Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 1220 EAT on Wednesday 6th July 2022.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has said President Museveni is willing to have his former director general of Internal Security Organisation Colonel Kaka Bagyenda prosecuted for gross human rights abuses.
Kaka is accused of superintending an ISO regime that steadily walked off-the-well-trod path of professional intelligence gathering and instead embraced unorthodox methods that included; arbitrary arrests, detentions in safe houses, extortion of detainees and broad daylight kidnaps that shocked even the police. In his three year stewardship of ISO, Col. Kaka was accused severally, threatened with legal action and sued for kidnaps, abductions, illegal arrests and detention of Ugandans.
He also earned unflattering mainstream media headlines for all the wrong reasons since January 2017 when he was appointed ISO head replacing the reclusive Brig. Ronnie Barya. He was sacked in 2020.
While discussing the unlawful detentions in Uganda, Roth told a human rights symposium held at Makerere University’s School of Law auditorium that, “First, I don’t need to tell you that there’s a serious problem. This is a problem that in recent years has adopted a new dimension. A purely criminal dimension was illustrated by the relatively recent crackdown by ISO (Internal Security Organisation) and its practice under the notorious commander Kaka of identifying people who it thought were part of the opposition. The people arrested believed they had purely done nothing but they were always unlawfully arrested.”
“The arrested people are unlawfully disappeared to a so-called safe house (sic) where there isn’t anything to do with safety there. In the safe houses detainees are beaten, tortured, etc. And then, the family was called. When the family was called, they (ISO agents) would ask if you (the family) want you loved one free? If you do, you have to sell everything you own and hand over the money to these ISO agents. This happened over and over again. We just interviewed some fifty survivors of this torture. It happened to hundreds of people. And this was an instruction. It was simple. I should say that it’s criminal dimension …” said Roth.
He added, “Museveni felt threatened by the opposition, he and his party faced. The torture was determined to suppress the opposition. Many people were unofficially detained. This impunity was demonstrated by the official character of the torture. I have to say that this was done by ISO…”
Speaking about his June 29, 2022 meeting with President Museveni, Roth said, “We mentioned the need for prosecution of those who sanction torture. We mentioned the prosecution of the former ISO commander Colonel Kaka Bagyenda. We asked the president, “If his (Kaka’s) so-called punishment is to be transferred to a cushion job, what kind of signal does that send Mr. President? If you say you are against these things (torture and extortion of victims), what signal does this send?.. If the president is failing to find a way of prosecuting senior officials who sanction tortur, who shall? He (Museveni) said that Kaka shall be prosecuted. Our job now is to follow up on those words and turn them not just into commitments but actions.”
In a tweet on June 30, 2022, President Museveni confirmed meeting Roth. Museveni also confirmed receipt of a report containing information on the alleged torture and human rights violations from Roth.
Museveni’s tweet reads, “I met the Executive Director, Human Rights Watch Mr. Kenneth Roth and his team in Ntungamo yesterday (June 30 2022). They shared with me a report, which contains among other things; information on alleged torture and human rights violations. Cases of illegal detention, torture and human rights violations will not be tolerated. Torture is not only wrong but unnecessary. We shall verify the findings of this report and act accordingly.”
Former detainees speak
A March 2022 report titled “I only need justice” chronicled the untold unlawful detention & and extortion of victims, forced labour, sexual harassment, etc. All these horrendous acts were perpetrated by agents from the Internal Security Organisation, which at the time was led by Col. Kaka Bagyenda. From the report, ISO agents stole and extorted money from their detainees or families of victims. This would happen either during the arrests or as a condition of their release.
In an interview with Human Rights Watch, James Mulira, one of the former detainees, recalled how an officer asked his wife to send Shs 6.5 million ($1,480) to help secure his release. Mulira said, “The person who defrauded my wife was an officer in the system who seemed to have information…. All the pictures they sent to her were of me arriving at ISO. [This means] they were inside ISO. Afterward, when they released me, I tried to follow up on the telephone number theyused to call her, but the number was not registered. We tried to call it, but it was off [disconnected].”
Micheal H, another former detainee, said that officers began extorting money from him when he was detained in Base one. He said they demanded for his ATM card, and PIN (security code). They then withdrew Shs 1 million from his bank account. He added that when his ATM failed to work on a second occasion, uniformed officers took him from the safe house to a bank branch in Kyengera. At the branch, he said a bank official spoke to the uniformed officers—and illegally gave them access to his money without his consent, an act prohibited by the Bank of Uganda.
Former ISO detainee Matthew K. said when armed men abducted him from his home in 2018, they searched his house, and took $20,000 and Shs 3 million (about $853) and destroyed his furniture. According to accounts of former detainees held at Lwamayuba Island, Lake Victoria; high cases of torture, hard labour, and harassment went unabated till September 9 2019 when 90 detainees were ferried to the mainland from the island and then dumped along Entebbe Road in Kampala.
The former detainees recall that their release from the Island came amidst the heightened investigation by Uganda’s parliamentary committee on Human Rights into ISO-safe houses. Two former detainees told Human Rights Watch that the guards gave each released detainee a small sum between Shs 10,000 to Shs 20,000 to return home from Entebbe Road.
Speaking at the same function, Lewis Rubongoya, the Secretary-General of the National Unity Platform, said the continued trial of their supporters before the military court had complicated access to justice for those under illegal detention.
