Fahamu (Oxford)

6 December 2012

Uganda: How State Rights Body Has Failed Ugandans - The Case of Moses Mukisa

analysis

Vincent Nuwagaba challenges the Uganda Human Rights Commission on its abysmal failure to promote and protect human rights, let alone award compensation to victims.

Moses Mukisa is a 27 year old young man from Wakiso District. He was beaten by graduated tax collectors and had his testicles kicked on March 22, 2003 at a place called Manyangwa which led him to lose his manhood. Mr. Mukisa went to Mulago Hospital and was operated by Dr Edward Ddumba then senior consultant, Mulago Hospital. Dr Ddumba gave Mukisa a report showing that he couldn't do any job.

Following his ordeal, Mukisa lodged a complaint with the Uganda Human Rights Commission at the commission's head offices on Buganda Road on April 18, 2003 and the file was opened under the number 464/2003.

In June 2010, Mukisa was told to go to the central region offices which then were in Ndeeba. When he reached there, he was told they would get in touch with him. After three months, when he went back to the commission offices, he was told to go back to Dr Ddumba and get a properly written medical report. He reportedly went back to the commission and told them that the medical report he had produced was adequate. He was told to transport the witnesses that he had submitted in his complaint failure of which the file would be closed in two weeks.

Mukisa recalls his tormentors as Paul Katto, Fred Masagazi and a woman only known as Nakku who were led by the Gombolola Chief Mr. Ronald Kiviri. He further told me that the then area MP Hon Ssitenda Ssebalu was the first person to help him by gathering his tormentors with his vehicle. Mukisa would then point out them one by one. Mukisa told me that he doesn't know the name of the soldier who kicked his testicles but he remembers the face and that he pointed him out in the presence of Mr. Ssitenda Ssebalu but nothing was done to him.

To date, Mukisa is in Murchison Bay prison, helpless and sometimes he passes out urine containing blood and pus. To make matters worse, he will never in his lifetime enjoy conjugal rights; he will never have a biological child and he has forgotten all about the pursuit of happiness.

DROPPED BY THE UHRC

What baffles Mukisa is the fact that the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), an institution that was established ostensibly to promote, protect and defend people's rights could without any justified cause drop his case. I would have followed this matter with the Uganda Human Rights Commission without going to the press but I have confirmed that there are so many cases that are badly treated by the commission. This however, doesn't surprise me. It only galls me. Otherwise, I know that virtually all state institutions are kaput. What Ugandan citizens must do is to galvanize the efforts to put to task the office bearers in state institutions to show why they should continue earning taxpayers' money.

It's not long ago when I put it in black and white that as a Ugandan citizen, I demand justice or death owing to the brutality that has been meted out on me. The Uganda Human Rights Commission which ironically should have gotten concerned with the human rights issues I raised, wrote a disparaging response to me forgetting that as a human being, the commission must respect me. Indeed, even if there are no other reasons for which they should respect me, they are duty-bound to respect me by virtue of the fact that I am human if indeed they are human rights defenders not human rights offenders.

UHRC REMAINS SILENT ON WRETCHED PRISON CONDITIONS

While disputing the Uganda Human Rights Commission award, I broached the sordid human rights situation in Kitalya prison farm which I said is a stone throw away from the UHRC headquarters. Kitalya is in Wakiso District along Mityana Road. I hope many of you know that from Kampala to Wakiso is like from the nose to the mouth. The commission in its characteristic style of denying even the undeniable stated that Kitalya is far away from the commission headquarters. Be that as it may, I have met prisoners from Kitalya who told me in Luganda that "Kitalya bwoba tosobola kulima bakukuba noffa nomulambo nebagukuba" adding that, "Bwokowa okulima bassima ekinya nebakuzikamu, omutwe gusigara ebweru naye ekitundu ekilala kiri mu kinya". This literally means that, 'in Kitalya if you can't dig they beat you until you die and they even beat the dead body' adding that 'If one gets tired of digging, they dig a hole and burry the rest of the body parts leaving only the head outside'. This shows how terrible the situation is.

UHRC REMAINS SILENT ON DEATHS AND ATROCITIES

There are very many inmates who are shot by the police and the prisons staff. I doubt whether the Uganda Human Rights Commission ever makes any initiative to establish such cases. I know they assess the country's human rights record on the basis of the complaints received. And this is factually wrong. Because more often than not the UHRC awards are not honoured by the government, many people don't waste their time filing complaints with the UHRC well knowing that there will most likely be no redress. A big number of people who file their complaints with the commission just do it for record purposes.

