of cases and impaired the right to a fair and speedy trial. There is a presumption of innocence. All non-military trials are public; juries are not used. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide an attorney for indigent defendants accused of capital offenses, but funds were rarely available to provide counsel. By law defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Authorities sometimes did not respect this right.

Defendants have the right to obtain documentary evidence the state intends to use against them before a trial starts. This right of disclosure is not absolute in sensitive cases. Defendants have the right of appeal and had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense.

They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or to confess guilt. These rights extend to all groups.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

During the year authorities detained several opposition politicians and activists on politically motivated grounds for short periods (see section 3). Authorities released many of them without charge but charged others with crimes such as terrorism, treason, inciting violence, holding illegal meetings, and abuse of office.

On July 9, police arrested and detained two presidential aspirants–the FDC’s Kizza Besigye and former prime minister Amama Mbabazi–in separate incidents. Before they could attend planned political consultations and public rallies, police placed both under preventive arrest.

Police claimed they arrested Besigye because of intelligence indicating he would “compromise security.” Police further stated that Mbabazi’s planned rally was illegal because his political party had not endorsed him as a presidential aspirant and that his planned rally was in violation of the Public Order Management Act. Both denied the allegations and were released the same day.

The 2011 terrorism case against Democratic Party activist Annet Namwanga and nine others continued; the suspects remained free on bail. The next hearing was scheduled for March 14, 2016.

Full report here: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2015&dlid=252741#wrapper

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