Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

December 3, 1991

Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

The case of the 18 prominent northern politicians is an example of an abuse of the rule of law which appears to have become a routine way of dealing with political opponents of the government. On 9 August 1991 34 soldiers and civilians allegedly linked to groups seeking the return of the Buganda monarchy were released after they had spent 19 months in Luzira Upper Prison awaiting trial on treason charges. Before they were charged, they spent 15 months illegally detained without charge in military custody where some were reported to have been tortured. The 34, after almost three years in prison, were released when the government dropped the charges for lack of evidence. On 9 August the authorities finally provided details of alleged overt acts of treason in the cases of another nine, including the Kampala-based businessman Joseph Lusse, who have now been committed to the High Court for trial. Amnesty International is seeking assurances that these nine prisoners will receive a prompt and fair trial in accordance with internationally recognized standards of fair trial. On 21 August 1991 the Solicitor General also ordered that treason charges be dropped against 19 elderly men originally arrested in 1986 and never brought to trial. In addition to these cases, Amnesty International knows of another 104 individuals currently facing treason charges in seven different cases: in the cases of at least 72, prolonged detention without charge in military barracks has been followed by the bringing of treason charges which fail to specify the nature, location and date of the overt acts allegedly committed.

4. Other Recent Arrests in Northern Uganda

4.1 Detainees held without charge

Several hundred other people arrested during the "cordon-and-search" operations in Gulu in 1991 were held for several months without charge or trial. Okello Nokrach, for example, a civil engineer and businessman in Gulu, was arrested in early April. He was held without charge or trial in Gulu's military barracks, apparently until 31 July when he and a number of other prominent detainees, including Ayoli Okot and Julio Joe Odur, were released with 81 other prisoners held uncharged since April. In a meeting with Amnesty International representatives in Gulu in August 1991, Mrs Betty Bigombe, the Minister of State for the North and East resident in Gulu, suggested that the detention of Okello Nokrach and seven other prominent citizens had been due to denunciations by members of the community with personal grudges against the men. Evidently, their prompt appearance in court and judicial scrutiny of the evidence against them should have prevented such arbitrary detention.

While welcoming these releases, Amnesty International is concerned that they were held for four months without charge on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations in the first place. It is illegal under Ugandan law for suspects to be held for longer than 24 hours without charges being brought against them. However, since 1986, as before, the army has felt under no obligation to respect or enforce the country's laws on arrest and detention procedure. President Museveni himself has condoned the army's behaviour, so that in practice a quite separate detention system, unregulated by the law and beyond the reach of the courts, has been established and allowed to continue.