Uganda: Breaking the circle: Protecting human rights in the northern war zone

March 16, 1999

Uganda: Breaking the circle: Protecting human rights in the northern war zone

Further, the CIDis poorly resourced and has limited investigative capacity (including in the area of forensic science) [60]. The result is that most investigations use two methods of inquiry. The first is finding witnesses who know or recognize the defendant. The second is getting a confession. The reliance on confessions increases the risk of torture.

Allegations against individuals known by name

Many investigations appear to start -- and end -- with an allegation against a named individual. In relation to some of the cases cited above, Amnesty International asked persons reporting human rights violations whether they had reported the incidents to the police or the army. In a number of cases people said they had not. The reason given was they did not know the name of the soldier who had committed the crime. Rather than indicating an ignorance of police procedure, this appears to mark a realistic assessment of its true nature.

It is striking that of the 82 soldiers charged with serious crimes against the person between January 1996 and April 1998, 56 of them have names that suggest they are Acholi. While many may be Langi (who have similar names to the Acholi), 40 are either home guards or LDUs (in other words, they are likely to be locally recruited and deployed close to their home areas). The majority appear to have been deployed in detaches rather than mobile units. These men will be known to the community around them. Combined with the reluctance of soldiers to give evidence about other soldiers, this probably means that local soldiers are more likely to be identified when they commit serious crimes than those who are not from northern Uganda or who are on mobile patrol when they commit the offence.

The use of torture by police

Once a person has been arrested, the emphasis on confession as a central part of investigation is a factor likely to contribute to the violation of human rights. While this report has focused on human rights violations by soldiers, the beating of criminal suspects by police officers is common. For example, Onek Jackson was arrested by a police patrol in Gulu in May 1996 and badly beaten. He was unconscious when he was brought to Gulu Police Station. The officer in charge ordered that he be immediately taken to hospital where he died the next day. On 17 May 1997 Olwedo Ogal Jabal was arrested at night by the Mobile Police Patrol Unit (MPPU) in Gulu. He was taken to theMPPU barracks near Gulu Prison primary school where he was reportedly beaten while being questioned:

"They ordered me to remove my shirt. They gave me beatings on my back, buttocks. They hit me with a bat and kicked me on the legs...At least two were beating me".

In July 1997 a Commissioner from the UHRC made a surprise visit to Gulu Police Station where he found several prisoners who had been beaten in the cells. Some had been held for several days and required hospital treatment. On 1 July 1997 Atabi Charles was beaten after he was arrested when he himself brought in a suspected thief to Gulu Police Station. His left arm was broken. Okello Robert, a suspected thief, was arrested by the MPPU on 5 July 1997. The MPPUtook him back to their barracks and are reported to have beaten and stabbed him in the shoulder while questioning him about a firearm he was alleged to be hiding [61]. Francis Okello, arrested on 6 July 1997 for suspected robbery, was reportedly beaten and kicked by police.

On 2 July 1997 Philida Okello, an elderly woman from Kanyagoga in Gulu town, was arrested by MPPU officers in Gulu market who were searching for her son who they suspected of illegal possession of a gun. She was taken back to her house. The UHRC's description of what happened is worth quoting in full:

"The police dug up the floor of her hut, claiming that guns were buried there. None were found. The police then beat her severely to get her to disclose the whereabouts of her son and the alleged guns. She suffered broken ribs and a fractured wrist. When the UHRC found her at Gulu Police Station, she had been unlawfully detained for three days without medical treatment. The UHRC insisted that she be taken to Gulu Hospital. She was later released without charge.