The mechanisms for holding government agents accountable are usually not effective in Uganda—and the government seemingly has no desire to make them so, despite a constitutional provision for government agents’ accountability.188 Nevertheless, parliament, the Ugandan Human Rights Commission, and the courts, among other institutions, do provide possibilities for putting pressure on the executive authorities to halt abuses. Even the ordinary police can in some cases—such as that of Adele, above—be helpful in reducing abuses by other security agents, though—as in Adele’s case—they are often ultimately powerless in the face of the UPDF, CMI or other military or security agencies.
A human rights NGO, FHRI, put together a dossier of torture cases and sent it to the Minister of Internal Affairs for his action (as well as to the UHRC). The then minister, Eriya Kategaya, said that he would instruct that the possible perpetrators be investigated. The FHRI, however, did not receive feedback on this list. The cabinet member to whom they submitted the list was dropped from the cabinet in a March-April 2003 shuffle.189 The government denies all allegations of torture.
Responding to public concern at the sorts of abuses described in this report, the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs (PCDIA) formed in 2002 an ad hoc select committee to undertake a study of torture, safe houses, and other places of ungazetted detention. Among other things, its members visited prisons and interviewed many torture survivors. Prisoners and others presented lists, names, and testimonies to the committee. The parliamentarians did not attempt to visit CMI or any military barracks, however.190
A frequently-mentioned safe house or illegal place of detention the sub-committee did visit was the one located on Clement Hill Road in Kampala, the Operation Wembley headquarters.191 The parliamentary sub-committee visited that location after December 2002, according to its draft report, part of which Human Rights Watch saw. It was not a surprise visit. It found that the former Operation Wembley headquarters was no longer a headquarters. It observed two cells where prisoners were held, and one prisoner waiting in reception. It concluded that there was no torture going on (at the time of the visit).192
The draft report of the PCDIA has not been finalized and it has not been made public, nor has the matter has not been debated or considered further by Parliament. According to one parliamentarian, the draft report has been shelved three times. The Movement system has a majority in Parliament: of 305 parliamentarians, there are only eighty in active opposition.
Although the report is not final nor public, Colonel Noble Mayombo of CMI referred to it in his reply to a letter from Human Rights Watch, indicating that the Parliamentarians (or some of them) reached conclusions on the credibility of some of the victims mentioned in HRW’s letter.193
The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) was established under articles 51 to 59 of the 1995 constitution. The UHRC is entrusted with a wide variety of important functions, including the ability to initiate investigations of human rights violations; to have access to and monitor detention conditions; to conduct educational and other activities to promote human rights awareness; and to monitor and make recommendations for government compliance with its international obligations. The UHRC is empowered to subpoena any witness or document, order the release of any detained person, and recommend payment or compensation, or any other legal remedy after it finds the existence of a human rights abuse. However, the commission cannot investigate any matters pending before a court of law, matters relating to Uganda's dealings with other countries or international organizations, or matters relating to the prerogative of mercy. The powers, functions, and structure of the UHRC are implemented in greater detail by the Uganda Human Rights Commission Act passed by parliament in 1997.194
The UHRC has investigated torture cases and, pursuant to its procedures, held hearings by the UHRC tribunal.195 The Commission is a standing body whose powers, set forth in the constitution, include the powers of a court.196 The agency of government found guilty of the torture or other illegal conduct by the Commission may appeal the decision to the High Court. In some cases the Commission has awarded damages for torture. Many such cases are pending before it. In one case, it awarded 59 million Ugandan shillings as damages to a torture victim.197
Some 70 percent of the complaints disposed of by the Commission from January 2001 to September 2002 involved torture (eleven of eighteen complaints).198 The UHRC could not easily investigate all torture cases, however. Although the UHRC has a constitutional mandate to visit and inspect all places of detention, it has not been able to gain access to UPDF facilities without notice, nor to CMI under any conditions. The UPDF has required the Commission to notify army authorities about any impending inspections, a condition that is “flawed in many respects.” 199
The UPDF has used notice to hide its crimes from outsiders. For instance, in Kasese, the UPDF ordered a civilian prisoner, who was held in a hole in the ground twenty-one hours of the day, to don a UPDF uniform and stay out of the hole during the day of a prison visit by an international agency.200 The Ministry of Defense has never agreed to any other mechanism for visits.201
The disadvantage of the UHRC as a venue for recourse in case of torture is that their awards are not as generous as a victim might receive by retaining an attorney to take the case to the High Court. Nevertheless, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) wanted to meet with representatives of the UHRC to discuss the Commission’s “excessive awards,” according to one commissioner.202
The UHRC theoretically may process cases faster than the High Court, but that does not mean that the process is speedy. One complainant said, “The commission takes too long. It is better to force the government to hand over the accused to an international court of law.”203 The rules of the Commission were changed to improve service; the Tribunal now consists of one commissioner, as opposed to three. This eases scheduling quite a bit. Only a commissioner may sit on the Tribunal, although there are some 110 employees of the UHRC.204
In at least one recent High Court case (Gulu), damages have been awarded to torture victims that may have a deterrent effect. More such judgments in private suits will probably be required, however, to bring sufficient monetary and public pressure to force the authorities to act decisively to end torture.
