The brazen attack by police officers on Opposition activist Kizza Besigye on Monday has renewed calls for prosecuting individual security operatives who abuse citizens.
In that incident, three senior police officers have so far been identified for their active involvement in the brutality that has received countrywide and international condemnation.
The deputy Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Denis Namuwoza, was the most senior police officer running the show at the scene.
He not only commanded his men but actively participated in the operation, including spraying the occupants of Dr Besigye’s car with pepper.
In video recordings of the incident that included a police water canon swash which nearly sent Dr Besigye flying off the roof of his car, Mr Namuwoza was seen repeatedly using his fists on the suspects pulled out of Dr Besigye’s car, including the former presidential candidate himself.
It took an appalled journalist to remind the officer that he was on camera for him to look back and stop.
The other two officers are a one Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Mukiibi, who on the orders and urging of Mr Namuwooza, right next to him is seen spraying pepper directly at Dr Besigye seated behind in his car.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Rashid Agero, who has since become the face of the ugly incident, broke the windscreen of Dr Besigye’s car, among other things.
In the past decade, for example, few police and military officers have faced trial for brutality, let alone convicted for their actions when it comes to dealing with political Opposition and other dissenting groups.
In most cases, both institutions have shielded their officers when calls or attempts to have them prosecuted are made by insisting on their internal mechanisms.
In other cases, such as the Kasese massacre which left more than 100 dead, government, the army and the police leadership have been adamant.
An analysis of the recent major events in which both institutions have been accused of brutality show that the army and police’s actions teeter between lack of accountability and impunity, especially on political incidents.
The military and the police are engaged in some form of lawfare, the use of law as a weapon of war.
Wikipedia defines lawfare as a form of war consisting of the use of the legal system against an enemy, such as by damaging or delegitimising them, tying up their time or winning a public relations victory.
“It is these processes and mechanisms, plus political education that have led to the building of a pro-people army that Ugandans have never seen before. Where individuals go against the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) principles and code of conduct, they face the law,” Brig Richard Karemire, the UPDF spokesperson, says.
On October 18, 2018, five security officers of UPDF were recorded on video brutalising a Uganda Young Democrats (UYD) member, Mr Yusuf Kawooya.
Following a public outcry, the army announced that it had arrested the operatives.
They were subsequently charged in a military disciplinary court chaired by Col Tom Kabuye. All pleaded guilty to unprofessional conduct while executing the arrest. Under the UPDF Act, the offence they pleaded guilty to is punishable by dismissal.
The army never made public the punishment the culprits suffered.
Saturday Monitor singled out this case and put it to Gen Karemire, challenging him of any actions taken against the errant officers.
“I will check on the proceedings,” he said.
On July 13, 2016, police officers and crime preventers beat up civilians who were cheering Dr Besigye after his brelease from Luzira prison on treason charges.
The then police leadership under the command of Gen Kale Kayihura came out and openly supported the actions of the officers.
Again, following a public outcry and attempts by activists to prosecute the same in civilian courts, the Force brought charges against its officers.
Five junior police officers, police constables Osula Kato, Willy Kalyango, Bernard Muhangi, Moses Agaba, Robert Wamala and Dan Tandeka, and a crime preventer, were charged with unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority contrary to Section 44(1) Code 24b of the Police Act and discreditable or irregular conduct contrary to 44(1) Code 12 of the same Act.
Days later, four senior police officers were also charged in the police court with unlawful exercise of authority and discreditable conduct.
The officers included the then Wandegeya Division Police Commander, Mr Moses Nanoka, Mr Agero’s predecessor Samuel Bamuzibire, the then Kampala Metropolitan Police South Commander, Mr Andrew Kaggwa, and the then Katwe Police Station Operations Commander, Mr Patrick Muhumuza.
Several senior police officers accused of involvement in the incident, including their commander, Mr James Ruhweza, who turned witness, were never charged or indicted for their alleged crimes.
Attempts to commence private prosecutions against the officers, including former IGP Kayihura, were thwarted by the authorities.
Regarding Gen Kayihura’s case, a gang of rogues invaded Makindye Chief Magistrates Court and held the magistrate, lawyers and others present at ransom for hours.
They challenged the idea that a civilian would sue the then powerful head of the police Force in a court of law.
After more than five months of trial, the police disciplinary court demoted eight police officers found guilty of participating in or abetting the beating up of Dr Besigye’s supporters.
The officers were convicted on three counts of excessive use of force, neglect of duty and discreditable conduct, which are all contrary to the laws governing the conduct of police officers.
Mr Tandeka, a crime preventer, was barred from doing any police-related work for the next 20 years.
