On June 30, Uganda’s High Court ordered Frank “Kaka” Bagyenda, the former director of the Internal Security Organization (ISO), the country’s domestic intelligence services, and 14 ex-security personnel to compensate Musa Nsereko 175 million Ugandan shillings (about US$47,000) for torturing and illegally detaining him for over a year without charge. The court also awarded Nsereko an additional 100 million Ugandan shillings (about $27,256) for violations of his right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under Uganda’s constitution and its binding obligations under international human rights law.
Nsereko claimed that on May 18, 2021, plainclothes security forces arrested him in Kyengera, on the outskirts of the capital Kampala. They detained him at ISO “safehouses” before taking him to Lwamayuba Island, where he was held for 17 months. During his detention, Nsereko said security forces beat him every morning, eventually breaking his hand, and forced him to perform hard labor. As his health deteriorated, he was denied access to medical treatment.
In a March 2022 report, Human Rights Watch documented years of similar enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, detention, and torture by ISO operatives. The report detailed how Bagyenda was instrumental in the unlawful detention of hundreds of individuals. A 2020 report by the Parliament’s human rights committee similarly found that the ISO had tortured and abused detainees in unsanctioned places of detention, as well as in legal detention centers. The Parliament’s Human Rights Committee invited Bagyenda to respond to the allegations against him, but he failed to show up. In June 2022, President Yoweri Museveni pledged to hold perpetrators accountable and to investigate the role Bagyenda played in abductions and unlawful detentions and torture.
In his decision last month, the High Court Justice Ssekaana remarked that despite Uganda’s comprehensive legal framework forbidding torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, these still persist.
While the Court’s verdict is a step in the right direction, many victims of ISO abuses are still waiting for justice. Museveni’s government ought to accept responsibility and take concrete steps to ensure that those involved in abuses are disciplined or prosecuted and that all victims of torture, enforced disappearance, and other serious abuses have access to remedies and reparations, including compensation.