GULU-A consortium of human rights bodies in Uganda want government to ratify the optional protocol against torture for full implementation of the international human rights-based treaty for the elimination of torture.
The government is yet to ratify the optional protocol against torture and other human abuses 20 years after the convention.
The human rights-based instrument was adopted in 2002 and came into force two years later to assist in the implementation of the United Nations Convention against torture and other degrading punishments.
The State Parties agreed to establish a national preventive mechanism to conduct inspections of all places of detention and closed environments.
Whereas Uganda ratified the convention against torture on November 3, 1986, the State has since then declined to ratify the optional protocol against torture for inspection of all its detention facilities.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission Northern Uganda [UHRC] Regional Officer Nicolas Ogwang told theCooperator that the act or omission by the State to ratify the protocol has affected their work.
Ogwang explained that whereas the UHRC is mandated by the law to inspect the detention facilities, other places within the military installations are not always accessed.
“The use of torture to get information from suspects is common in our detention facilities, but there are places you are not allowed to inspect,” Ogwang explained.
He further noted that if the State had ratified the optional protocol, the Commission would be granted unlimited access to inspect all the facilities of detention, which has not been achieved for decades.
He however appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ratify part of the convention so that the Commission can access detention facilities in the country without any restrictions.
Meanwhile, Article 24 of the Uganda Constitution as amended provides that no person shall be subjected to any form of torture, cruel, inhuman treatment, or degrading punishments.
However, the 2012 Anti-Torture Act prohibits torture in all forms while the perpetrator of the crime is liable to 15 years jail sentence with a fine of 360 currencies as may be directed by the court.
Section 2  of the Act defines torture as any act by which severe pain or suffering whether physical or mental is intentionally inflicted on a person by another person or public officials.
The intention would mean to obtain information, confession, and punishment for the crime committed or for deterrent purposes, which has always been criticized by human rights defenders.
The Executive Director for Human Rights Focus, Francis Odongyoo noted that enforcement of the Anti-Torture Law has remained challenging as most of the perpetrators are not brought to book.
He identified Kinene Government Prisons in Pader District as the worst place of torture in the region as 10 inmates died due to alleged torture. He said the deaths are being investigated.
The former inmate Tabu Moses who served his five years jail sentence for assault at Tikao Prisons in Orom Subcounty in Kitgum District accused the prison authorities of abetting torture.
Tabu alleged that while serving his sentence in 2017, a warden who had accompanied them at work instructed fellow inmates to burn a colleague who was already tired and sat down for a rest.
“They covered him with grass and set fire and everyone was afraid. When we got back, we tried to report to his superiors but he threatened us,” Tabu told the UHRC officials.
His counterpart Jacob Olweny pharmacist from Kitgum District also alleged that he was tortured by a team of six security personnel during the curfew time in 2021 while on his way for night duty.
Olweny said his employer terminated his contract as he took a long period to recover from the injuries inflicted on him, adding that he spent nearly Shs 15 million to treat fractures on his spinal cord, and neck, as well as visual impairment.
The Program Manager African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims disclosed that cases of torture continue to be recorded in the region, stressing that on average his organisation receives 90 cases monthly.
He said detention facilities, security agencies, and clan leaders are the major contributors to torture in the country.
The Deputy Regional Police Commander for Aswa Region, Alfred Alula acknowledged some gaps in the prevention of torture in the prisons which he said is due to lack of human resources.
His Counterpart the Regional Commander Police Professional Standard Unit said that the criminality within the forces itself has affected investigations while cases are sometimes maliciously prosecuted.
The Project Manager Uganda Law Society Dorah Acaye said that they are is collecting signatures to petition the State to ratify the optional protocol for unlimited access to detention facilities.
However, when contacted through telephone, the Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem could not reveal much but noted that he was yet to respond to the concern of ratifying the protocol.
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