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US Imposes Sanctions on Ex-Ugandan Military Commander

Uganda Should Investigate 2016 Massacre by Security Forces

Then-Brig. Gen. Peter Elwelu of Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces gives an interview at Mbarara military base, Uganda, on February 7, 2014. © 2014 Isaac Kasmani/AFP via Getty Images

On May 30, the US government announced travel sanctions against five former and current Ugandan government officials, including Peter Elwelu, the former deputy chief of the Ugandan Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF). The US State Department announced that Elwelu was sanctioned due to “extrajudicial killings that were committed by members of the UPDF” while he was commanding Ugandan military forces. As a result, he and the other officials will be ineligible for entry into the United States.

Human Rights Watch has documented that on November 26, 2016, after years of tension between the Ugandan government and the Rwenzururu kingdom in western Uganda, soldiers under then-Brigadier Elwelu’s command stormed the kingdom’s administration offices in Kasese town and killed at least nine people. Later that day, at least 32 civilians and 14 police died amid clashes.

The following day, the army raided the palace of Charles Mumbere, the king of the Rwenzururu kingdom. They arrested him and scores of others, including children, and transferred them more than 400 kilometers away to a police station often used to detain terrorism suspects. There, the military severely beat and interrogated many of those detained before charging them with treason, terrorism, and murder. We found that at least 155 people, including children, died over the two days.

The Ugandan government has not carried out an independent investigation into the security forces’ actions during the November 2016 events and have failed to identify those responsible or hold anyone to account. Official government statistics have also given inconsistent casualty figures.

Officials said they could not investigate the killings until those arrested during the raid on the palace were tried. But since June 2023, when prosecutors dropped charges against 218 people apprehended by the military, there has been no update from the authorities and no word about ensuring justice for those killed during the raid.

While the US sanctions fall short of financial sanctions, including the freezing of assets possible under the US Global Magnitsky Act, they nevertheless serve as a reminder that the Ugandan authorities should finally ensure an independent investigation into the security forces’ actions in Kasese, hold those responsible for the massacre accountable, and ensure justice for the many victims and their families.

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