since Museveni (right) and his National Resistance
Movement fought their way to power in 1986, the people of Uganda have
experienced a period of relative calm. They have been able to settle down to
an everyday life less absorbed by anxiety and injustice. Ugandans have been
told they need no longer fear voicing their opinion, but life is not always
easy for those who do. And reports hint that there are other Ugandans who
seem to be less equal than others.
Uganda features quite prominently in Amnesty International's 1994 report
covering the period from January to December 1993. The report, featured in
the Ugandan daily, The New Vision of July 14, focuses on five main areas of
human rights violations in Uganda: unfair trial and detentions;
ill-treatment while in detention; harsh prison conditions; violations
committed by armed opponents of the government; and the death penalty.
AI cites a number of instances of unfair trial and detention. Uganda
Confidential editor, Ssezi Cheeye, was detained for five days for
"publishing and printing seditious material in an article alleging that
senior government officials were guilty of nepotism in public appointments."
In December, Cheeye faced further sedition charges relating to an article
published in August alleging that Janet Museveni, wife of the President, was
implicated in a murder. By the end of the year, neither Cheeye, nor Hussein
Musa Njuki, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Shariat, detained for eleven
days, nor Haruna Kanabi, a Shariat sub-editor, detained for nearly three
weeks, both on sedition charges, had been tried.
Ugandan authorities reduced the number of prisoners facing the capital
charge of treason and also the number of political prisoners detained
without charge, but new arrests were made during military operations in
AI refers to several reports of torture and ill-treatment by soldiers,
members of the paramilitary Local Defence Units, police and prison officers.
In November, for example, three N.R.A. soldiers were arrested in Kabale
after they deliberately burned a man in their custody. In March, a military
intelligence officer in West Nile confined three men in a pit in a barracks
near Kaboko for five hours. He then beat them and set them free.
The Amnesty report goes on to say that in 1993, convicted criminal prisoners
in Uganda died while in custody because of harsh prison conditions amounting
to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Four prisoners reportedly died in
Masafu prison in eastern Uganda where prison guards were said to have
regularly beaten and tortured prisoners. District officials visiting prisons
in Kabarole to investigate prison deaths reported that prisoners were being
kept virtually naked in "appalling conditions", were malnourished and were
receiving inadequate medical care.
Violations and capital punishment
In 1993, armed opponents of the government abducted civilians and government
officials and committed rape and deliberate and arbitrary killings. In
April, for example, five girls were abducted and raped by UPA rebels in Kumi
district; two were freed by N.R.A. soldiers. In January, March and July,
nine R.C. officials and villagers were deliberately killed by the rebels in
the same district.
Amnesty's report also notes that the death penalty was repeatedly carried
out in Uganda in 1993. In March, for example, nine men convicted of murder
in previous years were reportedly hanged in Luzira Prison. Another instance
was the condemnation of at least ten people to death by the high court for
various offences, including treason.
People's rights are also tampered with in political training programmes that
Ugandans are expected to attend when they the authorities ask them to do so.
Reports in the Ugandan press recently alleged that people, among them women,
were literally forced to attend. It seems that these programmes, for which
participants must pay, dance to classical government tunes and that any
other tunes are strongly discouraged.
On August 12, 1994, The New Vision published a letter written by a Swedish
Amnesty International working group from Lund. The group referred to what a
former head of the National Swedish Police, who had visited the country in
September, 1993, had said when he described Uganda as perhaps the most
encouraging and hopeful human rights scene in all of Africa. However, it the
letter, the Amnesty working group went on to encourage the President and his
government to investigate the killings of a number of people who, according
to their information, were "extrajudicially executed by N.R.A. [government]
soldiers" in the villages of Odusai and Pasia in the district of Pallisa.
The right to be listened to
Another right Ugandans share with people everywhere is the right to be
listened to. With the international spotlight on what is going on in a
country there's usuaslly a better chance that the house will be put in
order. The people of Uganda have come a very long way, and there were some
cruel years not so long ago when many of them thought the nightmare would
last for ever. They have indeed been through a lot, and they have a right,
and deserve, to be listened to and supported.
Adrian Grima (1994)
Published in The Times (Malta)