Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

December 3, 1991

Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

Statements by government officials both before and after these arrests indicate that the authorities were annoyed about the political activities of some northern leaders, particularly members of the DP. In January 1991 the then District Administrator in Gulu, J.B. Ochaya, is alleged to have written to the Director of Research and Political Affairs in the Office of the President accusing the DP of having "maintained the war" in the north. The letter, which mentions Zachary Olum by name, describes one manifestation of DP opposition as "writing about alleged atrocities committed by the army, and also influencing the Amnesty International report". In an interview with the government-owned New Vision newspaper on 10 May 1991, Major- General David Tinyefuza accused northern political leaders of "using government funds and property to negatively mobilise the masses". In a press conference on 11 May 1991 Major-General Tinyefuza is reported to have accused Andrew Adimola, the DP's Vice-Chairman, of hosting political meetings at his home before his arrest to discuss "sectarian politics in order to create confusion among the people".

None of the actions by northern leaders which have been condemned by government officials appear to have involved the use or advocacy of violence. Instead, they have been criticized - and, it seems, eventually imprisoned - for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression.

3.4 The Use of "Treason" as a Holding Charge to Justify Long-Term Detention
On 7 May 1991 the 18 prisoners of conscience were charged with treason. The particulars of the offence given were that "Atubo, the other 17 and others not before the court between 1989 and March 1991 in various places in Apac, Lira, Gulu and Kitgum districts contrived a plot and expressed the plot by overt acts in order by force of arms to overturn the lawful government of Uganda".

Although making clear that the 18 were plotting to overthrow the government, the charge was defective in that it provided no details and no supporting evidence to substantiate the accusation. Without such details, which would include particulars of the nature of the alleged overt acts, the dates on which they are supposed to have happened and the locations in which they are alleged to have taken place, it is impossible for the accused to prepare a defence. Under Ugandan law those accused of treason are not eligible for bail, save in exceptional circumstances, for 480 days after they have been charged. Inadequately framed treason charges can therefore be used as a way of holding prisoners without trial for 480 days, when in reality there is no evidence which would permit their prosecution on such a charge. This is particularly so if the courts fail to challenge the authorities' abuse of the charge.

On 12 August 1990 the High Court ruled the charges were defective. The judge, Justice Kityo, should then have ordered that the 18 be released, but he failed to do this. Instead he urged the Director of Public Prosecutions to supply the necessary details "as soon as it is possible". By failing to order that the 18 be released and compounding this by failing to set a time limit for the DPP to comply with the order to supply the necessary details, the judge indirectly indicated that he condoned arbitrary detention and the undermining of the rule of law. The state has had several opportunities in court to provide the necessary details about their alleged offence but by November 1991 had failed to do so.