A study commissioned by Makerere University’s Human Rights and Peace Centre (Huripec) has confirmed a long-held suspicion that Uganda is a more militarised country today than before, with more cases of human rights abuse.
In its report launched last week at Imperial Royale Hotel Kampala, Huripec observes that “the continued deployment of the army in purely civilian affairs has become a dangerous trend, for a country committed to the rule of law and which cherishes good governance.”
Reference is made by Huripec to last year’s raid on parliament by presidential guard troops, which viciously beat up opposition members. The MPs were championing popular opposition to the government’s push to amend Article 102(b) of the constitution to lift presidential age limits, allowing President Museveni the possibility of a life presidency.
The report notes that the army, police and Uganda Wildlife Authority security officers are involved in a lot of human rights violations.
“… Cases in point were where illegal arrests and detentions were also characterised by torture or extrajudicial killings or where dispersal of demonstrations resulted into extrajudicial killing or torture and illegal arrests,” the report notes.
Huripec is a human rights watchdog within Makerere’s school of law, and whereas its report recognises disregard for the rule of law, lack of political will, negative political interest and ambiguity in the law, as factors influencing violation of human rights, special mention is made of the army.
The UPDF is accused of taking over the mandate of the police in breach of the Constitution.
“This significantly contributed to grave violations of human rights mainly as a result of the heavy-handedness employed by military personnel in executing what was ordinarily a police function,” the report says.
Increasing involvement of soldiers in ordinary law enforcement activities without adequate safeguards has resulted in violation of human rights, the study established.
“A case in point was the creation of the UPDF Fisheries Protection Unit which despite the public outcry and from formal institutions such as parliament and the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries regarding their mode of operations, remained adamant and openly stated that they ‘answer only to the president’,” the report notes.
In 1995, the Uganda Constitutional Commission which documented the views of Ugandans on how they wanted the Constitution to look like, observed that: “the main duty of the army in a democratic society governed by the rule of law should be to fight external enemies and to put down internal insurrection or insurgency. In doing so, it should be obedient to directions from the civilian and democratically elected government. On the other hand, the police focus should be on the citizen, to protect him, or, if he is errant, to correct him. Police work calls for specialised training and for special tactics with which the army is generally unfamiliar or unsuited.”
The commission further observed that; “as a general rule, the army should not involve itself in police work…The police and the army must each understand that both forces play separate and distinct roles for the betterment of society.”
Yesterday, army spokesman Brig. Richard Karemire, denied that the army has usurped police functions.
“The powers of the UPDF are defined by the Constitution and the UPDF Act and it acts within those powers. The police continues to execute its mandate as provided by the Constitution and the Police Act,” Karemire said.
“What we are doing is to simply operate jointly where the need arises…for national development.”