Rights Activists Sceptical Of Museveni’s New Concern About Torture In Uganda

Describing his security officers as lazy, Museveni said in a televised address Saturday night that he wanted to discuss human rights concerns

UGANDAN human rights activists have welcomed President Yoweri Museveni’s condemnation of torture allegedly committed by police and the armed forces. However, rights activists say they are sceptical whether Museveni will back up his words by prosecuting security forces accused of abuse.

Describing his security officers as lazy, Museveni said in a televised address Saturday night that he wanted to discuss human rights concerns.

Museveni warned security forces against barking at or beating suspects, detaining suspects for long periods in jail and deporting foreigners without trial, saying it disadvantages the country.

He asked for videos to be played of suspects arrested in the trial of the attempted assassination of former Chief of Defence Forces General Edward Katumba Wamala.

One video showed a suspect sobbing in court, saying he was beaten with various canes, which made him say things he shouldn’t be saying.

Other videos showed graphic images of people allegedly tortured by security forces, including a man with raw wounds on his back and another man limping out of court, as well as a police officer running after a woman and beating her repeatedly.

Museveni blamed the torture on acts by individual officers and the failure of senior commanders to instruct junior officers on what should and shouldn’t be done.

According to Museveni, the abuses damage the legitimacy, history and achievements of the National Resistance Army that brought him to power and the ruling National Resistance Movement Party.

‘Beating captives is wrong. Why? You undermine your case in court — when the court discovered that you got information through torture. Secondly, on account of beating, somebody may admit what is not true. Torture, assassination, et cetera, are used by lazy people that are not ready to do more work using gaps in the stories of the criminals if they are telling lies,’ he said.

Museveni promised to eliminate such torture and use the law to uproot the culture of reactionary behavior in the armed forces.

However, Livingston Sewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, expressed doubt that Museveni’s words will be followed up with real change.

He said Museveni often changes the rules to suit his goals, leaving questions as to his sincerity and commitment.

‘There’s still a class of people who are increasingly being untouchable, and the president needs them for his political survival,’ Sewanyana said. ‘So, much as he comes out as strong, with warnings, he definitely does not live (up) to his words. And the way politics is played here, it is all about who has the president’s ear.’

Samuel Herbert Nsubuga, CEO of the non-government organisation the African Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, told VOA that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they have not had access to any prison facilities. But he said the situation of torture in the country is prevalent, and the president needs to act.

‘But the issue is those images he showed. I would like those people who did that to the suspects to be prosecuted in the courts of law. There’s that gap which we really want the justice institutions to fill,’ Nsubuga said.

Sewanyana insisted that Museveni’s pronouncement was triggered by the need to restore the country’s image and the realization that torture has a negative impact on the economy.

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