One of the challenges of keeping law and order is the performance of law enforcement agencies. In Uganda, as the previous post indicated, its a market place. Clear mandates are hard to find. Indeed mandates are effectively in competition between various agencies and the patina of legality attached to them is only for the purposes of supporting their actions. However its mainly the lack of civilian oversight which often signals the de-politisation of the security sector, which is clear. This interview with Maria Burnett, the HRW researcher for Uganda says as much. The group just published a report detailing torture by the Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force or JATT, one of the several agencies enforcing the law. The interview submitted to the Daily Monitor is not yet published. This is the longer version of what will eventually appear.
Q: How does HRW decide on which issues to focus on? Why, for example do something on JATT, torture and not [the widely reported] dissolute mandate of the security services in Uganda? |
A: We have specifically looked at the way counter-terrorism operations have impacts human rights around the world. In Uganda we have a track record of looking at illegal detention and torture. HRW did a report “State of Pain” in 2004. To a great extent this current report has similar allegations and recommendations. But rather than look at a broad spread of perpetrators and detention centers we have decided to narrow into a specific operation and group of individuals. This is to look at how these operations are run in greater depth. JATT is one of a line of adhoc security organizations and if the fundamental concern is that this line of approach to security is a pattern that avoids the use of statutory and constitutionally mandated organizations then it is a threat to the rule of law and human rights.
Q: How do you find the set-up of these statutory organizations themselves like the Uganda police? Are they accountable?
A: The question should be is there a reason why they are unable to do the work that they are constitutionally mandated to do. If the answer is for example a lack of capacity then the Uganda government and its development partners should address themselves to it. The problem is not resolved by creating adhoc units or having people with even less training than those in the official bodies. Intelligence sharing across bodies to fight terrorism is a valid approach across the world. The problem becomes the limits of sharing by granting arrest and detention powers to operatives who are not constitutionally mandated.
Q: In researching the background to your study, what conclusions did you come to about the landscape of security organizations in Uganda?
A: It appears this is the approach. When there is a security threat. It’s unclear who is exactly in charge. It also appear that the choice is that rather than work within the [statutory organizations] work is done outside of them or through a variety of security organs joined together. The kind of problem this creates is confusing hierarchies of command. You have police working inside of an organization where CMI is the command and control point. So what does this do to the hierarchy of the police command and control structure? Double hierarchy and double chains of command while not necessarily illegal can foster the kind of confusion where individuals can act outside the law. This report serves as more evidence that this is a misguided approach to security management.
Q: What would you say Ugandans should walk away from in this report? The earlier report points to the same kind of excesses.
A: “Open Secret” documents a pattern of abuses at one organization where there is one official who has command responsibility. It’s important that both the chief of military intelligence and others begin to look at a serious investigation about what’s going on in JATT and hold the perpetrators of these abuses responsible.
Q: When you say one official who are you referring to?
A: As I said the chief of military intelligence [Brig James Mugira].
Q: Is it not possible that in some situations where JATT responds the command structure is fluid. JATT is multi-institutional and responsibility could potentially reside on whichever institution initiates an operation?
A: We are not privy to how some decisions to arrest some individuals were made. Firstly am not sure such decisions were documented but it was certainly not information shared with us. What is clear is the pattern. Arrests were made by plain clothes persons in unmarked cars, frequently blindfolded and taken to a place where no one told where they were and whose jurisdiction they were in or why they were being held. They were also taken between Kitante and Kololo for interrogation back and forth and the kind of brutality leveled during those interrogations was similar. It’s clear from our investigations that we are not talking about a single or couple of problematic individuals. This is an operation and Brig Mugira says he has command responsibility. We look forward to him and his colleagues taking up our recommendations.
Q: Do you agree with Brig Mugira that he is in charge given the multitudinous nature of Uganda’s intelligence services?
A: There may be other people have an aspect of control. I accept him at his word when he says he controls those operations.
Q: When you put to him questions from your investigation did he respond as someone in charge?
A: He responded to us with information about many of the individuals we queried.
Q: So these individuals were arrested within his knowledge.
