A new report written by Advocates Without Boundaries says there is evidence that detainees are also tortured in gazetted police cells and prison jails to extract information from suspects.
Previously, many suspects held under notoriously harsh forms of extralegal detention claimed to have been subjected to torture in ungazzeted safe houses and chieftaincy of military intelligence facilities.
According to the report titled “Baseline survey on pretrial detention,” many of the inmates interviewed, accused police officers, prison warders, and fellow inmates of torturing them in holding cells.
The research was conducted in West Nile, Northern, and Central Uganda. About 12 prison stations and five police cells were visited. These were chosen based on the high number of inmates on remand, available knowledge on the coverage and experience in prisons and police cells, and the possession of unique characteristics in some of the selected regions due to the available reports, such as the high number of refugees in detention.
Inmates in police cells reported that 42 per cent of all forms of torture were perpetrated by police officers and 48 per cent by fellow suspects in police detention. The beating of suspects under detention and other inhumane torture methods were used by the police to get information from the inmates.
Speaking anonymously, one respondent said, “I have seen fellow suspects who were taken out of here [police cells] and returned with visible bruises from beatings.”
Sandrah Businge (not her real name), a Rwandese refugee who once operated a hairdressing salon in Kyaka refugee camp, recalled several forms of torture at the hands of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) officers in Kireka. Businge said she only found relief when she was moved to a gazetted government prison.
Although several suspects preferred to be held in gazetted government prisons instead of police cells, suspects on remand also reported different forms of torture. In the report, 77 per cent of inmates held in different government prisons said they had been tortured by fellow inmates, especially the Katikkiros (leaders) of the prisoners.
However, the Katikkiros acted on the orders of prison warders to extract information from suspects under duress. Also, prison warders accounted for 33 per cent of all forms of torture in prison cells.
Assistant Commissioner of Prisons, Leo Natukunda, noted that Ugandan Prisons Services had taken different initiatives to improve the adherence to human rights in prisons. These initiatives, Natukunda said, were binding for both prisoners and prison guards.
“I would agree that some katikkiros torture fellow inmates, but torture is not widespread. We have institutions like the Uganda Human Rights Commission that visit our prisons regularly to monitor our adherence to human rights. We have also established human rights committees in all prisons across the country. These committees are comprised of both prison guards and prisoners. These committees discuss and monitor human rights observance in prisons. This has reduced cases of prisoner-to-prisoner torture. All prison staff know that they are liable if they torture any prisoner,” Natukunda added.
Although there is a proper reporting mechanism in place to address the torture of suspects, prisoners reported that the mechanism was overlooked by the senior leadership of the prisons. Frustrated by the ineptness of the prison leadership, an inmate at Luzira Murchison Bay prison said, “Whenever a case of torture is reported to the officer in charge, he does not show any form of interest in handling such a case. This discourages us from reporting such cases.”
While meeting journalists at State House Nakasero in December 2022, President Yoweri Museveni blamed the different cases of torture and abductions on the rigid and tortuous upbringing of law enforcement officers.
Museveni said, “After the 2020 riots, I called meetings with these security people and gave them guidelines in writing. These guidelines are already in the law. What I was doing was something under the law. It is okay to arrest someone, but how do you arrest them? I have told security people not to beat suspects. No beating! You can get the facts without beating people through proper intelligence and interrogation. We need more separation of roles through capacity building. A single person cannot play the roles of the arrester, investigator, and prosecutor.”
Despite Museveni’s pronouncements, suspects have continued to report several forms of torture at the hands of both the police and the prison authorities. Speaking to The Observer, Mariam Fauzat Wangadya, the chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, said the commission would continue to carry out parallel investigations to get torture out of detention centers.
Wangadya noted that any individuals found to have taken part in torturing suspects would be individually charged under Uganda’s Human Rights Enforcement Act, 2018.
Section 10 of the Act holds public officers like police officers and prison officers individually liable for the violation of a person’s rights or freedoms committed either individually or in a group. The law clearly states that individual officers shall pay a portion of the compensation as has been ordered by the court.