As public accusations and counter accusations continue to imperil the already sour relationship between Rwanda and Uganda, two lawyers of alleged imprisoned Rwandan nationals have said human rights are being sacrificed at the altar of politics.
Speaking at a recent press conference in Kampala, lawyers of detained Rwandan nationals say all rights of their clients have been violated by the government of Uganda.
They allege that as many as 100 ordinary Rwandan traders, and businesspeople engaged in export and import trade and others working with faith-based organizations have been illegally detained by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and the Internal Security Organization (ISO) on undisclosed charges.
Many have been illegally deported to Rwanda while others have had to endure inhumane treatment. Gawaya Tegulle and Aboneka Michael, the lawyers of the detainees, who were joined by the Secretary of Uganda Law Society, Francis Harimwomugasho, said the time has come for the international community to get involved in order to arrest the situation, which they said is spiralling out of control.
Tegulle said as lawyers of Rwandan detainees, they were dismayed by the statement made by Sam Kutesa, Uganda's foreign affairs minister on May 17. The minister said the only Rwandans arrested in Uganda are those found on the wrong side of the law.
"Rwandans are welcome to visit Uganda. However, Uganda expects Rwandans who visit Uganda just like any other visitors to be law-abiding. Anyone who breaks the law will be dealt with according to the law. In this connection, several Rwandan nationals who have been arrested for breaking the law have been charged in courts of law or deported back to Rwanda. In addition, a number of Rwandan security operatives have been entering Uganda without following laid-down procedures governing entry of security personnel into the country. A number of these when apprehended have been deported back to Rwanda," Kutesa's statement partly reads. But Tegulle said the only truth in Kutesa's statement is that Uganda has arrested Rwandans.
"The rest of the statement is a rather disturbing pack of prevarications. He simply skims and slides over very important matters concerning real people and their families; people whose lives are being changed for the worse; irreparably and irreversibly by the actions of the security agencies in Uganda. There are children whose fathers are missing wives whose husbands cannot be traced, old folks who are wondering if they will live long enough to see their children again," Tegulle said.
He added that those arrested are not allowed access to their families, lawyers and medical care and some are subjected to torture to extort information from them. He said they have tried but failed to call government to order through the legal process.
Up to 12 orders of habeas corpus have been issued by the court but in almost all cases, the government has defied the court save for the cases of Calude Iyakaremye, Rene Rutagungira, Emmanuel Rwamucyo and Augustine Rutayisire who appeared in the Military Court Martial. "A few weeks ago Robert Tumwine was released after torture and dumped half dead at his sister's home in Mbarara; he died shortly after... If any law has been broken, then it's the security agencies, not the detainees,"Tegulle said.
Harimwomugasho said Uganda Law Society is dismayed that government continues to disregard court orders. "As long as a court of competent jurisdiction issues an order, it must be respected. As ULS, we condemn in the strongest terms possible anybody who receives orders and doesn't respect them. If the government is displeased with such orders, let them appeal them," Harimwomugasho said.
Uganda and Rwanda have had a bittersweet relationship yet their two presidents have a shared long history of working together since the 1981-86 National Resistance bush war. The current impasse between the two countries came to the fore early this year when Rwanda closed its border with Uganda, accusing Kampala, among other things, of supporting dissident elements bent on deposing Kagame's regime.