A: There was a change in personnel at CMI in August I am not sure when he came across this information.
Q: You researched and interviewed over 100 people according to your report. What percentage of this did the Brigadier respond to?
A: We did not give him all the names because many of the people feared to have their names shared publicly. The names we presented to him were of people we knew were held in Kololo or where last seen in the custody of JATT.
Q: How would you know this is JATT or some other outfit?
A: The information would indicate that they were being held in Kololo and the government in their response to the Committee on Torture at the UN said JATT runs the facility at Kololo. Some of the former detainees said they had seen signs inside the building saying no one can use this office except JATT.
Q: So is the Kololo facility a JATT holding facility?
A: Former detainees say there is a reception area, there are offices an upstairs but most detainees were held downstairs in an area called the go-down. There are moments when they were held in the reception room and other parts of the compound.
Q: So this is the ungazetted detention facility where the abuses detailed in the report were perpetrated?
A: Rights abused at many stages of the process. They were detained beyond the constitutional limit, held incommunicado- which often creates conditions for abuses to occur. If you look the purpose of these detentions you get into murky areas. Several of the detainees were released without charge. There was it would appear not enough evidence to support prosecution or even to be concerned about what they planned to be doing. Some were questioned about acting as informants for JATT. There has been no trial or convictions for anyone whose case arose from a JATT arrest that we could find. Several people were said the brought by force to the Amnesty Commission even if they were not interested in applying for amnesty. When they asked what they were being charged with or what evidence was against them they were not told but given amnesty and then stigmatized as rebels. Now if there was evidence because it never got to the level of a charge we will never know.
Q: If JATT’s methods do not match its purpose, what did Brig Mugira say was the reason all of this was happening?
A: That’s a good question for him. Government has asserted before that JATT has made the city safer.
Q: Is JATT a pre-emptive organization considering no one gets to court? What utility is evidenced in these methods?
A: In some cases people were detained for weeks and then released but during that time searches were conducted and money taken from them or property held and only given back if money was handed over. So this is a way of making money. In some cases people questioned may have had affiliations to the Allied Democratic Front. But having a family member who has decided to join the ADF does not make you a terrorist or warrant holding you for a long period. That would be collective punishment.
Q: In other words JATT never conformed to any due process of any sort or variety?
A: None that we could establish. Brig Mugira told us he had initiated a screening process so that people questioned who had a case would then be handed over to the police. Of the individuals we queried he said they were in police custody. We struggled to find them in police custody and could not find most of them and in the intervening period some of them were released.
Q: But the police are part of JATT?
A: Some local human rights groups have pointed to the special cells within police cells.
Q: So where is the distinction between JATT and the Police?
A: Certainly the police are in JATT and JATT orchestrated arrests are can end up in a police cell.
Q: When Brig Mugira says the suspects are turned over to the police does he mean they are handed over to the prosecutorial process?
A: That’s what he means. Pending prosecution.
Q: Since there is no successful prosecution, did you ever raise the issue with the Director of Public Prosecution?
A: Yes. I was unable to find any evidence of cases that are in trial. There are cases pending in the High Court which are in his jurisdiction.
Q: You say countries like America should withhold aid to the military contingent on reforms in JATT. What kind of aid does the Ugandan military receive that can be withheld?
A: We certainly would call on the donors to Uganda’s military and security sector to think seriously about how money is being spent for counter-terrorism operations and others were they may be human rights abuses?
Q: Do we know how much aid is going to Uganda’s counter-terrorism effort?
A: No I do not know.
Q: How significant is it then whether it is held or not?
A: Anything that helps in curtailing abuses is significant.
Q: Did you speak to the donors?
A: We had information that JATT’s budget a month is 100 million per month. That money comes from the Uganda government as far as I know. What slice comes from bilateral donations is not clear. There are donors who provide other kinds of aid. There are many ways in which this partnership can happen we hope those partners can play a constructive role.
Q. Are you suggesting then that all other types of military aid be affected?
A: Certainly they are members of the UPDF that may go on training supported by development partners and there should be reflection whether those individuals or troops under their command committed human rights abuses?