Background Briefing

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State action against torture

Ugandan Human Rights Commission (UHRC)

The UHRC was established under articles 51 to 59 of the Constitution. It is entrusted with a wide variety of important functions, such as investigating abuses, carrying out prevention work and trying civil suits regarding human rights. Its commissioners sit as judges in a human rights tribunal, where they have the power to make awards of damages for violations of human rights.

According to its most recent report, the UHRC received 446 torture complaints during 2003. 28 Most complaints were against the police, the army and the VCCU. The UHRC recognized that most torture complaints were closely linked to three illegal practices:

The use of torture was closely linked to the use of illegal detention places, detention beyond 48 hours as stipulated by law and the involvement of other security organs in police functions.29

Out of the twenty-one complaints resolved by the UHRC Tribunal in 2003, eleven involved torture. Torture was established in nine of the complaints and in seven cases, compensation was ordered in favor of the complainants.30 However, compensation payments have never been made because of general budgetary constraints in Uganda; no priority for payments is given to human rights victims.

Another key area of work of the UHRC is civic training and education for the promotion of respect for human rights. For example, UHRC has carried out important human rights training with the police and prison officials.31

Criminal prosecution and civil suits regarding torture

In a handful of cases, victims of torture have been able to file civil suits and have been awarded compensation. Apart from the UHRC tribunal, regular courts have occasionally dealt with such cases. For example, in two of the cases mentioned above – Francisco Ogwang Olebe and Pascal Gakyaro – the victims were awarded compensation although no payment has been made by the Ugandan government. Some other cases are pending. A girl and a woman who had been raped by UPDF soldiers and infected with the HIV virus had their case submitted to the High Court in Gulu on March 25, 2005 and are awaiting the court’s decision. An old man tortured with melted plastic on his back in Gulu brought a suit against the Attorney General, who did not appear until the end of the trial, and did not present any witnesses.32

Criminal prosecution is even rarer. Complaints seem to be stifled at the local level by the local military commander. In almost all cases, the perpetrators are not punished.

Parliamentary commissions

A Parliamentary Select Committee to Inquire into Election Violence looked at the misconduct, mismanagement, violence and rigging that characterized the presidential, parliamentary and local elections held in 2001 and 2002. The investigations unearthed cases of detention of suspected opposition politicians in illegal locations, torture and state-sponsored violence against opposition supporters. Unfortunately the report was never debated in parliament, as it was said its contents were too sensitive and touched on matters treated in court.33 In 2005, according to donors, this report was finally to be debated in Parliament; the projected time of late March was not met, however. 34

In 2002, a Select Committee under the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs undertook a study of torture, safe houses, and other places of “ungazetted” (unofficial) detention. Among other things, its members visited prisons and interviewed many torture survivors. Unfortunately the results of this study were also not made public.

[28] UHRC, 6th Annual Report, 2003, p.88.

[29] UHRC, 6th Annual Report, 2003, p.88.

[30] The seven individuals who were awarded compensation payments for torture were the following:  Stephen Gidudu, Akera Eric Bosco, Nsereko Sajjabi, Mahmood Hassouna, Embati Ophen, Acen Rose and Salim Chepkrwui. UHRC, 6th Annual Report, 2003. 

[31] UHRC, 6th Annual Report, 2003; FHRI, The Defender, Vol. 8 Issue No. 2, “Human Rights Education of Law Enforcement Personnel in Relation to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment”, 2004.

[32] See Abused and Abducted, pp. 45-46 ; Human Rights Watch interview, Kampala, March 25, 2005.

[33] “Election Violence Report Shelved, Speaker Bashed,” Monitor, December 4, 2002; “NGOs appeal on violence,” New Vision, April 4, 2005.

[34] Human Rights Watch interviews with donors, Kampala, March 2005.

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