Women Human Rights Defenders network Uganda was glad to participate in the E-public dialogue in commemoration of the Anti-torture Day 2022 on June 26th. This day marked 10 years of the Anti-torture law since its enactment and was aired on NBS TV organized by Uganda Human Rights Commission in conjunction with Anti Torture For Violence.
- Ida Nakiganda – Director, Complaints, Investigation and Legal Services UHRC.
- Barbra Kawuma – Ass DPP in charge of Human rights
- ACP Kusemererwa James – Head of Human Rights Development
- Herbert Samuel Nsubuga – Chairperson CAT-U, & CEO of ACTV.
What is torture?
Ida Nakiganda of UHRC defined torture relating to the Anti-Torture Act (not in the UN Convention against Torture) as severe pain or suffering by either a public official or a person acting in the capacity of a private individual capacity for the purpose of obtaining a confession or information, punishing and intimidating an individual. There has to be an intention or purpose for which that act was performed.
This definition was widened to include state actors (law enforcement agencies, security agencies), private spheres of life eg GBV, and any other space that may not be formal or official
CEO @actvuganda Samuel Herbert Nsubuga: Unfortunately, we are still averaging over 1,000 survivors of torture annually being registered, passing through our gates for treatment and rehabilitation.#NBSUpdates #AntiTortureLaw10 pic.twitter.com/Em5rJUK2Mj
— NBS Television (@nbstv) June 26, 2022
What is your role as CAT?
Samuel CAT started in 2005. We felt it was important to get together a number of civil society organizations to help improve the legal framework in the country that was not specific to torture. Together with UHRC, we started to, first of all, sensitize the relevant stakeholders (the key arms of government, security agencies, and the community).
In particular, ACTV is the chairperson of CAT, apart from the treatment and rehabilitation of torture victims, it helps us in advocacy, and developing medical-legal reports which are utilized by UHRC at courts of law for compensation.
There are still some challenges we face especially in terms of resources, and issues of the investigation by police (we have not had convictions that we are happy with as secretariat).
Why has it taken this long for Uganda to ratify any of these optional protocols to the CAT?
Ida Uganda has ratified the Convention against Torture (1987). However, there’s an optional protocol to that convention (UN OPCAT) which requires that there should be access to places of detention (police, remand homes, prisons, military places of detention). OPCAT requires that there’s a prevention mechanism at the national level but also there’s a sub-committee against torture at the UN level who are supposed to access places of detention here in Uganda if Uganda is to ratify it. I believe that since Uganda has justices of peace including the UHRC which has a constitutional mandate to access places of detention, there has been a delay in ratifying the OPCAT but I think it’s important to have a number of actors on board so that if the commission is not here, the sub-committee will be visiting and inspecting these places of detention.
Looking at the high need for proper documentation, UPF has continued to use the older form 3. Why is that?
James We are working with ACTV to do away with that because the older form has not been specifically directed to getting that kind of evidence. I hope in a little time it will go through. However, it doesn’t mean that nothing is being done (People have been prosecuted, people have lost jobs and people have been made to compensate others).
Why are criminal prosecutions against perpetrators of torture not common?
Barbra It is not that criminal prosecutions are not common. They are actually ongoing. For the period July 2021 to March 2022, DPP has registered 205 torture cases and 771 other human rights violations. We have the statistics of those that have gone through the system, and secured convictions for these cases with the help of ACTV.
Is there a process for awards and compensation of torture victims?
Ida Compensation is key for a victim of torture. It’s a way of repairing the injustice that the victim suffered. You can’t say you can get them to the position they were previously but it’s a way of helping them rebuild their lives. At the Commission, when we’re done with our investigation, evidence has been gathered and the matter has gone to the tribunal and the matter has been confirmed to be a torture case, the tribunal will award the victim compensation. Previously, it was paid by the attorney general but since about 2015/2016, compensations are now paid by individual institutions like UPF, UPDF, and Uganda Prisons Service (decentralization of payment of compensation awards).
Even before decentralization, there have been challenges in payment – when someone has been tortured, there are effects they are going to stay with for the rest of their lives, so it’s important that compensation is done in a timely manner so that this person is able to start rebuilding and make sense of their lives.
However, the attorney general is still actively paying the arrears. In the FY 2020-2021, the attorney general paid about a 600million to victims of torture and for the successive four financial years, the attorney general has paid about 4 billion to victims of torture. When we go to decentralization, there are challenges, the institutions say payment of compensation awards is not part of their budget so victims are made to wait for quite a long period of time.
