The Monitor (Kampala)

23 February 2010

Uganda: Rights Body Blocked From Safe Houses

Kampala — The Uganda Human Rights Commission, a government human rights watchdog, has been blocked three times from inspecting the safe houses of the Joint Anti- Terrorism Task Force (JATT) in Kololo, Daily Monitor has learnt.

Highly-placed sources within the Commission told Daily Monitor on Monday that the Kitante-based military outfit has been elusive with its activities for three years, making it impossible for the human rights defenders to ascertain the condition of the detained suspects.

But the military yesterday said the human rights activists would not be accorded unconditional access to the military detention centres where, its feared, suspects are tortured and live deplorable lives.

The UHRC was established by the government to protect and promote human rights as guaranteed by the Constitution and other binding human rights instruments.

"We have had a series of meeting with JATT leaders but still they have not given us a leeway to inspect the safe houses," said a source that preferred anonymity in order to extensively discuss this matter.

"The last time we went there, they showed us only a few things and stopped our staff from accessing the other facilities. We suspect there are many people under their detention who are suffering. We are now in discussion with them, and hopefully they will allow us to inspect them," the source added.

There has been a growing local and international outcry regarding torture activities by military forces, particularly JATT.

Types of torture

After interviewing former and current prisoners, The Human Rights Watch said in its 2009 report that the forms of torture used by JATT include genital and body mutilation, tying and suspending victims from the ceiling, beatings and electrocution.

JATT is a security agency established by the government through the Anti-Terrorism Taskforce of 2002. It draws its staff from the Internal Security Organisation, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and the Rapid Response Unit.

In a press statement issued yesterday, Mr Med Kagwa, the chairperson of UHRC remained tight-lipped as far as the Commission's access to JATT detention centres is concerned. He said negotiations are going on to allow the commission to unconditionally inspect all military detention centres.

Mission impossible

Although Mr Kagwa was optimistic his commission would get unconditional access to military detention centres, army spokesman, Col. Felix Kulayigye revealed that such a matter was impossible.

"They [Commission] know why we cannot allow them. They cannot just bump into us. They have always received cooperation from us but what I cannot guarantee is unconditional access. Even in your bedroom, you cannot just jump onto your bed like that. Your wife must prepare it for you to sleep."

The commission, however, visited Kampilingisa, a rehabilitation centre, where they found the facility was congested and many children at the centre lacked clothing and beddings.

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