THE GRIM REALITY IN UGANDA

Article 52 (1) of the Ugandan Constitution provides for the functions of the Uganda Human Rights Commission which include among others, (a)to investigate at its own initiative or on a complaint made by any person or a group of persons against the violation of any right; (b) to visit jails, prisons and places of detention or related facilities with a view to assessing and inspecting conditions of the inmates and make recommendations; (c) to establish a continuing programme of research, education and information to enhance respect of human rights; (d) to recommend to parliament effective measures to promote human rights, including provision of compensation to victims of violations of human rights or their families; (e) to create and sustain within society the awareness of the provisions of the Constitution as the fundamental law of the people of Uganda; (f) to educate and encourage the public to defend the Constitution at all times against all forms of abuse and violation; (g) to formulate, implement and oversee programmes intended to inculcate in the citizens of Uganda awareness of their civic responsibilities and an appreciation and obligations as free people; (h) to monitor Government's compliance with international treaty and convention obligations on human rights; and (i) to perform such other functions as may be provided by law.

FAILING TO ADDRESS VIOLATIONS

Looking critically at the functions of the commission, one can authoritatively surmise that it falls short of its expectations. Anyone who hasn't looked at its constitutional functions may be tempted to think that the commission is limited to running the tribunal and publishing the human rights report. While the tribunal is necessary, the grim reality that most of the UHRC tribunal awards are rarely honoured and makes it almost incompetent. Just recently on 16 November 2012 , the commission chairperson Med Ssozi Kaggwa decried the fact that Uganda Shillings 4.5 billion is owed to the victims of torture. Yet many of them would want their compensation to cater for their medical treatment. I wonder why to date the UHRC has to forward the victims to the Attorney General for payment. With the government deliberately refusing to pay the awards the commission gives to the victims, the commission is frustrated in its mandate to promote and protect human rights because it's meaningless to talk of human rights promotion and protection without redress for the violations.

While the commission is mandated to carry out human rights research, the research that the commission if any is very limited both in temporal and geographical scope. Indeed, there are many areas in Uganda where majority of the population have never heard about the Uganda Human Rights Commission. Yet one of its functions is to sensitise the populace about the constitutional provisions thereby encouraging the public to defend the Constitution.

SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RIGHTS

Very little emphasis has been put on positive rights such as health, education, right to work; the right to social security/social protection, the right to non-discrimination in access to opportunities and so forth. Ultimately, in Uganda the right to health is a preserve of the rich - those who can afford private wing in Mulago and the so-called VIPs who get treatment in first world countries at the expense of Ugandan taxpayers; higher education is a preserve of the rich - mostly those who have business connections with the powers that be and those who courtesy of patronage can access state house scholarships, never mind that these scholarships are footed by Ugandan taxpayers. State jobs are a preserve of the politically connected. And I know very many who start working in ministries and public corporations as interns even before they graduate only for them to end up being absorbed without going through the regular processes. Meritocracy is no longer considered while hiring employees. Thanks to liberalization of higher education which allows the not so brilliant also to get university degrees. I have talked to many university lecturers in the once prestigious Makerere University where some of us went purely on merit and they tell me that majority of the students admitted in the university nowadays are far below average. Ultimately just like the IT cliché goes 'Garbage in, Garbage out', Uganda employs garbage and the output of its employees is equally garbage.

PIECE OF ADVICE TO THE UHRC

I have stated elsewhere and I reiterate it here that I love, cherish and deeply respect the Uganda Human Rights Commission as an institution but I also love and respect the commission staff. What I find revolting, though, are the goofs by the commission. Because the commission is a revered institution, I feel proud if it fulfills its mandate. I would expect the commission to visit police cells, prisons and all places of detention including military detention centres plus the courts of law. I would be glad if the Uganda Human Rights Commission made routine visits to the prison farms because therein egregious human rights violations are committed. Good enough, the commission chairperson Mr. Med Kaggwa is the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa. Thus, it would be better for him to have Uganda's conditions of prisons and detention centres on his fingertips before he can make a worthy rapporteur on prisons and conditions of detention in the entire continent.

I would expect the commission to lobby parliament to pass a law that provides for mandatory compensation of the human rights victims by the state agencies. I would expect the commission to step up efforts to essentially sensitise the citizens about the Constitution as the primary source of the citizens' rights and duties. Accordingly, the commission should in the next financial draw a budget for translating the Constitution in local languages and a massive sensitization campaign of the constitution.

Finally, the UHRC must as a matter of urgency retrieve Moses Mukisa's file and work on it expeditiously. It is so lugubrious that a person who lost his manhood at the hands of the hands of the heartless state operatives can just be ignored by an institution that prides itself as the best national human rights institution in Africa. Functional state institutions are good for all of us; they are good for those outside government but also good for those who will be outside government soon or later and they are good for the future generations and we must all strive to have effective and functional institutions. For God and my country!

Vincent Nuwagaba is a human rights defender

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