22 November 2013

Uganda: Widow Accuses Soldier of Trafficking Body Parts

A mother, whose son lost a kidney early this year, has written to President Museveni to take action against what she calls the trafficking of human body parts by elements in the UPDF. Betty Kato, the mother of one of the victims, Mathias Derrick Ssekyewa, wrote a November 6, 2013 letter to Museveni, accusing a UPDF officer of trafficking in humans for their body parts.

"... the purpose of writing to you is to report to you one Lt Col John Kundu Wangusi, a top UPDF commander and second in command of Air base Entebbe, who connived with an Indian national, Prof Chaturvedi Vasudev of Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences in India ... and flew my son to India where his left kidney was forcefully plucked out, an action I term as human organ trade," Kato wrote.

The president's office acknowledges receiving the letter, also copied to the minister for Internal Affairs, on November 14, 2013. In the letter, Kato says Lt Col Wangusi never sought the consent of the victim's [Ssekyewa's] parents before flying him to India, which she says points to a heartless sinister motive.

"He [Lt Col Kundu Wangusi] even went ahead to fake a woman related to him as Ssekyewa's mother in order to achieve his mission of stealing my son's kidney. Your Excellency, I'm an aged single mother; imagine the pain and grief I'm going through now," she wrote.

Kato noted that at first when her son returned to Uganda, he was afraid to narrate the ordeal until he started falling sick.

"I'm deeply worried for my son's life is in great danger. Mathias' health is worrying, no more education, no work, yet I'm spending a lot of money on his medication [he was put under a special diet in order to keep the remaining kidney healthy," Kato said.

Lt Col Kundu Wangusi, Prof Chaturvedi and a Makerere University student, Christopher Ogwal, were recently charged with aggravated human trafficking before Buganda road court, a matter that has left her family in fear.

"I also take this opportunity to inform you that, ever since I filed a lawsuit against Lt Col Kundu Wangusi, we have been living in hiding for fear of being killed. At one time, Mathias was kidnapped by three soldiers, who claimed to be from State House and threatened to kill him if he didn't withdraw the charges. He was tortured and given a 24-hour ultimatum to withdraw the case," she wrote.

She explains that since then, she has been forced to relocate from Entebbe to a secret location where the family now stays.

"Therefore, I seek your indulgence and intervention in this matter since senior government officials, top army commanders and 'investors', continue to drag down, manipulate and exploit poor Ugandans for their selfish interests," the letter concludes.

Contacted for a comment, the army spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, said he had not seen the complaint, but added: "The issue is critical and requires an in-depth investigation to get to its roots."

Ssekyewa's account

The 22-year-old Ssekyewa says he was first approached by fellow student, a one Ogwal last year, who proposed to him to sell one of his kidneys for $77,000 (approximately Shs 200m). It was Ogwal who introduced Ssekyewa to Lt Col Kundu Wangusi, a senior commander in the air force, a Kampala-based doctor [nephrologist], and the Indian professor, who also convinced him to sell the kidney.

Prof Chaturvedi and Lt Col Kundu Wangusi reportedly told Ssekyewa he would first travel to India for fitness medical checks and if found fit, have the kidney removed before returning home. The group then worked on Ssekyewa's travel arrangements.

Once in India, Ssekyewa was served supper, which left him unconscious. When he awoke, he was told the kidney had been removed, and was asked to sign papers, that he was denied an opportunity to read through. Ssekyewa says he was told to sign the documents or he would never see his family again. After this he was brought back to Uganda, and ordered not to talk about the operation. Ssekyewa says the pledge to give him Shs 200m was never honoured.

"I now feel weak and sometimes get paralyzed," he says.

Prof Chaturvedi, Lt Col Kundu Wangusi and Ogwal denied the charges in court. Lt Col Kundu Wangusi is on remand at Luzira and is due to apply for bail next week.

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