The UPDF and UPS are making good strides in paying compensation but the biggest challenge is still with UPF.
What procedure does the UPF take when a torture case is reported?
James In most cases, 70% of victims prefer going to other organizations than to the police though still, these cases come back to us for investigation. When we get these cases, we start investigations by calling these victims back to obtain information, and a month ago, out of 200 cases that had been referred to us, 109 cases were already seen. Some of these officers have been convicted and others are on remand. The gap I would only admit is the accountability side of it especially to the public once the action has been taken. We however encourage the public to come to us.
As the human rights department, do you carry out investigations?
James No, they come to us then we channel. We may not have enough resources and manpower to do that but we assess the cases. Afterward, we refer it to the CID for investigation and subsequent prosecution.
What penalty does UPF have for fellow police perpetrators?
James As an institution, once you are prosecuted through criminal courts and you are convicted, it is an automatic dismissal. On top of other sanctions that the court may issue, we have our own
Who does a follow-up on these processes? Who holds the entire team accountable?
Ida We have been trying to follow up as a commission in terms of payments (mostly with the attorney general and several institutions) but there needs to be a focal point institution and in our annual reports we’ve always made recommendations that may be the Ministry of Justice should be that focal point to do the following up. So that when we consult them, we are able to know what is pending with the UPDF, UPF, and UPS, we make reports and share them with the Human Rights Committee of Parliament who will hold these institutions accountable.
As CAT, are you happy? Are the numbers going down? Is the process working for those victims you represent?
Samuel Unfortunately, we are still averaging over 1000 survivors of torture passing through ACTV gates for treatment and rehabilitation. In 2020 lockdown, we saw 960 survivors of torture. Since the covid 19 pandemic, we’ve not been able to access the prisons yet they contain over 30% of the survivors we have registered. Last year (2021), we registered 1202 survivors of torture. Torture is still prevalent and we are trying to advocate for a rehabilitation policy from MoH and because we are still the only rehabilitation center in the country, we want to see hospitals and health institutions to understand and identify torture victims and accord the specialized treatment. So far, we have had inroads with mental health and there are already trainings in that direction.
If DPP is averaging at 300 whereas ACTV is averaging at 1000, Is there a disparity, are there any challenges and why?
Barbra As Samuel had earlier on mentioned, many are not willing to report and follow through their cases for different reasons eg personal security. As DPP, we receive cases from police and we can only work with numbers that have been investigated and forwarded to us. That’s why forums like these are important so that the public can know that once they have been violated, they should know that the justice system is there to help them.
Is there a way to create a safe way for people to report?
James There are still challenges on that especially that the witness protection law is not in place. Without that law, it creates challenges also on the part of police because how do you create that environment for the victims to report? Do you have the protection mechanisms in place for that? The word “safe house” was vulgarized but initially it was for that purpose. We however try to find a way.
Does the court process allow anonymity in any way, even when we managed to protect the witnesses?
Barbra Mechanisms that can be put in place. The office of the DPP has the witness protection guidelines that our prosecutors are supposed to follow. If you are disclosing evidence to the defense, there are things you can do so that the names of the witnesses are not disclosed at that early stage until they get to court. Of course, this is an expensive process and if there’s no law that clearly provides for that, you can only do as much as you can depending on the circumstances.
When it comes to court, I think the criminal division of the high court have created an atmosphere where the victim (especially on child abuse, defilement) can testify without necessarily looking at the accused person. This however is not spread out yet because of funding. The human rights committee of parliament is trying to push for the witness protection law.
What is the process like for a torture victim?
Ida You have various options. You can go to the various institutions or UHRC to report your complaint, it will be registered. We are now going to a very important stage which is documentation (the collection of evidence – Key evidence is medical evidence). When a person is tortured, he can go to the hospital first and then come with the medical report (not the medical treatment notes). The report will entail the history of the person, what happened, the gravity of the injury they suffered and the impact of the injury.
As Samuel said, we need to build the capacity of our medical workers to efficiently and effectively document torture cases because most times its insufficient and it is difficult to present it before the tribunal.
Is torture different from any crime? Does it change when a definition of a person changes? For example; is it okay to beat a thief?
Ida What we have to emphasize today in the Anti torture day and those to come is that torture is widely condemned both in Uganda and at international level. It’s a crime that can never be justified because of the effects that it has on the dignity of the person. Even if the person has been imprisoned or is awaiting to be presented in court, they should not be tortured. Mob action too is torture and it should not be accepted in the communities.