“Most of our supporters ended up before military courts. You just arrest a young man/lady, take them to a safe house and then force them to put on a military uniform and then take their picture. They then end up before Gen. Andrew Gutti (chairman of the military court). Now, General Gutti’s term has expired. They are stuck in prison waiting for Gen Museveni to appoint a new chair of that court,” said Rubongoya.
To the President of the Republic of Uganda
• Issue public orders that all unauthorized places of detention be closed immediately.
• Prohibit the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) from maintaining and operating unauthorized detention centers and the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) from arresting anyone or
detaining people in such facilities.
• Ensure the ISO and UPDF immediately release all detainees in their custody or immediately bring those held without charge before an independent court to be charged with a cognizable crime.
• Instruct the directors of the ISO and UPDF to publish the names of all those in their respective custody, including their date or dates, location or locations, and grounds for detention.
• Issue public orders to the ISO and UPDF to immediately stop carrying out detentions for which they have no legal basis.
• Ensure all allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and other abuses by ISO and UPDF officials are promptly, transparently, and impartially investigated, and ensure all personnel involved in abuses are appropriately disciplined or prosecuted.
• Ensure the findings of investigations into ISO and UPDF abuses are made public.
Ensure victims have access to remedies and reparations, including compensation, health and medical care, psychosocial support, and legal services.
• Ensure free and confidential health and psychosocial services to survivors of sexual violence, including comprehensive post-rape medical care.
• Pending the closure of all unauthorized detention centers, ensure independent human rights monitors have full access to detention centers, including those mentioned in this report, and allow them to visit without prior notification and to communicate privately with detainees.
• Ensure the steps are taken to finalize Uganda’s ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
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To the Director of the Internal Security Organisation and the minister for Security
• Immediately cease carrying out arrests or detentions as prohibited under the Security Organisations Act.
• Close all ISO-run places of detention, and immediately and unconditionally release any detainees.
• Ensure ISO personnel and members of ISO oversight mechanisms receive appropriate training in accordance with international human rights standards.
• Grant independent human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies full access to all ISO places of detention and detainees, including without prior notification. To the Uganda People’s Defense Force
• Release civilian detainees who are held in unauthorized military detention centers.
• Immediately cease the unlawful arrests, detention, rape, and torture of people in military detention centers.
• Ensure no one is held in unauthorized detention centers.
• Ensure all detainees enjoy full due process rights, including access to legal counsel, and are promptly brought before a prosecutor and a judge within the legally defined period of 48 hours.
• Ensure all detainees have regular access to family, legal counsel, and medical care.
• Suspend, pending investigations, members of the UPDF credibly implicated in serious human rights violations.
• Discipline and ensure the prosecution of all UPDF personnel and commanders responsible for serious violations.
• Grant access to independent human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies to all UPDF places of detention, gazetted or ungazetted, ensuring they have access to all detainees, including without prior notification. To the Uganda Human Rights Commission
• Publicly and privately advocate with the relevant authorities for the closure of ISO detention facilities and the release of all detainees.
“I ONLY NEED JUSTICE” 6
• Publicly and privately advocate for UPDF detainees to be afforded full due process rights, including access to legal counsel, and to be brought before a prosecutor and a judge within the legally defined period of 48 hours.
• Undertake regular visits to ISO, UPDF, and any reported unauthorized detention facilities to monitor detention conditions; order the release of detainees held in unauthorized detention facilities; or ensure they are handed over to the police to be promptly brought before a judge to face charges.
Investigate allegations of enforced disappearances, unlawful detention, rape, and torture in ISO and UPDF facilities, including by undertaking visits to those places and confidentially interviewing detainees and former detainees.
• Make publicly available, in a timely manner, the findings and targeted recommendations regarding allegations of enforced disappearances, unlawful detention, and torture.
• Urgently hold tribunal sessions to consider complaints of arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, and torture. To the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions
• Direct the police to investigate all allegations of enforced disappearances, unlawful arrests and detentions, rape, sexual exploitation, and torture, even without an official complaint by victims or their families and prosecute those identified as responsible. To the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
• Call on the Ugandan authorities through an urgent letter of appeal to immediately implement the recommendations in this report, namely to urgently close ISO and UPDF places of detention; direct security forces to stop unlawful arrests, unlawful detentions, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees; and investigate and prosecute all allegations of abuse of detainees.
• Request an invitation from the Ugandan government for the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Uganda and the ACHPR Chairperson of the Working Group of the Committee for the Prevention Torture in Africa to carry out a fact-finding visit to investigate torture, rape, and arbitrary detentions in ISO and UPDF custody.
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• Prepare and make available the mission’s report with findings and recommendations regarding torture and arbitrary detentions in ISO and UPDF custody.
• Call on the Ugandan authorities to conduct credible, effective, and impartial investigations into ISO abuses, including those documented in this report, make findings publicly available, and ensure all security forces responsible for abuses are held accountable. To Uganda’s other International Partners, including the EU and its Members States, the United States, and the United Kingdom
• Issue further, strong, coordinated messages, including at local and headquarter levels and at the UN Human Rights Council, urging the Ugandan government to ensure accountability for the human rights abuses documented in this report, implement the recommendations listed herein, and spell out consequences for bilateral relations in case of persistent failure to comply.
• Consider the coordinated adoption of targeted sanctions against Frank “Kaka” Bagyenda.