The often slanted but convenient interpretation of the Public Order Management Act and the Police Act has fostered a culture of impunity among Uganda’s security forces especially when handling demonstrators. This borderless impunity has led to repeated, and documented, human rights abuses.
The most recent classic abuse of human rights and blatant disregard to human life by security forces was the very public battering of striking Makerere University students. Some were arrested and crudely shoved under the metallic seats of the police patrol trucks. Their rights to property were also disrespected.
Security operatives stormed the students’ halls of residence at night, broke down doors, smashed television sets and other property. Others decided to lob tear gas canisters into clinics where injured students were being treated. Sometimes a peaceful demonstration turns violent because of the poor crowd handling skills of police.
Many times, peaceful demonstrations and meetings turn riotous because police and other security agencies’ counter strategies are deeply flawed. For instance, on Monday, police at Kireka turned on a water cannon mounted on a truck and sprayed a highly pressurized jet of water at former FDC president Col Dr Kizza Besigye. The water nearly threw Besigye out of his car on to the road. He could have been crashed on the road.
How can police justify using a water cannon on a defenseless single person standing in his car? This was unnecessary excessive force. Police ought to do better. The list of untold abuses and impunity is long. When The Human Rights (enforcement) Act 2019 was enacted, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Okoth Martins Ochola, issued a circular in February, urging police officers to respect human rights of suspects. He also reminded officers of individual liability in case they are convicted of abusing citizens’ rights. It appears, the message was not heeded.
Further, it is not enough to warn officers about the likely penalties of abuse without giving them adequate human rights training. Policemen and women need schooling in all aspects of human rights. We have often seen officers handling suspects with cruelty and anger. They don’t need to be angry. They just need to do their work professionally.
No law gives the army and police wide powers or rights to maim, kill and beat any person. They have no right to destroy people’s property. The have a duty to protect life and people’s property. They have a duty to subdue the riotous crowds with minimal force or no force at all.