Activists to government: Why the loud silence over Kasese killings?

By Lynn Najjemba

Human rights activists have criticised the Ugandan government and Parliament over silence on the Kasese killings despite promising an investigation into the issue.

Six months ago, security forces attacked the palace of the Rwenzururu king Charles Wesley Mumbere in Kasese District, leaving scores of people dead, including royal guards, the police and civilians.  In a statement to Parliament, Internal Affairs Minister Jeje Odongo, accused the royal guards of attacking government security team with petrol bombs.

Led by Human Rights Watch and Chapter Four Uganda, the organisations say Parliament has failed to represent the Ugandan people by reneging on its promise to investigate the killings.

At a press conference in Kampala last week, the organisations urged Parliament to intervene in the Kasese killings the same way they did on torture at Nalufenya detention facility.

The organizations who include FIDA Uganda, the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, DENIVA and Antimens Network Rwenzori,  also expressed displeasure at the ‘’blanket security cover‘’ on media coverage on the issue.

‘’After the Kasese massacre, a committee of Parliament said it was investigating the incident but six months down the road, their silence is very loud. One would have expected Parliament to hold weekly public hearings to get to the truth,’’ Mr Godber Tumushabe from the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies noted.

The organizations are equally appalled by the recent Uganda Human Rights Commission report that makes no mention on the Kasese killings despite the incident occurring in the period being reported, and instead detailed only testimonies from Kaweesi suspects on torture and death at Nalufenya.

FIDA Uganda’s Executive Director Irene Ovonji Odida said: ‘’Covering up injustice is becoming the norm in Uganda and is spreading to fundamental institutions mandated to protect human rights like the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the Uganda Police.”

Ms. Maria Burnett, the East African Director of Human Rights Watch says the government has not taken any steps to investigate the incident despite making several commitments months ago.

Mr Nicholas Opiyo, the Executive Director of Chapter Four Uganda, says the state has made numerous attempts to obstruct independent investigations by CSOs and Human Rights activists into the incident.

‘’There is no ongoing matter or case in any Court of Law that relates to the conduct of security forces. What we see is a case on the role of non-state actors in the killing of police officers who were involved in the attack. The DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] is always quick to open general inquiry files into incidents, for example the killing of Muslim clerics. Why is there none for Kasese?’’ Mr Opiyo queried.

He added: ‘’When AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi was killed, government was quick to ask for forensic intelligence support from the FB. Why not do the same for the Kasese case?”

Although Mr Opiyo acknowledged that there have been steps taken in the past to discipline errant officers, he added that ‘’internal disciplinary proceedings should not be a substitute for criminality’’.

Human Rights Watch and Chapter Four Uganda who have documented the Kasese killings, report at least 150 deaths including 15 children. However Ugandan security forces insist no children were killed in November 26, 2016 attack.

Mr Tumushabe said Uganda must meet its human rights obligations under the EAC Treaty, the African Peer Review Mechanism and other International Human Rights Instruments, saying ‘’you cannot build prosperity on a mountain of injustice’’.

Read related articles on the Kasese killings here, here and here

**************

Editor’s Note: Do you have strong and informed opinions on current affairs in Uganda and beyond? Send your 800-word opinion to info [at] acme-ug [dot] org and let your views be read.