By The Insight Post Uganda
In a surprising revelation, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) is facing severe scrutiny over allegations of compromised integrity and human rights violations, particularly concerning members of the National Unity Platform (NUP).
The NUP, a prominent opposition political party in Uganda, has been vocal about the disappearance and alleged torture of their supporters. However, the recent findings presented by UHRC have ignited a contentious debate, exposing the complex dynamics of human rights advocacy in the country.
On Tuesday (October 10, 2023), the UHRC Chairperson – Mariam Wangadya, delivered a comprehensive report challenging the claims made by NUP regarding their missing supporters.
UHRC has stated that out of the 30 individuals listed by NUP as missing, 12 had been arrested on suspicion of committing various offences which were not mentioned or detailed. Wangadya’s statement also raised doubts about the accuracy of some of the allegations made by NUP.
UHRC’s report suggests that NUP provided false information regarding the whereabouts and treatment of their supporters. However, it is essential to look into the key points raised by UHRC.
Arrests and Releases: According to UHRC, five out of the 30 missing individuals were arrested in Nakaseke between January and February 2023. These individuals were subsequently released, either on police bond or court bail. UHRC initiated investigations to establish the facts behind these allegations.
Lack of Cooperation: UHRC expressed concern over the lack of cooperation from certain individuals who claimed to have been tortured. They cited the case of Alexandreos Marinos, who was allegedly raped by UPDF soldiers and subsequently disappeared, with the commission losing contact with her.
Still, Eric Mwesigwa, who previously alleged torture by security personnel, retracted his story. He later accused NUP officials of luring him to tarnish the government’s image. Mwesigwa claimed NUP promised him Sh50 million and a trip to the USA in exchange for making false allegations but he failed to provide evidence to support his claims.
However, NUP countered this by stating that the government is trying to conceal torture by security agents. The incident underscores the political tensions in Uganda’s human rights landscape. According to Wnagadya, the changed the narrative of his allegations contradicted his initial report to the commission.
Doubts About Credibility: UHRC raised questions about the credibility of some complainants, especially those who turned out to be victims of road accidents rather than victims of torture. Moreover, the commission highlighted the challenge of establishing the existence of alleged victims due to the lack of National Identity card numbers.
Following UHRC’s report, NUP secretary-general David Lewis Rubongoya responded to the findings. He stated that while 12 of the reported persons had been released, 18 were still missing.
He emphasised that all these individuals had been in detention for extended periods, far exceeding the legally prescribed 48-hour limit for detention without charge. Rubongoya pointed out that UHRC did not condemn these clear violations of citizens’ rights.
The Missing Individuals
UHRC provided a list of 18 NUP supporters who were still missing. Among them were Dennis Zzimula, George Kasumba, Godfery Kisembo, Hassan Mubiru, Isma Ssesazi, John Bosco Kibalama, John Ddamulira, Joseph Baguma, Martin Lukwago, Mbowa Musisi, Michael Ssemudu, Moses Mbabazi (a.k.a. Kawenja), Muhammad Kanata, Mustafa Luwemba, Patrick Yuda Ssempija, Peter Kirya, Shafik Wangolo, and Vincent Nalumonso.
UHRC explains that they faced challenges in investigating these cases due to uncooperative family members. For example, in the case of Joseph Baguma, the victim’s wife declined to follow up on the matter despite his disappearance.
In another instance, the wife of John Bosco Kibalama, Ritah Natulinda, was intentionally uncooperative and refused to provide information about her husband’s whereabouts. This lack of cooperation made it difficult for the commission to progress in its investigations.
The ongoing debate over the handling of these cases underscores the complexities of addressing human rights issues in Uganda.
It also raises questions about the role and effectiveness of organisations like UHRC in ensuring justice and accountability, especially in cases involving alleged state-sponsored violations against opposition members.
UHRC’s call for the Parliament’s human rights committee to make its report on the alleged missing NUP supporters public adds another layer of transparency and accountability to this sensitive issue.
NUP lawmakers have frequently left the parliamentary sessions for the same reason, insisting on the disclosure of the status of their missing supporters, whether alive or deceased.
Their consistent demand has been that if these supporters are accused of any wrongdoing and face charges, they should be presented in court for a proper legal procedure.