David a refugee living in Uganda is a victim of torture having been through one of the worst ordeals imaginable. "One evening at home, we were visited by state supported militia who interrogated me about the reason for giving a bad name to the Government. I was brutally beaten all over my body and later forced to watch as they took turns raping my two sisters.
When they were done, they inflicted burns on them. I was afterwards forced to have anal sex with the whole group of men and then left for dead. Somehow the sisters nursed and helped me recover enough to flee to Uganda. Unfortunately the two girls were both found pregnant and obviously the fathers of their children are unknown. We are grateful to ACTV for the services provided to us until now, despite financial hardships, we can cope and have physically recovered," narrates David.
The stories of torture victims have chilling effects and the trauma that results from their experience of torture cannot be exaggerated. Some of these victims are refugees and majority are Ugandans who have been tortured by security agencies. For many of them, adjusting to the new circumstances is an insurmountable challenge without professional help especially for the psychosocial component.
According to the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of torture Victims annual report; most of the torture victims handled by ACTV both new and old, manifested common condition-ailments and symptoms physically and psychologically such as fractures, peptic ulcers, urinary tract infections, respiratory tract infections, Post traumatic stress disorder, sexually transmitted Infections, arthritis wounds, depression, ear conditions, eye conditions, loss of body parts and functionality, severe pain, suicidal ideations, Insomnia, etcetera consequences of torture.
The ratio of male to female is still skewed with more male survivors of torture registered and given treatment. This partly points to the higher risk factors of men in relation to torture perpetuated in the armed conflicts in the neighbouring countries and the post war situations in northern Uganda. 67% of all the clients' registered in 2012 are male compared to 33% female.
Trends in victims' registration:
Notably, 2012 saw a higher registration of clients than 20111, 205 more individuals and an 18% increment. This is attributed to the intensification of the ACTV outreach strategy involving more visits to prisons and urban refugee camps.
It is also a pointer to more information about the availability of specialised services for survivors of torture through our advocacy and media strategies and activities that has seen the dissemination of information about the organisation spreading far and wide.
The increase in numbers also points to an increase in the perpetration of torture evidenced by 1, 132 new clients in 2011 against 1, 137 new clients in 2012 partly fuelled by the recent instability in the DRC with a resulting high influx of Congolese refugees into Uganda.
Through 2012, ACTV provided services to various nationalities. ACTV served ten nationalities namely Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Eritrea, Rwanda, and Uganda. Notably the DRC has continued to lead foreign nationalities registering for services making almost 12% of all clients served in 2012, and second to Uganda. This is attributed to the armed insurgency in DRC in 2012 that saw an influx of thousands of refugees into the west and south western boarders of Uganda, with some settling in refugee camps in urban areas, majority in Kampala.
Breakthrough in prevention of torture ACTV undertook individual and collective efforts in the fight against torture and other human rights abuses. The outstanding achievement on the policy and legislative advocacy front was the enactment of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill into an Act of Parliament.
Following thorough ground work done since 2005 including, but not limited to the benchmarks visits to Burundi and the Philippines in 2011 by the members of Parliament, advocacy and lobbying for the bill on the international front of Geneva under the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism, 2012 was the last push towards having an anti- Torture Law in Uganda.
Working with legislators, the Uganda Human Rights Commission and partners in CAT and Civil Society, the Anti-Torture Bill became a priority after the landmark motion in February 2012 that brought forward all bills from the previous 8th Parliament. Subsequently public hearing was conducted. Submissions, all in support of the bill, were made to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee from relevant Government ministries, statutory and institutional bodies and civil Society organisations.
The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament as per procedure sat and developed their report with some improvements on the bill which they tabled in parliament in April. On 26th April 2012, the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill was passed by Parliament.
The bill was assented to by the President of Uganda into the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, and gazetted on 18th September 2012. "With enactment of the law, the challenge at hand is in effective implementation that shall require joint efforts between state actors, civil society and the general public starting with massive sensitisation on the provision of law and dissemination of the law, says Samuel Nsubuga Chief Executive Officer ACTV.
