“Go slow on Safe Houses” –Human Right Commission Boss to MPs

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Dr. Meddie Kaggwa before Human Rights Committee

The chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) Dr. Meddie Kaggwa has told Members of Parliament to go slow in their quest to ascertain what happens in safe houses because they are military installations.

Dr. Meddie Kaggwa made the remarks during his interaction with a parliamentary committee on Human Rights on Wednesday to share the experience and knowledge of the commission about alleged existence of illegal detention centers in Uganda.

The MPs also wanted the commission to share information on status of safe houses, the number of people in detention, and what happens inside the torture cells.

Dr. Kaggwa said the commission heard about the existence of safe houses but is yet to visit any of them since it is a requirement for UHRC to first seek authorization from authorities because access to such facilities is limited.

He said, the different government institutions relate with government in a unique way, and UHRC being a government entity, works with security agencies in execution of their mandate. He said the commission has unlimited access to Police and prison facilities, but it is a different case with military installations.

He however declined to divulge information regarding illegal detention facilities the commissioners have ever visited, saying that as a senior government officer who swore the oath of secrecy, there are things he cannot say in presence of the press.

 “I feel constrained by the press. Some of the information you are asking for is not for public consumption otherwise I would have spoken my mind” Dr. Kaggwa said.

Asked why the commissioners have to seek for permission before they are granted access to detention centers yet they have a constitutional mandate to oversee human rights observance, Dr. Kaggwa said it is procedure that must be followed especially if the applicant is a civilian.

“The army is not a civilian outfit. So just you can’t go and say I want to visit a military institution!” Dr. Kaggwa said.

He narrated an incident in 1981 when he visited EU offices in Brussels and mistakenly went to a military installation. He said he was forced to stay inside an elevator, and escorted by soldiers to the right office.

“You can’t just walk into a military institution! …..You as MPs may have that privilege but I am happy you said you were stopped. If they can stop members of parliament, how do we access such places? Because; we talk to those people -because that’s what we are required to do” Dr. Meddie Kaggwa advised.

He however admitted that the commission receives thousands of people who are tortured in detention centers, and noted that since 2017, 12 % of the budget for the commission was ring fenced for compensations for people whose human rights are violated by the state. He said the claims are much higher than what is provided.

He challenged members of parliament who had a view that the commission is not working to expect him when they find themselves in an illegal detention.  

“We visit those places, write reports and advise government on way forward we do not do our work in the press” He added..

Dr. Kaggwa told committee members that human right advocacy is a passion and that’s why at times commissioners seek for services of counselors owing to what they go through while handling overwhelming cases of human right violations.

He kept saying that he is constrained by the presence of the press otherwise he would have shared a lot more information concerning acts of torture happening in detention centers.

He however said that of late, there is a positive change in operations of police and security agencies concerning human rights observance and torture of suspects compared to what the situation was before.

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