The convicted officers not only retain their ranks but have also been redeployed to key police jobs.
Mr Kaggwa, for example, is currently deployed as part of the Uganda contingent of police officers with Amisom in Somalia.
Mr Tandeka continues to work with the police and has been sighted in a number of police and army operations in Kampala Metropolitan area, especially in Entebbe.
Last week, following public outcry about the night military raids on students’ halls of residence at Makerere University that left some students injured and property worth millions destroyed, the military announced that it had arrested Capt Ronald Lubeera, on Friday November 1, for commanding the brutal raids.
Like in the case of the officers who tortured and brutalised Kawooya, the military has since gone quiet on the claim that it arrested Capt Lubeera.
“The presence of internal disciplinary mechanisms does not bar pursuing human rights violators in the courts of judicature. It’s only that we have been reluctant to push that line of having those officers either prosecuted in criminal matters or to seek remedies in the civil courts. The case of the former DPC of Old Kampala, who was prosecuted, comes to the fore, though such cases are few,” Mr Asuman Basalirwa, the Bugiri Municipality MP and Justice Forum president, says.
He adds that there are various instruments such as the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act and the Human Rights Enforcement Act which citizens can use to fight back.
“Under those two laws, anybody can be tried before the courts of law. The Lord Mayor [Erias Lukwago] and I tried to take Kayihura to Makindye court under the anti-torture law, though he mobilised goons to beat us at court. I also understand FDC is taking the officer who brutalised Dr Besigye to court,” Mr Basalirwa added.
Some of the other recent incidents include that of the violence in Arua in which Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, had his driver Yasiin Kawuma shot and killed.
Hundreds of other cases have been documented by the media, the government’s Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and other rights agencies such Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, among others.
Other previous incidents
On February 24, the army made what now appears to be its standard response to public outcry of violations by its officers by announcing that the force had arrested the military police who were seen in a video assaulting a female traffic police officer. Brig Karemire announced the arrest and detention of RA/221607 L/CPL Peter Bushindiki and RA/230927 John Robert Pte Okurut, stating that the duo are held at Military Police headquarters. Calls for action against their commander Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza, who was also seen participating in the assault, fell on deaf ears. The case is pending.
On August 21, 2018, the army made a rare apology after widely circulated videos showed soldiers brutalising journalists and other protestors. The UPDF statement described the soldiers’ conduct as “unprofessional” and said they would be arrested. No further action was taken once the “noise’ died down.
“The silence of Uganda Law Society is absurd. Check if they have issued a statement on Makerere University and what happened to Besigye. I gurantee you, there is nothing. Compare that with the Uganda Law Society 14 years ago.
They were at the forefront of calling for accountability around these violations. You see Uganda Law Society Vs AG against putting Dr Besigye in the court martial, Uganda Law Society challenges what happened at court for Black Mamba.
There has been a complete capture of the Uganda Law Society. The way forward would be for citizen-led pushes for accountability under the banner of Uganda Law Society. It is established by an Act of Parliament purposely for this reason.
Once you have the capture of state institutions, who is left? It is supposed to be Uganda Law Society but they are all quiet. The governing council is all silent and offering no options. Then you have a few attorneys performing herculean tasks to rescue the rule of law from complete capture.
How sustainable is that? There has been a sustained onslaught against the rule of law for the last 15 years. And now we’ve a full-blown capture of all legal institutions through corruption, co-option and militarisation.
When the State becomes terrorist, the way forward is revolution. Don’t be surprised what will follow,” ISAAC SSEMAKADDE, LAWYER AND ACTIVIST.
“As human rights defenders, we need to come up aggressively on this matter.
We now have a law on torture; the Anti-Torture Act, which must be utilised very well.
Those officers must be prosecuted individually. However, the system is not so trusted to try because in some cases you evidenced it when the journalists are blocked from covering the proceedings and if the proceedings are fairly carried out, why refuse journalists from covering the same?
However, this should not stop the general public, human rights defenders and victims from pursuing justice because it is our role to protect the laws, most especially the Constitution.
Under Article 24 and 44, Uganda’s Constitution makes the right to protection against torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment a non-derogable right meaning that it cannot be taken away or disregarded by the State under any circumstances.
In Dr Besigye’s case, the Act widens the definition of torture to include private individuals and non-state actors, which departs from international law standard requiring a perpetrator to be a state official or its agents.
It also imposes individual responsibility for acts of torture and supervisors shall be held liable in cases where they either condoned or were aware of the on-going acts of torture.
It provides adequate legal framework for investigation, prosecution and the fight against torture,” SHIFRAH LUKWAGO, A LAWYER AND POLITICIAN.