Torture took centre stage yesterday as the National Unity Platform (NUP) party president, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, addressed the fifth Annual Africa Week Conference on Socialists in Brussels, Belgium.The annual conference organised by the European Parliament brings together European Union (EU) partners within Africa and Europe to address global challenges and help to strengthen democracy and human rights, foster sustainable economic and human developments in societies.
Bobi Wine was invited as keynote speaker at this year’s conference. In his address, Bobi Wine pointed out failed leadership as a major obstacle to good governance and development in Africa.
For Uganda, he cited torture; abuse of human rights, failed institutions; lack of rule of law and democracy as the major issues affecting the country.
On torture, Bobi Wine said: “Our media in Uganda has pictures of tortured people in detention such as writer Kakwenza [Rukirabashaija] and NUP coordinator [Samuel] Masereka. Our country is where the President tweets something and someone comes and retweets the same opposing his idea and he will be arrested and tortured. That is how bad it is and the EU is quiet,” Bobi Wine.
“The torture in my country does not just need EU to issue a statement but do more. We are in a country where people are being killed for opposing the government. I will give you an example of the November 18 and November 19, 2020 incidents where more than 100 people were killed in broad daylight by security forces that are funded by the West.”
He added: “We have seen on many occasions that the West has been associated with dictators and yet this shouldn’t be the case in this generation.”
Torture is prohibited under the laws of Uganda and criminalised by the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act (2012). The law also protects the right to freedom from torture. Article 24 of the Constitution states: No person shall be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Bobi Wine asked the EU and the international community to re-evaluate their partnerships with African countries to focus on the people and not leaders.
“The idea from EU and the entire international community would be to foster poverty alleviation, enhancement of government institutions and not to fund the governments which at the end torture the ordinary people,” Bobi Wine said.
He added: “We long to see international partnerships with African States not being abettors of crime and supporting the abuse of human rights; but rather standing with victims of torture and bad leaders. We call on the EU to set real democracy and observance of the rule of law and respect for human rights as a precondition for giving support to Uganda.”
Bobi Wine’s address came at the backdrop of rising incidents of human rights abuse and alleged torture of suspects in detention by the security agencies on accusations of criticising the government or annoying the person of the President.
Last week, media outlets were awash with graphic pictures of book author Kakwenza and Mr Masereka.
The duo displayed healing wounds and torture marks all over their bodies before the media, accusing the security forces of inflicting pain on them while in detention.
Both Mr Masereka and Mr Kakwenza have since run to court pursuing the government on torture and other claims.
On two separate occasions, both the EU and the US issued statements condemning the torture of Ugandans, arbitrary arrests of people by security forces, and holding people in ungazetted places for long without producing them before courts of law. Although Bobi Wine indicated that 100 people were killed during the riots, the official government position put the number at 54. Of these, security forces shot 52 people, and two were run over by a car, according to the government report compiled by police’s Criminal Investigations Department.
More than 1,300 NUP supporters were arrested by different security agencies before and after Election Day on January 14 last year and held in unknown detention centres for days. Many who were released cite torture during and after being arrested and to date, NUP leaders say some of their supporters are still in prison.
In his response to Bobi Wine claims, Dr Chris Baryomunsi, the government spokesperson and minister in-charge of ICT and National Guidance, yesterday said Bobi Wine and others were looking for cheap popularity, and defended the ruling National Resistance Movement government’s human rights record.
The minister condemned the torture of suspects and indicated that investigations into the abuses had started, and warned that anyone caught in the act will be apprehended and handled in accordance with the anti-torture laws of Uganda.
“We know the NRM government has been at the forefront of observing human rights and we don’t need lectures from anybody. There might be cases of torture but these are isolated and less than a handful. There is no need to focus on that now but the individual officers will be charged because the government doesn’t condone torture,” Dr Baryomunsi said.