Civil litigation for damages for torture have sought remedies available in other cases of injuries. Where the person has been detained illegally, damages are sought for that rights violation as well. The most detailed analysis to date of the amounts awards and the circumstances under which they were awarded is in the decision by the Gulu High Court in February 2003 (see above).205
188 Ugandan Constitution, article 26.
189 Human Rights Watch interview, Livingston Sewanyana, Kampala, June 12, 2003.
190 Draft, report of Sub-Committee of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs (PCDIA), undated. The sub-committee comprised a chairperson and four members, one of whom had the title of captain; under the Ugandan Constitution, seats in Parliament are set aside or reserved for military personnel so it seems that the sub-committee included military personnel who were members of parliament. The sub-committee concluded that there was no torture in the facilities that it visited: JATT headquarters; the former Operation Wembley headquarters on Clement Hill Road; Najankumbi I House, a training facility for ISO which was relocated in December 2002 to Heritage Park; Heritage Park, a new not-yet-operational training facility for ISO; and ISO headquarters (the only surprise visit). The sub-committee noted that the former dungeon at ISO headquarters had been turned into an armory and document storage area. Draft report, undated.
191 Human Rights Watch interview, office near Clement Hill Road, Kampala, June 16, 2003. Some working nearby reported many comings and going by cars without license plates, usually a sign of security officials.
192 Draft report of Sub-Committee of the PCDIA.
193 For instance, in response to the allegations by Dan Mugarura of use of snakes to terrify prisoners, the Ugandan government stated, “These allegations were dismissed as wild and unsubstantiated by the Uganda Parliamentary committee investigating into allegations of torture. The Committee visited the alleged “safe houses” and the Speaker of Parliament can avail the report they made thereafter.” Letter, Colonel Mayombo to Rone, March 13, 2004. This remains to be further investigated by HRW.
194 See Human Rights Watch, Protectors or Pretenders, chapter on Uganda.
195 Human Rights Watch interview, Veronica Eragu Bichetero, June 13, 2003.
196 Uganda Constitution, article 53 (1). The court powers include the issuance of summons and the power to compel testimony, on pain of contempt of court.
197 Stephen Gidudu vs. Attorney General, UHRC at Kampala, February 26, 2003.
198 UHRC, Annual Report, p. 102.
199 Ibid., p. 38. In 1998 the UHRC was part of a delegation that entered one UPDF facility after giving notice. Ibid.
200 Human Rights Watch/FHRI interview, Hassan, Kasese, April 2002 (above).
201 UHRC, Annual Report, p. 38.
202 Human Rights Watch interview, Veronica Eragu Bichetero, Kampala, June 13, 2003.
203 Human Rights Watch interview, Ibrahim Lwere, June 18, 2003.
204 Human Rights Watch interview, Veronic Eragu Bichetero, June 13, 2003.
205 Ruling, Hon. Ronald Reagan Okumu and John Livingstone Okello Okello vs. Attorney General, High Court at Gulu, February 14, 2003.