27 May 2017

Uganda: Security Forces Must Account for Kasese Killings - Activists

Photo: The Observer
Police burry one of the unclaimed bodies in Kasese last year.

A coalition of 40 organisations has appealed to the Ugandan government to facilitate independent and transparent investigations into the November 2016 Kasese clashes that led to the death of more than 150 people.

The group urged the government to invite relevant African Commission experts and United Nations special rapporteurs to participate in investigations.

"At a time when the public trust in many inconclusive investigations into several murders in Uganda continues to wane, the government ought to accept international cooperation and support to restore trust in its commitment to investigate and act on these atrocities," Arthur Larok, country director of Action Aid Uganda said.

The coalition questioned why no military or police personnel have been charged for their conduct during the violence that preceded the arrest of Charles Wesley Mumbere, the king of Rwenzururu kingdom and 180 of his subjects. Mumbere and his subjects, most of them royal guards, have since been charged with murder, treason, and terrorism, among other crimes.

"The Ugandan government took significant steps to charge more than 180 civilians for their alleged involvement in the violence in Kasese. But six months after this unexplained and overwhelming use of lethal force by the police and military, the government has taken no steps at all to investigate their role or to provide justice for the many victims, Maria Burnett, the East Africa director at Human Rights Watch said.

"What happened in Kasese, that was the largest number of people have been killed in a single event since the LRA war. This should not be covered over by politics. This should be about justice and accountability for all sides that have suffered.

The concern is that government has poured significant resources into investigating alleged crimes by civilians but we all know over 180 civilians have been charged through reigns of various crimes and are still facing those crimes before court. But what we have not seen is the investigation into the killing of civilians in Kasese", said Burnett.

Although government put the death toll from the clashes at 103 people, a report by Human rights Watch indicates that at least 55 people, including 14 police officers, were killed on November 26, and that more than 100 people were killed by joint security forces during the attack on the Rwenzururu palace compound.

Burnett says that the government should not continue to hide under the guise of politics to deny justice to its citizens. She said that government is supposed to account for what happened in Kasese.

Irene Ovonji Odida, the executive director for Uganda Women Lawyers Association asked the public to name government officials to account for what they have done to ensure the people of Kasese obtain justice.

"I'm not a young person, I believed in this country more than 50 years. I have experienced every government that we have had since independence. The coverups that has been seen in relation to Kasese is becoming the norm. And this contamination is spreading to very fundamental institutions.

The Uganda Police where else do you go if you need law and order, if you need investigations and evidence of crimes committed? Institutions like the Uganda Human Rights Commission and Parliament of Uganda are mandated to protect human rights in this country. We need to see these institutions stepping up with conclusive results as in the case of Kasese", said Ovongi.

Ovongi challenged the Defense and Internal Affairs committee of Parliament to spell out what they have done in addressing excesses from the Kasese clashes. She noted that several members of parliament have left the mass murders in Kasese as an issue of the area MPs.

"Leadership demands a solution to a problem, our parliament needs to show that leadership. Elected officials from Uganda paid by taxpayers from the whole country including those from Kasese, go there and demonstrate that this is part of Uganda. Because the primary role is to speak, that is the core role of a parliamentarian.

And you must not leave it to a few parliamentarians from Kasese or those on the opposition... Parliamentarians from the NRM particularly those who are heading committees, let us start naming individuals who are paid by us as taxpayers and are not doing the job. Maybe they are doing it and we are not seeing it. Can they show it? Let them demonstrate, let the show it", she said.

Godber Tumushabe, the executive director at Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment -‎ noted that it is wrong for citizens to keep silent on such matters adding that government institutions would not be sufficient for a thorough investigation.

"I would like to call and encourage our government that they actually take responsibility and own this process because I believe that we have a government that has thrived and cherishes its contribution to creating security, stability. But this country is at pains because it cannot move to the phase of peace and prosperity because peace and prosperity are the only deliverables that you can get from peace and security.

When you don't move to that point, security and stability become nothing and they become useless for the citizens. I therefore join colleagues here to say, let us have the courage to the truth because the truth will set everybody free", said Tumushabe.

"The world is watching how the government of Uganda responds to the Kasese killings," said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. "Nothing less than a comprehensive, credible, and independent investigation is acceptable - particularly into the role played by security forces in the deaths of over one hundred Ugandans."

The organizations in the coalition include, among others, Action Aid Uganda, Advocates for Research in Development (ARiD), Akina Mama Wa Afrika (AMWA), Anti-Mines Network-Rwenzori (AMNET-R), Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), Chapter Four Uganda, Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), Community Development and Child Welfare Initiatives (CODI), Defenders Protection Initiative (DPI), Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA) Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) and the us based Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

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