Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

December 3, 1991

Uganda: Human rights violations by the National Resistance Army

Amnesty International is also concerned that at least three other northern community leaders remain in detention without charge or trial. William Thomas Otto, mentioned above, is reported still to be held in Gulu military barracks. Kassim Okeny and Oketta, Chairman and Secretary for Defence of Alero sub-county RC III in Gulu District, were reportedly arrested in May. On 27 May Colonel Samuel Wasswa, the Commander of the NRA's 4th Division based in Gulu, announced that Kassim Okeny and Oketta were to be executed by firing squad for giving support to rebels. The announcement, which was reported in the Ugandan press, provoked protests because civilians arrested by the army remain under the jurisdiction of the civilian court system and are not liable for prosecution under the NRA's internal Code of Conduct. On 8 June 1991 the Army Commander, Major-General Mugisha-Muntu, apparently intervened to prevent the executions. The army has claimed that it has evidence linking the three to rebel activities. Despite this claim the three are not known yet to have been brought to court and charged.

Amnesty International has been unable to discover how many other people arrested in the north since late March 1991 remain in detention without charge or trial. In mid-May 1991 Mrs Betty Bigombe announced at a rally at Anyeke in Apac District that over 3,000 rebels had been "netted" in Atanga sub-county in Kitgum District alone. It is not clear to Amnesty International whether these people have been released or whether they too remain in detention.

4.2 "Deserters" Sentenced at Grossly Unfair Trials

On 18 May 1991 669 prisoners arrested in Gulu, Kitgum, Lira and Apac Districts during counter-insurgency operations were transferred from Lira military barracks to Luzira Maximum Security Prison near Kampala. They were subsequently transferred to prison farms in western Uganda. A further 341 prisoners arrested in May and June 1991 in Nebbi District in northwest Uganda were transferred to Kirinya Main Prison in Jinja in early July. The authorities announced that both sets of prisoners had been found guilty in military hearings of desertion from the NRA and Local Defence Units (LDUs), the locally-recruited militia set up to assist the NRA with their local knowledge and experience. The majority had been sentenced to five years in prison, although those found guilty of deserting with weapons apparently received terms of 10 years. These prisoners are reported to include men of fighting age who had fought with previous government armies in Uganda, but not with the NRA. A number are reported to have been held without charge or trial as "lodgers" in previous years. It has also been reported that the prisoners did not receive fair trials but instead were summarily sentenced en masse by two senior army officers, one of whom was the 5th Division Intelligence Officer, in what appears to have been an administrative hearing where the charges against them were read out, followed by their sentence, without a genuine trial taking place. This appears to be an attempt to perpetuate the phenomenon of "lodgers" (prisoners detained without charge or trial in civil prisons at the orders of the NRA) but to avoid criticisms concerning violations of human rights, for officially the 1100 prisoners concerned have been tried, even though in practice they have not. It has been reported that disquiet within the government has led to the formation of a committee to review the cases of these prisoners. While a review is to be welcomed, international standards lay down that imprisonment should only follow a fair trial or similar judicial process.

4.3 Inadequate Procedures for Justice in the NRA