Members of Ugandan Parliament probing human rights abuses by security agencies in Uganda on Tuesday September 10, 2019, got a rude awakening when they visited unannounced the home said to be operated by the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) Director General Brig Frank Bagyenda Kaka, and were denied entry.
The entire Human rights committee were stranded outside one of the houses in Kyengera where a guard explicitly told MPs that the facility was under the custodianship of Brig Kaka.
However, this place has been cited by several torture victims, and that was a reason why MPs stormed the facility unannounced.
The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) states torture is any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Thus, the Convention Against Torture identifies the following three elements that, if combined, constitute torture: 1) intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering; 2) for a specific purpose, such as to obtain information, as punishment, or to intimidate, or for any reason based on discrimination; and, 3) by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of State authorities.
When teary victims told Parliament last week how they were subjected to several torture technics including electrocution, waterboarding, beatings, cuts with sharp objects, among others, it should have come down to MPs that Uganda was sitting on a terrible human rights abuses and something needed to be done.
This is not the first-time torture in illegal detention centre has come under scrutiny.
At the height of Gen Kale Kayihura reign as police chief, he was widely criticized for running an ungazetted detention facility called Nalufenya in Jinja which many complained about as a torture place. Before Kayihura, it was the late Brig Noble Mayombo who had created these torture chambers which attracted lots of national criticism from human rights agencies across the globe.
With stories of torture at more than 21 safehouses spread across the country returning with unequivocal force, something needs to be done. These symbols of degrading human treatment by the Ugandan security, should be done away with, because they don’t contribute to good governance or promotion of the rule of law and justice.
It is unfortunate that we have been treated to statements from the minister of security Gen Elly Tumwine, admitting that his ministry runs safe houses, but does not regret the horrendous crimes reported as being committed inside those places.
Gen Tumwine, a proud freedom fighter, should know well better that it is these practices that awakened the good in him to sacrifice his life for Uganda’s liberation from similar state excesses. It is the same spirit which drove his compatriot Brig Kaka to spend his life in the 1981-86 bush war to usher in a new dawn where Ugandans appreciate and receive justice as proud citizens.
The Kyengera safe houses, Base 1 and Base 2, and others, have robbed Ugandans of their dignity and human rights. They have caused uncountable pain to families whose missing relatives for months they have no access, and of course, no kind of justice support is offered to them.
We condemn the illegal detention of Ugandans in “safe” rather these unsafe houses. We condemn torture of persons. We condemn the denial of justice to people who are held at these facilities.
Uganda is a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which is an international human rights treaty that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.
The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) on its website says as one of the most universally recognized human rights, the prohibition of torture has attained status as ajus cogensor peremptory norm of general international law, also giving rise to the obligationerga omnes(owed to and by all States) to take action against those who torture.
Forewarned, is forearmed.