The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) Chairperson, Ms Mariam Wangadya, has urged members of the public to refrain from unfair criticism of the Human Rights Commission saying the practice “weakens” National institutions.
Over the past few weeks, the UHRC has been a target of criticism and public anger arising from the Commissions response to the recent spate of torture in the country by security agencies, to which a section of citizens think UHRC has not accorded adequate attention.
The recent incidents of torture in Uganda involved activist and Novelist Rukirabashaija Kakwenza who has since fled the country, and a one Samuel Masereka who subscribes to the opposition National Unity Platform. Both accuse the military for serious torture which left visible marks and scars all across their bodies.
On Monday morning, protestors holding placards petitioned the United Nations Office of Human Rights, urging the UN to withdraw funding to Uganda Human Rights Commission for its perceived inaction against allegations of torture in the country.
Wangadya referred to the criticisms as “unfair and unkind,” and urged the public to allow the Commission to perform its functions.
“We specifically wish to inform the general public and all relevant stakeholders that UHRC has taken keen interest in allegations that have been playing out in the media. It is unfair and unkind of any citizen of Uganda to attempt to weaken National Institutions like the UHRC” Wangadya said in a statement issued on Monday.
Wangadya says, under its mandate, UHRC moved to intervene into the affairs of both victims but they were uncooperative. In Kakwenza’s case, Wangadya says UHRC mounted a search for his whereabouts, participated in pushing government to have him produced in court, and even visited him in prison at Kitalya, only to hear later that he had fled the country.
As for Masereka, Wangadya says UHRC reached out to his lawyers with a view of commencing investigations, only to hit a dead end after they learnt that Masereka had preferred to file a Civil Suit in the High Court.
“UHRC will not intervene in a matter which is before a court of law as provided by article 53(4) of the Constitution. UHRC urges the general public to report to us allegations of torture and other Human Rights violations for investigation and redress where necessary.” She added.
In both incidents, Wangadya says none of the two reported a case of Human Rights violation or torture at UHRC.
Rukirabashaija says that soldiers abducted him, forced him to dance and beat him unconscious after he wrote on Twitter that Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the president’s son and commander of the land forces, was “obese” and a “curmudgeon”.
He alleges that these abuses were committed at the headquarters of Special Forces Command (SFC), an elite presidential guard that was led for many years by Kainerugaba himself and remains fiercely loyal to him. A spokesman for the unit denied it was involved.
On January 31, Samuel Masereka, an opposition activist, told journalists that he was tortured by military intelligence officers after being detained the month before.
Masereka claimed he was caned to an extent that he lost consciousness. He also displayed wounds on his swollen feet and scars on his stomach, back and legs.
The government later claimed he is linked to a rebel group while Kakwenza was charged with several counts of using offensive communication against President Yoweri Museveni and his son Muhoozi Keinerugaba.
Article 52 (1) of the 1995 Constitution lays down the following functions of the Commission as to investigate, at its own initiative or on a complaint made by any person or group of persons against the violation of any human right, visit jails, prisons, and places of detention or related facilities with a view of assessing and inspecting conditions of the inmates and make recommendations.
It is also mandated to establish a continuing programme of research, education and information to enhance respect of human rights, among others.