Cablegate: Ugandan Human Rights Commission Issues 2008 Report

Published: Thu 22 Oct 2009 11:39 AM
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1. (SBU) Summary: The Ugandan Human Rights Commission's
(UHRC)recently released 11th annual report highlighted human rights
violations perpetrated by individual, poorly trained police officers
and members of the military operating at the local level. The UHRC
called on the Ugandan government to ban torture and renounce the use
of so-called "safe houses." While the quasi-independent UHRC's
investigations generally steered clear of Uganda's primary human
rights offenders - namely the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence
(CMI), the Police's Rapid Response Unit (RRU), and the Joint
Anti-Terrorism Taskforce (JATT) - the report nevertheless represents
a good faith effort by the Ugandan government to police itself,
compensate victims of human rights violations, and hopefully deter
potential future offenders. End Summary.
The Report and its Findings
2. (U) The UHRC released its 11th annual report to Parliament on
October 12. The UHRC is constitutionally mandated to investigate
and report on human rights complaints, and provide monetary
compensation to victims of human rights violations. The UHRC
consists of a Chairperson and six members nominated by President
Museveni, and has offices and staff throughout the country. A gap
from November 2008 to May 2009, spanning the expiration of the
previous Commission's tenure and the nomination of new
commissioners, significantly delayed the 2008 report's release.
3. (U) In 2008, the UHRC registered 1,060 human rights complaints
against 873 individuals. Three hundred of those accused of
perpetrating human rights violations were private citizens. The
UHRC reported that 237 members of the Ugandan Peoples Defense Forces
(UPDF) and 148 police officers were also accused of human rights
violations. The report did not specify how many of these
individuals were ultimately found guilty of offenses. More than 450
cases were still pending by the end of 2008.
4. (U) Nearly 30 percent of the 1,060 human rights complaints
recorded by the UHRC in 2008 involved allegations of torture, cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. The next largest
category of abuses involved alleged violations of the rights of
children, which accounted for 22 percent of the UHRC's cases. While
the number of human rights violations registered by the UHRC in 2008
declined slightly from 2007, the number of cases involving
allegations of torture and inhuman treatment increased. The UHRC
attributed this increase to efforts to confiscate illegal weapons in
the Karamoja region, and "poor supervision of lower cadre police
officers, particularly Special Police Constables, who are usually
involved in the arrest of suspects."
5. (U) The UHRC awarded approximately USD 300,000 to human rights
victims during the year. Of this, approximately USD 215,000 was
awarded as compensation for "the violation of the rights to personal
liberty and freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment."
Recommendations for the Ugandan Government
6. (U) The UHRC articulated a number of recommendations designed to
further protect human rights in Uganda. Noting that 56 percent of
Uganda's estimated 28,205 incarcerated individuals are awaiting
trial, the Commission highlighted lengthy trial delays,
overcrowding, and poor health services as the main challenges facing
Uganda's prison system. The Commission also determined that
detention of suspects beyond the constitutional limit of 48 hours
was "rife," and attributed this, however, "mainly to logistical
problems experienced by police, making it difficult for them to take
suspects to court or complete investigations in time." The report
also highlighted delays by state attorneys, the absence of state
attorneys and "police surgeons", and the lack of basic transport for
police officers as contributing to the frequent violation in the
48-hour limit on the detention of suspects.
7. (U) Reports of human sacrifice increased from 3 cases in 2007 to
18 in 2008. The UHRC recommended applying Uganda's "Witchcraft Act"
to fully prosecute such crimes, and widespread information and
education campaigns. In its examination of the plight of internal
displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda, the Commission
highlighted the need for potable water, health care, schools and
trained teachers, housing, and land.
8. (U) The UHRC urged Parliament to ratify legislation prohibiting
torture as well as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The
UHRC also urged the Government to eliminate "safe houses" used by
security forces, and specifically the Chieftaincy of Military
Intelligence (CMI), to detain and interrogate suspects, and asked
the Government to improve cooperation with the Commission to ensure
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more frequent access to existing safe houses.
Comment: A Helpful Contribution
9. (SBU) It's good news that the UHRC is once again functioning
after a six month hiatus. The UHRC operates about as independently
as a government human rights commission appointed by the President
can in contemporary Uganda. The U.S. Mission meets with UHRC
members on a regular basis, and the Commission's efforts represents
a good faith attempt by the Ugandan government to publicly address
human rights concerns and compensate victims of human rights
10. (SBU) Although UHRC touched on issues of torture and "safe
houses" in its recommendations, the UHRC registered only a handful
of complaints against the paramilitary outfits - to include the
Police's Rapid Response Unit (RRU), the Internal Security
Organization (ISO), Local Defense Units (LDUs), the CMI, and the
JATT - which are Uganda's more renowned human rights violators
(reftel). As a result, the UHRC is missing a critical piece of the
human rights story in Uganda. Our human rights and security sector
contacts believe that victims of these paramilitary units are
unlikely to refer allegations of human rights violations to the UHRC
because they see the organization as not fully independent and not
effective in reining in the paramilitary units that commit abuses.
Instead, if they report their cases at all, they go to international
NGOs, like Human Rights Watch, which has an antagonistic
relationship with the government. As per reftel, in our view, it is
the continued impunity and lack of accountability at CMI, JATT, and
the other shadowy paramilitary and security agencies that the UHRC
and the Ugandan leadership needs to address, in addition to
continuing ongoing efforts to professionalize ordinary police,
prison, and UPDF units.
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