The police leadership yesterday appeared to have run out of places and people to hide behind over alleged torture of suspected criminals, after President Museveni and Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga separately spoke out against the sordid practice.
In a letter to the heads of the army, police and intelligence services, Museveni said acts of torture must stop. On the other hand, Kadaga told parliament that the police officers responsible for the torture of suspects should be charged for committing crime against humanity.
Further condemnation of police brutality came from the minister for security, Lt Gen (rtd) Henry Tumukunde, who told Police to own up when they do wrong.
Museveni, in a letter addressed to Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Gen David Muhoozi, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Gen Kale Kayihura and the director general of the Intelligence Services, disparaged the police for using torture as a means of extracting confessions form suspects.
He said by doing so, the security agencies are likely to commit three possible mistakes that may even interfere with the fight against crime.
“Number one, you may torture the wrong person, somebody who is totally innocent. This is very unfair.
Secondly, somebody may admit guilt when he is innocent in order to be spared being tortured. This will make the real criminal escape in order to commit more crimes later,” Museveni wrote.
“Thirdly, confessions by the criminals are not necessary. Even if the suspects do not admit their guilt, if the investigators do their work well (finger-prints, photographs, DNA tests, eyewitnesses, the use of other scientific methods, the use of dogs etc), the criminals can get convicted,” the president further wrote.
Museveni’s statement came against a backdrop of distressing images of the LC-III chairman of Kamwenge town council, Geoffrey Byamukama, who has for some time been hospitalized at Nakasero hospital after being tortured by police officers investigating the recent murder of AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi, a former police spokesperson.
Days before Byamukama’s plight was brought to the fore last week, 15 other suspects in the murder had cried to the Nakawa chief magistrate about the torture they were subjected to at police’s detention facility at Nalufenya, Jinja municipality.
Police spokesman Asan Kasingye tried to downplay the suspects’ claims, saying the suspects had got their injuries elsewhere, but not in police custody at Nalufenya.
While the government could make up with such a claim, Byamukama’s fresh wounds offered bad publicity for the government at both the local and the international fronts that it got the highest offices in the land speaking against them.
“The use of torture is unnecessary and wrong and must not be used again if it was being used as I see some groups claiming in the media,” Museveni wrote.
The president warned his security chiefs against acting in panic, reminding them of their efforts against rebel groups led by Alice Lakwena, Joseph Kony and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) who despite being heavily supported by external forces were defeated by the UPDF.
“We cannot fail to cope with cowards using boda bodas to kill people who are peacefully sitting in their cars or walking along the streets,” Museveni said.
He added that with a little adjustment, the government shall avenge the deaths of the various Muslim clerics, state attorney Joan Kagezi and security officers who have been murdered over the past years.
“Our annoyance with these criminals should not make us opt for defective shortcuts. These are hardened criminals by default who think that by denying, they can kill and escape accountability. However, we shall get them using patient means of evidence but not through torture because evidence through torture is not reliable,” Museveni stated.
His letter was copied to his deputy Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, ministers Gen Jeje Odongo (Internal Affairs), Adolf Mwesige (Defense and Veteran Affairs), Esther Mbayo Mbalabukuza (Presidency), Sam Kutesa (Foreign Affairs) and Frank Tumwebaze (Information and Communications Technology).
In an emotive address to parliament yesterday, Kadaga, reading from Article 24 of the Constitution which prohibits use of any form of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as punishment, said the perpetrators should be charged in courts of law as opposed to the police disciplinary committee.
“How can one explain the electric shock, the knocking out of teeth, the breaking of knee caps, the ironing of a person’s body, the introduction of noxious [harmful] substances into the orifices of a person?” Kadaga wondered as she cited the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012.
“I want to demand on behalf of the citizens that we need to see justice done. Torture is not an issue of the Police disciplinary committee. It is a matter of crime against humanity, it is a breach of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, and the perpetrators must be arrested [and] charged in an open court,” she added to the applause of the lawmakers.
Kadaga spoke in a raised voice as the government front bench led by Ruth Nankabirwa, the government chief whip, prepared a response.
The speaker stretched her concern to the 12 underage children who were kept under police detention for nearly two months following the arrest of their parents. One of them was a two-year-old baby.
Their father Abu Rashid Mbaziira and mothers Aisha Ampiire and Fatumah Bint Salim were arrested in connection with Kaweesi’s murder but even when Ampiire and Fatumah were released, the police held onto the children.
“It is a cardinal principle of law that children under the age of 12 have no legal capacity to commit an offense; we expect a statement [from the ministry of Internal Affairs],” Kadaga said.
She drew the ministry to Section 244 of the Penal Code Act which qualifies the liable police officers to a 10-year jail term.
“Those officers have indeed been holding the children for even one-day leave alone the whole month are liable for prosecution under Penal Code 120 of the laws of Uganda,” the Kamuli Woman MP said.
Kampala Woman MP Nabilah Naggayi Sempala told the House the police are still holding three more children. Their mother, Naggayi said, even after being subjected to a DNA test which matched those of the children, was told by the police that she could not take the children until she produces their father.
The mother, according to Naggayi’s submission to parliament, is a resident of Ishaka in Bushenyi district. Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) moved a motion without notice under Rule 50(1)(b) for parliament to institute a select committee of parliament to investigate the acts of torture and abductions by the police.
However, Kadaga ruled out the option of a select committee on grounds that it would take a lot of time but said she would give the former NRM legislator time to move a formal motion.
This was after Nankabirwa told the House that all the officers involved will be brought to book. Speaking at a national dialogue on the role of the media in promoting good and bad social and economic development of the country held yesterday at the President’s office buildings, the minister for Security Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, urged security officers found at fault to own up for their wrongs.
“Whoever among us is at fault, it’s an honourable thing to own up. The mission of coming together is to interface security with press because we both have a duty to defend the population [and] by the end of the day, we need to have come to a conclusion of what accountability in a democracy is,” Tumukunde said.
Before Parliament, the state minister for internal affairs, Mario Obiga-Kania, apologised for the torture of suspects. He informed parliament that the police have already arrested four officers for criminal trial in the courts of law.
“We apologise to the country and to you parliament because, essentially, whatever we do, the result should not be what was seen in the media. We are equally concerned about the laws being broken,” the minister said.
©Alleastafrica and The Observer