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Uganda: Police Restraint Needed in Response to Protests

Scores Injured and at Least 4 Killed in Downtown Kampala

(Kampala) - The Ugandan police should stop using unnecessary lethal force against protesters in Kampala, where scores of people were injured and at least four died on September 10, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called for a prompt and impartial investigation into the incident, and urged the police to use restraint during future protests.

The violence followed tensions caused by planned celebrations of National Youth Day in the eastern district of Kayunga on September 12. A delegation from Uganda's Buganda kingdom went there to observe preparations for the festivities, where the kabaka, the king of the Baganda people, was to make a formal presentation. The police stopped them from entering the district, where a breakaway ethnic faction, the Banyala, rejects the kabaka's authority. Baganda youth protested in the Kampala suburbs and downtown throughout the afternoon of September 10. Police reacted by firing tear gas and live ammunition. It remains unclear whether any of the protesters engaged in violence.

"The available evidence raises serious concerns that police used excessive force in confronting demonstrators," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "A thorough investigation is needed to find out who is responsible for yesterday's violence."

Human Rights Watch researchers witnessed at least 35 injured people arriving on motorcycle taxis and ambulances at Mulago National Hospital during a two-hour period in the evening. Most had been beaten or hit by rocks. Others had been shot and seriously wounded. Human Rights Watch saw the body of one man who witnesses said had been killed downtown by a stray bullet. A young boy was hit and killed by a stray bullet on the way home from school, a witness to that episode said.

The National Broadcasting Station televised severe beatings of civilians in the afternoon. In one instance, at least 30 people were assembled on a sidewalk, and the police forced men to remove their shirts. A group of men in civilian clothes, standing alongside the uniformed police, beat these people with large sticks. Witnesses said that the men who carried out the beatings are members of an informal volunteer militia known as the Kiboko Stick Squad, which works alongside the police. A police spokesperson denied that members of the Kiboko Stick Squad had been deployed.

The Uganda Broadcasting Council, a government body in charge of monitoring broadcasting services in the country, shut down one radio station, the Central Broadcasting Station, owned by the kingdom of Buganda, allegedly for engaging in sectarian acts. Taking the station off the air prevented people from getting information about violence in and around the city. Knowledgeable sources said that the council told another station, Radio Simba, to stop covering the day's events or face being shut down.

During demonstrations, the police should abide by the United Nations Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Human Rights Watch said. The principles call upon law enforcement officials to apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force, to use force only in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, and to use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

"Violence during protests may require that the police use force, but it must be proportionate," said Gagnon. "Here it appears that the police use of live ammunition prompted an escalation in bloodshed."

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