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Statement by UHRC on Recent Human Rights Concerns in the Country

Meddia Kagwa, Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) Meddia Kagwa, Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC)

 

RELEASE DATE: MAY 5, 2017

The Uganda Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned about the general escalation of killings in the country which have been prevalent in the last three months. The Commission condemns them in the strongest terms possible. The Commission has noted the reports about the gruesome killings occurring in Greater Masaka area, especially in Lwengo, Bukomansimbi, Kalungu and Masaka Districts and spreading to some parts of Kampala and Kayunga District.  Our attention was also drawn to the Monitor Newspaper reports in March this year about the alleged killings in Teso sub region. 

Not only have the attackers caused loss of lives, they have left many victims with injuries and allegedly raped others. A case in point is in Masaka, where in the most recent attacks at Kyabakuza, a suburb of Masaka Municipality, the thugs struck three families causing death and injuries as well as raping some women. 

Out of concern, the Commission held meetings with the District Internal Security Officer, the officer in charge of Greater Masaka Regional Criminal Investigations Department and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Masaka, in which assurance was given that the situation was under control. The Commission was assured that the District Security Committee had increased night patrols, intensified intelligence gathering and had by 6th April 2017 apprehended 21 suspects. The State Attorney sanctioned two files and a combined number of 18 suspects appeared in court and were remanded to prison, while one file from Lwengo was still under review. 

It is disheartening to note that the killings by unknown assailants have this year intensified and taken on a more dangerous and bold form in parts of the country. Consequently, they have caused a lot of anxiety among the citizens who are increasingly feeling insecure. The way the assailants operate, using intimidation tactics of dropping anonymous letters and seeming to know their victims, has caused a lot of fear and anxiety among the communities in the affected districts, the neighbouring areas and the country at large. 

On the other hand, whereas these cases are currently being handled by police and other stakeholders within the criminal justice system, the Commission would like to caution on respect of the rights of suspects. The Commission’s Regional Office in Soroti, for instance, has already received complaints regarding violations of the right to life; torture and detention of suspects beyond the constitutional 48 hours by the police. 

The Commission whose mandate is to protect and promote human rights in Uganda, is concerned about the reported killings because they infringe on a number of fundamental human rights provided for in the Constitution of Uganda, the regional and international human rights instruments to which Uganda is party. Article 22 (1) of the Constitution of Uganda prohibits the deprivation of the right to life except in execution of a sentence after a fair trial. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that they could be outright crimes and matters of security which squarely fall within the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary.

Apart from the obvious violation of the right to life, these killings also disrupt the lives of the victims’ dependents who may consequently suffer economic hardships that affect a whole range of rights including the rights of children and other dependants.

The Commission has previously condemned such wanton killings and made recommendations on how to address the situation. Our findings on the possible causes of these killings ranged from misuse of fire arms especially by security guards; guns being in the wrong hands after forcefully grabbing them from security personnel; to the high prevalence of poverty and hard economic conditions compounded by increasing unemployment levels that make the victims vulnerable and desperate for survival. 

Factors that fanned the situation included the low policing capacity evident in the lack of modern investigation equipment; declining community vigilance including lack of LC structures; inadequate funding to the Uganda Police Force; increased cases of human sacrifice and domestic violence. Land disputes; porous borders and laxity in security and immigration procedures at borders and increased incidence of mob action were also reported to have contributed to the high incidence of killings in Uganda over the past years. The Commission published these concerns in its 2013 Annual Report.

In view of the foregoing, the Commission recommends that:

  1. Government through the police should fufill its duty to protect the citizens and their property by adequately equipping the police to identify criminal elements in the communities and apprehend them
  2. The police should expedite investigations into these murders, conclude them and  bring the culprits to justice as well as manage the fear and anxiety among communities and the country at large;
  3. Government should urgently conduct Local Council elections in order to have legally elected leaders at the grassroots who will be charged with ensuring security in their jurisdictions;
  4. Government through police and other security agencies should strengthen their intelligence gathering function in order to stem crime;
  5. Police should strengthen its community policing and neighbourhood watch programmes across the country in order to weed criminals from the communities
  6. Citizens should report to police any suspicious elements in their communities;
  7. Government should urgently address the problem of the increasing number of unemployed youth in the country who have become desperate for survival;
  8. Government should urgently address the issue of guns in illegal hands by streamlining the issuance of guns to private individuals;
  9. Government should put in place alternative livelihood programmes for veterans; 
  10. Members of the public should respect each other’s rights including the right to life and respect the rule of law by desisting from criminal activities. 

 

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