Is torture a criminal or a civil act?
James Torture is a criminal act though you can get civil remedies at the end of the day. Now that people are getting more and more sensitized, people are going for more of the civil remedies because of maybe the compensations and the lawyers too see it as a short cut.
Is it okay for people to seek the civil dissolution of this criminal act or would you encourage people to come through the entire legal process?
Barbra The law provides for civil remedies but as players in the criminal justice system, we would want the cases to go through the systems. As Ida mentioned, Uganda is a signatory to some of these conventions and so, we are required to show progress that we have made over time. We encourage ACTV too to encourage their victims to come to us to report and not sit back home with their cases.
We’ve seen people come to UHRC and protest outside. Is this part of the process or would you rather have them do something else?
Ida They have freedom of expression but in terms of the formal processes, I think it’s better that they enter the office and lodge their complaint so that its registered and investigated. If it’s a genuine complaint that can be heard by the commission’s tribunal, they can get justice at the end of the day.
Are there actual effects of torture, or is this something we can continue living with?
Samuel There are physical and psychological effects. Physical effects are easily seen like bruises that can take like 2-3 months and go away but the psychological effects are not easily seen (someone can seem okay in the outside but broken inside). For example, we are still treating survivors of the Lords Resistance Army till now yet it ended in 2006.
On the psychological effects, we have the clinical psychologists and the counsellors who take the survivors through a number of over 10 sessions of therapy.
What would you advise is the best way to prevent torture from happening?
Barbra People should be alive to the fact that torture is a violation and it erodes dignity of an individual. What needs to come out to other masses is that there are other means of arrests, confining and disciplining someone other than torture.
To add on that, resources matter so much when it comes to law enforcement. Where there are lack of resources, there may be a temptation to initiate somethings outside the law. Eg before the advent of security cameras and DNA equipment, it was a challenge for people to get evidence out of the suspect and in the course of getting evidence at all costs, a temptation to use other means arises.
James The technological advancement that is coming into these institutions, many cases have been resolved by merely going back to the camera centers for review of the footage. We should advocate for all the players of antitorture to be supported and build capacity in terms of technology.
What would you rate UPF implementation of this law at?
James I think I would rate it highly. If we had to compare the situation then and now, issues may be there but what is the ordinary person in the streets observing? What is the police’s conduct now compared to then? I may mention figures here yet the people on ground are not seeing anything. I think because of the new laws in place, we have done a lot to professionalize our work.
Do you ever have any challenges as the human rights department of police with bringing any of the officers to book?
James In criminal law, we deal with the individual that has committed the crime. “Orders from above” doesn’t work anymore. We have been bringing down to people those sections of the law that talks about individual responsibility and so stop hiding behind people. The principle should be “You should obey orders from above but the orders should be lawful”.
Where do you feel we could do better as CAT or government when it comes to enacting this law?
Samuel We could do better in issues of reporting; because the law is there, simplified and translated into different local languages already.
We should include various hospitals especially the referral hospitals and institutions in identification, treatment and rehabilitation of torture survivors. This, we can do closely with the MoH.
JamesWe are on a journey but we are on the right track. Going forward, I think we need better synergies between police and DPP to understand torture more and give guidance to the officers.
Barbra Joint trainings: If UHRC or ACTV are to help us build our capacities, they should train us jointly (the investigators, the prosecutors, the judiciary). If we sit in the room together, we understand the challenges better, the guidance is even more and it prevents back and forth. At the end of the day, we have sufficient evidence that we give to court.
Ida In terms of prevention and prohibition of torture act, we want to see more people reporting acts of torture. We need to build mechanisms around this law to allow it to work including the enactment of the witness protection law, the legal aid bill. We would want to see more prosecutions, the annual crime report of the police force having more statistics on cases of torture they’ve handled.
Ida Institutions should put firm frameworks in place to hold their officers accountable. That’s why compensations were decentralized. We need more accountability for people who have been engaged in acts of torture.
Is there a plan to train people on ground on the Anti-torture law and human rights?
Ida UHRC has a constitutional mandate to conduct civic and human rights education so the trainings on prevention and prohibition of Anti-torture act is ongoing since 2012 when it was passed as a law. So, I think it’s just a matter of continuing with the training especially of new recruits that have been brought on board. We will continue engaging with DPP and the key actors to ensure its effective enforcement.