Human Rights Watch calls for closure of illegal detention centers

Police officers patrol in Kampala, Uganda's capital, in June 2021.

The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls on the Ugandan government to close the illegal detention centers used by the security services to repress the opposition to power, in a report published on Tuesday March 22 documenting the abuses committed in these clandestine sites.

HRW collected testimonies from 51 people, including 34 former detainees and abduction witnesses, who described the abuse they suffered at the hands of police, military and intelligence services (ISO) between April 2019 and November 2021.

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This period was notably marked by fierce repression at the time of the January 2021 elections, which saw President Yoweri Museveni, head of Uganda since 1986, re-elected after a vote described as “masquerade” by the opposition.

“Human Rights Watch calls on the Ugandan government to immediately close all so-called safe houses and unauthorized detention centers”writes HRW, asking to “release all detainees (…) or to bring them forthwith before a court to be charged with a recognizably criminal offence.”.

Beaten and tortured

In the report, the victims interviewed – members of the opposition, sympathizers or simple demonstrators – recount their arrest at home, at work or in the street, loaded into vans without license plates nicknamed the “drones”.

They claim to have been arbitrarily detained in secret locations supervised by the ISO, including a site called “Basic One” on the outskirts of the capital Kampala and another on an island in Lake Victoria. They say they were beaten and tortured, in particular using a technique called “Rambo”, consisting in suspending detainees from the ceiling for a dozen hours with chains around their necks, waists and knees.

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Some claim to have had fingernails pulled out, been burned with an iron, to have been subjected to electric shocks, injections of unknown substances or sexual violence, or to have seen detainees with bricks hanging from the testicles.

“The Ugandan authorities must urgently reform the police and other security agencies to dismantle the structures that allowed these horrific abuses to occur and go unpunished”believes Oryem Nyeko, researcher on Uganda within the NGO.

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In a February 2020 report, the Ugandan Parliament’s human rights committee reported cases of illegal detention and torture in unofficial centers. His requests for investigation went unheeded, according to HRW.

Recent years have been marked in Uganda by increased repression against journalists, the imprisonment of lawyers and the muzzling of opposition leaders. At the beginning of February, the writer and opponent Kakwenza Rukirabashaija fled to Germany, explaining that he had to undergo treatment after being tortured in detention. He had been arrested at the end of December 2021, then charged with “offensive communication” to President Museveni and his son for a series of tweets.

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The World with AFP

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