He argues that it is the focus of CAT, working with partners in Government, the donor community and the Justice Law and Order Sector to see this law implemented and taking root to positively affect the conduct of individuals in relation to the enjoyment of the right to freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
African centre torture victims:
Over the years clandestine and overt operations by Ugandan security agencies and the Police, have caught the attention of not only human rights organisations in Uganda but international bodies as well. In that regard, African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) has for the past 20 years spearheaded the fight against torture in Uganda. Gilbert Kidimu Spoke to Samuel Herbert Nsubuga, the chief executive officer about ACTV role in helping torture victims.
Q What is African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims?
African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture victims (ACTV) is the pioneer provider of services to survivors and victims of torture in Uganda.
We commenced operations two decades ago in 1993 when Dr Samuel Nsaba, got a Vision of a Torture Treatment Centre after he was tortured in the early 1980s. The International Rehabilitation Council of Torture Victims (IRCT), umbrella body of torture treatment centres across the globe with its headquarters in Copenhagen, picked interest and the Danes were the first funders of ACTV.
Over the years, a number of other development partners have joined the Danes to support ACTV. In Uganda there are two medical centres; one in Kamwokya and the other in Gulu meant to serve the LRA war surviving torture victims. The Gulu centre was funded by the French.
Our mandate is treatment and rehabilitation of survivors of torture, mainly targeting those who have been tortured by security agencies and armed groups. We work with a number of partners such as the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, and Centre for Domestic Violence who handle cases of domestic violence and child abuse. We only focus on those tortured by security agencies and armed groups because our services are free which makes it expensive.
What exactly do you do to help torture victims?
Ours is holistic care. We handle psychological, emotional, and physical treatment and also offer legal services to the victims. We thus have doctors, psychologists, counsellors, social workers, legal officers and others. In addition to treatment, we do advocacy. We lead the coalition against torture, which spearheaded the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, passed by Parliament last year and gazetted into law.
Annet Nazziwa was hacked by her husband Douglas Sempijja in a domestic brawl:
What we need right now is have it effected and that is our main focus in advocacy. This law needs to be disseminated so that everyone can know about it especially the general public. We also do awareness training programmes as part of our activities in advocacy. Here we train security agencies, community leaders, health workers, and even the media about torture.
We also do research and documentation every two years, estimating the social-economic effects of torture in Uganda, to help us improve service delivery. We discovered that survivors are given very little in compensation and this compensation does not come on time. Seeing that walk-ins are not as many, we run an extensive outreach programme where we visit prisons (at least one prison every month) and refugee camps.
How many torture victims have you helped far in 2013?
Our annual target plan is 1000 new survivors every year. By end of June this year we had taken care of 905 new cases, both Ugandans and refugees. Refugees are more than we expected because of the endless conflict in Congo.
What are the major challenges you have faced while providing services to survivors and victims of torture?
Making sure the surviving victims get all the necessary treatment is a challenge. We are an outpatient facility working with Mulago, Butabika, Kadic, and other hospitals. Surgeries are quite costly and so sometimes we share costs with the patients, but sometimes even that is not possible, hence treatment is not completed. The high number of Congo refugees has particularly strained our budget. We have only two medical centres- the one in Kampala and the other one in Gulu. Accessing most parts of Uganda isn't possible.
Besides the refugees, who are the most torture victims in Uganda?
Suspected criminals and vulnerable groups are the most victims. The brutal manner in which criminal suspects are arrested, detained, and treated is deplorable. The police beat up and torture suspects to make them confess to the crime. The vulnerable group is people who cannot afford treatment.
Who are the leading perpetrators of torture?
The Ugandan Police has been ranking high over the years as the leading perpetuator. It has always been number one in the reports and it still is. Lately, because of the refugee element, the second is the militia in the DRC Congo.
What kind of Uganda do you want to see as ACTV?
We want to see the Uganda Police focus resources on training their human resource to use the human rights based approach while executing their duties. The police need training because the lower cadre don't understand the law well enough, hence take the law in their own hands.
We need to see the police improve on their investigation methods by using forensic science instead of torture to get people to confess. The war in DRC has affected Uganda in so many ways; we thus want to see conflict resolution so that there are no more refugees entering Uganda