Parliament on Thursday suspended Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) fishing operations on lakes and landing sites following repetitive reports of brutality against the local people.
In 2017, President Yoweri Museveni deployed the army on lakes to curb the rampant illegal fishing activities.
However, after six months upon deployment, residents started accusing soldiers of theft, confiscating and destroying of their property as well as burning houses of fishermen.
Recently,the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga directed the committee on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries to visit the fishing communities and investigate allegations of torture meted on residents.
The challenges investigated included confiscation of boats and vehicles by enforcement officers, a ban on smoked fish, torture, harassment by beating and in some cases killing. There were also allegations of arbitrary arrests and detention, extortion and general disharmony among the fishing community.
When the investigated was done the committee criticised the officers for brutalising the residents. They noted that they received information from fishing communities implicating the officers for killing two people in Namayingo District. While in Buvuma district, Captain Ssebukera Joseph and Lukwago J.B reportedly beat one, Manana to death and no post-mortem report was filed.
However, the State Minister of Defence (Veteran Affairs), Bright Rwamirama, defended the army and challenged the MPs to bring clear cases of alleged indiscipline by the deployed army officers.
“The landing sites that we have closed were not gazetted in Wakiso alone, we have 36 illegal landing sites being used for trading in immature fish. When you bring issues of regulations, produce evidence, if it is a matter of indiscipline on the part of the UPDF officers, we shall deal with it decisively.” Said Rwamirama.
However, complaints continued to flow into the Speakers’ office accusing the soldiers of brutalising fishermen which forced her to call the minster of Defence Adolf Mwesige to explain why the army had continued battling fishmongers and brutalising them while the leadership is doing nothing.
On Wednesday, the Minister was to appear before the House however he never showed up. The House came on fire especially when Kioga MP Anthony Okello reported an incident of last Friday where the UPDF Fisheries Protection Unit soldier allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl and even threatened to kill her.
This matter annoyed Kadaga and adjourned the House session to Thursday.
“It is clear this House is dissatisfied by the violation of the rights of Ugandans by the UPDF unit on water bodies. This House is dissatisfied by a lack of action by the Government. On that note, I suspend this House,” said Kadaga.
The Speaker also directed Mwesige to present a statement to Parliament on Thursday at 10:00 am on the action the Government plans to take to stop the violations.
On Thursday before her final decision, Kadaga first asked the legislators to give suggestions on what they think Parliament needed to do to resolve UPDF matter putting in mind the fact that the House had for the past six months been raising the same concerns many times, but government had not taken the necessary action where even the president called it a blackmailing move by some politicians with their interests.
Bukooli Central MP Solomon Silwany said: “My constituency contains a lake. The indiscipline and extortion by the soldiers on the lakes are shaming. They confiscate vehicles and ask for sh6m to sh12m to return them. As Parliament, we need to decide to resolve the matter once and for all.”
While Arua Municipality MP Kassiano Wadri suggested that Parliament suspends the 10 UPDF MPs to send out a clear message that they are greatly disenchanted.
During the heated debate, the Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, explained to Parliament that the government is addressing the concerns.
“This August House is not helpless on the issues raised. The soldiers have done some good work in helping the fishing industry to recover. The President has given instructions to ensure soldiers focus on their mandate and that acts of misbehaviour are punished,” Rugunda explained.
However, his explained just doubled Kadaga’s anger and she quickly shot it down saying: “For two years, I have been reporting to the President and even giving him names of soldiers who are culprits, but no action has been taken. Instead, they were promoted.”
She added, “The impunity with which the head of the UPDF Fisheries Protection is operating makes him behave as if he is the king of Uganda.”
To sum the matter up, Parliament suspended all the operations of soldiers on all lakes with immediate effect.
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