Author - Thomas Aquinas LOKOL

Joint press statement on the launch of UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 2020 commemoration activities

ACTV CEO Samuel Nsubuga

Uganda Media Center, Kampala / Tuesday 23rd June 2020

The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) together with the Coalition Against Torture in Uganda (CAT) chaired by the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV), and partners including the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-Uganda, jointly issue this statement in commemoration of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which falls every 26th June. This year’s commemoration is held under the theme; “Speak Out Against Torture During and After COVID19”.

In 1997, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 26 June as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture following its earlier adoption of the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) in 1984.  The aim was to give effect to the Convention and for States to work towards total eradication of torture which recognizes freedom from torture not only as a human right but its violation as a crime as well. Today, the Convention is ratified by 159 UN member states.

Consequently, Uganda ratified the UNCAT in 1987 and domesticated it in 2012 by enacting the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act No.3 of 2012 and its Regulations passed in 2017. Uganda has expressly committed to the prohibition of torture by ratifying international and regional conventions and at the national level, entrenched it in its Constitution under Articles 24 and 44 (a) which singles out freedom from torture and cruel treatment as one of the four non-derogable rights whose violation is also a crime under the law in Uganda.

In Uganda, the Commission and partners join the rest of the world to mark the day as a way of raising awareness about the vice while recognizing its effects on the victims/survivors.  We are therefore calling on the duty bearers who are mainly government and its agencies on one hand and the rights holders who mainly comprise of the members of the public on the other hand, to re-commit ourselves to the fight against torture in the country and to punish its perpetrators who are both state and non-state actors, while recognizing that this has to be a concerted effort.

This year’s commemoration is unique because we come together to commemorate the day amidst the unprecedented circumstances being experienced globally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The current global health crisis has, therefore, inevitably had an effect on the enjoyment of human rights in general and the right to freedom from torture in particular.

We acknowledge and welcome the measures contained in the Presidential Directives and the multi-sectoral approach embraced by the Government and Ministry of Health (MOH) in particular in fighting the pandemic including measures for free testing and equipping health workers with skills to enable them to offer psycho-social support to the patients. Other measures by the Ministry of Health aimed at reducing the anxiety or stigma of suspected patients are also lauded.

As we commemorate this year’s Anti-Torture Day, the UHRC, the Coalition Against Torture and other partners recognize the recent improvements by security agencies in enforcing the COVID- 19 guidelines which are evident in the current reduction of reported cases of alleged torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by members of the public. We acknowledge that this trend is a departure from the earlier disturbing reports of brutality against people that were commonly reported during the initial period of the lockdown. We, therefore, applaud the current efforts of improvement by security agencies in observing human rights during the ongoing partial lockdown period, which we note is mainly as a result of interventions by the President who directed security agencies to refrain from acts of brutality against citizens during enforcement of lockdown measures. The improvements are also attributed to the Uganda Human Rights Commission’s regular strategic engagements with the leadership of the various security agencies whose positive responses have yielded the current reduction of reported cases of human rights violations during the recent past. We urge the security agencies to continue on this path.

Additionally, UHRC and partners generally note developments by the Government of Uganda that is aimed it realising the full enjoyment of the right to freedom from torture which among others involves measures such as the recent prosecution of some errant security officers by courts of law including the UPDF Court Martial. We further note Government efforts aimed at strengthening the legal framework to punish perpetrators of torture and offer redress to victims or survivors of torture by among others enacting the Human Rights (Enforcement) Act of 2019 and adopting policies that entrench the respect and observance of human rights in the country.

Although torture has been globally recognized as an impediment to the enjoyment of human rights with both physical and psychological effects on the victims, it is regrettably a persistent phenomenon.  Regrettably, torture is still on the rise even in Uganda as indicated in available records which show that from 2015 to 2018, the Uganda Human Rights Commission handled and provided redress for 1,377 cases of torture, while its partners the ACTV provided treatment and rehabilitation to a total of 6,548 torture survivors (4,606 Male and 1,942 female). Besides, the UHRC has received a total of 238 (203 Male and 35 Female) torture complaints since the COVID-19 pandemic period to date, out of which 150 were reported against the Uganda Police Force, 83 against the UPDF and 05 against the Uganda Prison Service.

Today as we commemorate this Day, we wish to raise our voices by speaking against torture during and after COVID-19 whose perpetrators are both state and non-state actors and call upon the government, stakeholders, and the general public to re-commit ourselves to attaining a torture-free Uganda. We, therefore, make the following recommendations:

  1. The DPP and other law enforcement agencies should step up the use of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act of 2012 in prosecuting both state and non-state perpetrators of torture.
  2. The Uganda Police Force should popularize the use of Form 4 of the 2017 Regulations to the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture during documentation and investigations of cases for prosecution under this law.
  3. Security agencies should be more vigilant in enforcing professionalism and discipline among their officers and should punish errant officers and urgently organise training for newly recruited Local Defense Units (LDUs) and periodic refresher courses to serving security officers.
  4. The government should urgently ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture 2006 to also provide for access to places of detention by NGOs in order to strengthen the monitoring function.
  5. The Ministry of Finance should clear the outstanding compensatory awards ordered for torture survivors by both Uganda Human Rights Commission’s tribunals and the mainstream courts of law.
  6. The Ministry of Health should put in place a comprehensive National Rehabilitation Programme for survivors of torture and mainstream treatment and rehabilitation of torture victims.
  7. The Ministry of Health should review the Mental Health Treatment Act of 2018, to make it conform with Article 2 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda and other international human rights standards.
  8. Members of the public should speak out against torture by reporting incidents of torture by both the state and non-state actors within their communities to the Uganda Huan Rights Commission, the Uganda Police Force, and other established institutions.
  9. There is an urgent need to have a fully constituted Commission by appointing a Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission to enable it to fully fulfill its Constitutional mandate.

A line up of activities to commemorate the Day:

Although we are in the current COVID19 pandemic situation, the UHRC and partners call upon all stakeholders and members of the general public to join the conversation during this years’ joint commemoration advocacy activities which include; today’s joint press conference to launch event; a joint televised E- Public Dialogue on Friday, 26th June 2020 from 10:00am to 12:30 pm during which will also be the official launch of the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) Annual Report for 2019; and a joint media advocacy campaign against torture using the print, electronic and social media platforms.

Before we conclude, we kindly request that we observe a one minutes’ moment of silence for the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), the late Hon. Med Ssozi Kagwa, who would have been here with us today. (May His Soul Rest in Eternal Peace).

In conclusion, I wish on behalf of the UHRC and the Coalition Against Torture in Uganda (CAT) to acknowledge the financial and technical support by the Government of Uganda, our development partners including the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), United Nations Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNOHCHR) and the Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY)  that has made this year’s commemoration and advocacy activities possible.

As the theme for this year’s commemoration states, we encourage the public and all stakeholders to speak out against torture during and after COVID-19 by reporting cases of torture to UHRC, the Uganda Police Force, and other responsible institutions. We also call upon the duty bearers including the security agencies and other Justice Law and Order Sector players to take action by prosecuting perpetrators of torture and to specifically intensify the fight against torture by always prosecuting them under the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act No.3 of 2012, in addition to utilizing other enabling policies and legislation to promote access to justice in Uganda. We urge all Ugandans to Stay safe from COVID-19 by continuing to follow and observe the Presidential Directives and Ministry of Health Guidelines.

Thank you all

For God and My Country!