Annual Report: Uganda 2004

Report
May 28, 2004

Annual Report: Uganda 2004

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UGANDA

REPUBLIC OF UGANDA
Head of state and government: Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
Death penalty: retentionist
UN Women's Convention: ratified
Optional Protocol to UN Women's Convention: not signed

Rulings by the Constitutional Court allowed political organizations to participate more freely in public life.

Reports of torture increased against a background of government campaigns against crime and "terrorism". The 17-year conflict between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) intensified, resulting in a sharp rise in the number of internally displaced persons to over 1,200,000.

There were many cases of violence against women.

Freedom of speech was subject to additional restrictions. Death sentences continued to be passed and at least three soldiers were executed.

Background
On 21 March the Constitutional Court declared Sections 18, 19 and 21 of the Political Parties and Organizations Act (2002) null and void as they contravened the Constitution. This allowed political organizations to participate more freely in public life, although political parties remained banned from such participation until they registered with the Registrar General.

In June Uganda signed a bilateral agreement with the USA providing impunity for US nationals accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. US President George W. Bush visited Uganda in July.

The Sudanese government extended the military protocol allowing Uganda to carry out military operations in southern Sudan against the LRA. Senior Ugandan army officers and others were cited as responsible for pillaging resources from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in a report by a UN panel of experts and in the report of Uganda's official Inquiry Commission headed by Judge David Porter.

In early May the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) began withdrawing troops from eastern DRC following pressure by the international community.

On 7 November the International Court of Justice postponed the hearing in a case against Uganda concerning armed activities involving violations of international humanitarian law and massive human rights violations in the DRC.

Violence against women
Violence against women prevailed in male-female relations in Uganda. Few cases of sexual violence in the home, including rape in marriage and rape of minors, were prosecuted. Children, including orphans, were frequently subjected to sexual assault and violence by relatives within the extended family system, as well as by schoolteachers, people helping in the home and other carers. According to police statistics circulated in May, 4,686 children were raped in 2002; there was no indication that this figure was decreasing.

• Alice, aged 12, was brought from her native village to Kampala by a maternal aunt who promised to send her to school. She was left alone with the aunt's husband, who allegedly raped her three times in one night, threatening to kill her if she talked. The girl reportedly told her aunt about the rape, but the aunt accused her of seducing the husband and beat her in the area of her genitals. The rape was reported to the police but the case was later dropped.

The absence of a law criminalizing domestic violence limited legal recourse for abuse in the home. Between January and September, 2,518 cases of family-related violence (excluding murder and rape) were reported to the Childcare and Family Protection Unit of the Uganda Police Force. However, many cases went unreported and campaigners argued that the lack of a specific law hampered efforts to fight domestic violence.

In December a Domestic Relations Bill was presented to parliament for debate. It addressed issues such as the criminalization of marital rape, property in marriage, polygamous marriages, bride price, widow inheritance and minimum age for marriage and cohabitation.

Women and girls living and travelling in areas affected by insurgencies led by the LRA in northern Uganda were raped and suffered other forms of violence, including abduction and sexual slavery.

• On 24 June about 100 schoolgirls were abducted by the LRA following a raid at the Lwala Girls Secondary School in Kaberamaido district in northeast Uganda. AI was concerned that at least 15 of the girls might have crossed into Sudan where they could be at risk of sexual violence.

Torture and death in custody
Throughout the year operatives from the police, various security agencies and the army, including the Violent Crime Crack Unit (VCCU), the Internal Security Organization, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force were persistently reported to have tortured people detained on suspicion of political or criminal offences. Suspects were held incommunicado at unrecognized detention centres commonly referred to as "safe houses".

According to official reports, security forces frequently extracted information through torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

• On 14 June VCCU officers arrested Nsangi Murisidi, aged 29, on suspicion that he had facilitated friends to commit robbery and for alleged possession of a gun.

Relatives tried in vain to visit him in detention. On 18 June the lawyer representing the family received confirmation of his death in custody while at the VCCU headquarters at Kireka, a suburb of Kampala. The death certificate established the cause of death as extensive loss of fluid and blood, severe bleeding in the brain and extensive deep burns on the buttocks. The body also bore 14 deep wounds. In October the Minister of Internal Affairs informed AI that an inquiry had been ordered, but no progress was subsequently reported.

Further restrictions on freedom of expression
Numerous official warnings and directives added to existing legislative limitations regarding the enjoyment of freedom of expression. On 28 February the Defence Ministry and army cautioned media houses and their staff that they would be prosecuted before a military court if they published classified information. On 22 August the Uganda Law Council issued a directive forbidding lawyers from writing articles, speaking to the media or making any other media appearance without the Council's permission. The Council is an official regulatory body which registers all lawyers and can suspend or deregister its members.

• On 22 June police closed the Soroti-based private FM radio station Kyoga Veritasallegedly because it defied a ministerial directive to refrain from broadcasting news about LRA attacks in the region.

• The trial continued of the managing editor, the news editor and a reporter with The Monitor newspaper. They were charged in 2002 with publishing information prejudicial to national security and false information. The charges related to an article alleging that the LRA had shot down an army helicopter in the north.

Harassment of political opponents
On 23 March riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a peaceful rally held at Constitutional Square in Kampala by members of the Democratic Party. No casualties were reported. On 1 May police blocked a political rally at Constitutional Square called by the Conservative Party.

Insurgency in northern Uganda
The 17-year conflict in the north showed no signs of resolution despite attempted peace talks between the Presidential Peace Team (PPT) and the LRA, with the involvement of religious leaders. Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, announced an immediate unilateral ceasefire on 1 March. President Museveni initially rejected it, reportedly after the LRA continued to commit abuses, including abductions, ambushes, lootings and killings, in breach of its own cease-fire. However, shortly afterwards, President Museveni called for a limited cease-fire in areas where the LRA could assemble to hold peace negotiations. On 18 April the PPT revoked the limited cease-fire and talks failed before formal negotiations began. A new cycle of violence started and subsequently intensified.

In mid-June the LRA expanded its activities to the districts of Katakwi, Soroti and Kaberamaido. The humanitarian crisis spread to these areas in addition to Gulu, Kitgum, Lira and Pader, increasing the number of internally displaced persons to over 1,200,000 by October. In response to the LRA's advance, bands of local vigilante youths – the "Arrow Boys" in Teso and the "Rhino Boys" in Lira – organized and armed themselves with the support of the UPDF to hunt down LRA fighters. The increased insecurity in Pader, Gulu and Kitgum gave rise to "night commuting", the practice of parents sending their children to sleep in the open in urban areas, walking up to five kilometres each way morning and evening, to avoid abduction.

The use of helicopter gunships and air bombardments to force the LRA out of hiding continued throughout the year. Civilians were killed during such attacks.

Death penalty
At least 432 people were under sentence of death. No executions of civilians took place. Government and military officials repeated their readiness to execute soldiers as a disciplinary measure to safeguard state security; at least three soldiers were executed.

In July, 398 death row inmates, including 16 women, filed a petition before the Constitutional Court challenging their death sentences on the grounds that they were unconstitutional, inhuman and degrading.

The petition was based on Articles 24 and 44 of the Constitution prohibiting any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. The Attorney General opposed the petition.

• On 3 March, three UPDF soldiers were executed by firing squad in circumstances where the swiftness of their trials, without any possibility of appeal, constituted a denial of the right to a fair trial. Private Richard Wigiri was executed in Kitgum Matidi Township, near Kitgum, after a military court found him guilty of murdering a civilian in December 2002.

Privates Kambacho Ssenyonjo and Alfred Oketch were executed after a military court near Kitgum found them guilty of killing three people on 4 January 2003.

AI country reports/visits
Statements
Uganda: Soldiers executed after unfair trial (AI Index: AFR 59/004/2003)
• Uganda: Urgent need to end torture following death in custody (AI Index: AFR 59/009/2003)
• Uganda: Open letter to all members of parliament in Uganda urging rejection of the impunity agreement with USA concerning the ICC (AI Index: AFR 59/008/2003)

Visits
AI delegates visited Uganda in March. In October AI's Secretary General travelled to the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda to meet senior government and UN officials, survivors of human rights abuses, human rights activists and international humanitarian agencies.
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