training in the identification, handling and prevention of human rights abuses

Paul Mugabi

A total of 553 stakeholders, 108 of them Police Officers operating in Teso region have benefitted from training in the identification, handling and prevention of human rights abuses in the course of their duties. The others are 45 UPDF Officers, Civil Society Organisation personnel, LCs 1, 2 and 3 officials and Journalists.

This achievement has been realized by a local NGO Network, Soroti Development Association & NGOs Network (SODANN), operating under a one-year Government of Uganda Programme, ‘Human Rights Protection Project-Soroti District.’

The SODANN Coordinator, Mr Omiat Moses says the just ended intervention has called for a change in attitude among law enforcing agencies (to perceive human rights violations for what they are), enhanced the capacity of stakeholders to protect human rights, advocated for the punishment of perpetrators of human rights abuse and empowered the citizenry by informing them of their civil rights and the right to redress when they are violated. Funded by the European Union, the project has cost of UShs236mn (Euro100 000).

SODANN was formed in 1994 to bring Community Based Organisations (CSOs) together in the aftermath of conflict that engulfed Teso region since 1986, with the objective of giving a common voice, building the capacity of the member CSOs (enabling them to attain their objectives), networking and sharing of information on governance & policy issues. It would also help the poor access speedy and fair justice and provide alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to amicable solve disputes.

In 2007, the organization responded to Northern Uganda Rehabilitation Programme (NUREP) call for proposals 3 to put in place interventions for the Respect and Observance of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the post-conflict Teso.

The population in Teso region was adversely affected by a seven-year war perpetrated by Uganda People’s Army (UPA) that started in 1986, incursion by Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement and later the Lord’s Resistance Army and Karamojong cattle rustling, displacing most of the population until 2003.

By the end of these conflicts, numerous people had been killed, others had either been abducted or tortured by the warring parties and those that survived were pauperized and had no property.

The break-down of the traditional justice system that would be administered by village and clan elders, many of them now dead or still displaced has not helped matters. This is the situation the omissions of individuals in law enforcing agencies have exploited, especially the meddling in the administration of civil justice, often without the knowledge of their superiors.

These anomalies would be addressed by building increased awareness of human rights and citizens’ responsibilities, capacity to promote the rule of law, increased access to justice for the victims of rights violations and monitoring, documenting and reporting human rights violations to the relevant authorities.

For one year, SODANN has thus implemented the ‘Human Rights Protection Project in Soroti District’ by training and sensitising the people responsible for law enforcement and provision of access to justice, and empowering the local population to engage with law enforcement officers. The theme under which SODANN operated was, “Enhance human rights to achieve sustainable justice and peace.”

Omiat says whereas it is the duty of the State to protect the rights of its citizens, hence it has adopted and ratified a number of human rights conventions, it could have been overwhelmed in the fulfillment of its obligation by the huge back log of un-heard cases.

He elaborates that SODANN has therefore reinforced the Police, the LC Courts (supervised by the Chief Magistrate since they are part of the judiciary) which had become overwhelmed.

The training on human rights and pointing out of existing legislations that duty bearers should use to promote law and order and justice, involved the Police and the Army, and specifically addressed the investigative techniques that are result-oriented but do not include the violation of the suspects’ rights. Journalists working in Teso and Karamoja regions also benefitted from the training.

Among the leading issues from which rights abuses emerge is land and the vulnerability of women and children.

Fifty one Community fora have been organized to provide engagement and accountability among the communities, police and army commanders, and LC officials at which resource persons and representatives of Civil Society Organisations inform the people of their rights and the people speaking out what they feel are infringements of their rights.

Common among the complaints is encroachment on land, land grabbing, being framed with grave offenses like illegal possession of firearms which lead to lengthy detention and by the time the suspect is released, the land under dispute would have been grabbed.

In other complaints, widows are neither allowed to keep their husbands’ property nor cultivate the land, and suspects released on police bond are asked to pay “lodging fees.” The population has since been informed by among others, the Regional Police Community Liaison Officer, ASP John Ongwen, of the type of suspects who qualify for release on police bond, and when granted, that payment to anyone is not required.

Communities now have a direct contact with ASP Ongwen, on a telephone contact he has made public, should any one feel their civil rights have been violated.

There are civil cases like land disputes which would ordinarily be under the jurisdiction of LC Court system, in which unscrupulous individuals use the police to have the people they intend to disposes detained. Omiat explains that most of these are a result of the collapse of the traditional justice systems presided over by elders in the past; hence a legal vacuum in which some police offers would make mistakes, in a situation where the population was ignorant of their rights.

He elaborates that at the encounters with the communities, the officers in charge of law enforcement in the 17 sub-counties of Soroti district have been asked to justify their actions vis-à-vis the provisions of the law, a procedure that has left communities feeling empowered and aware of their rights. This demystified perception among the population that every police officer’s demand is lawful and incontrovertible.

“We have had a lot of cooperation which has reduced the incidence of complaints and should there be a rights violation, the citizens will make it known to the authorities and SODANN,” Omiat observes.

He points out that the passing-out of police officers who are not knowledgeable about the protection of human rights in the past has not helped in the observance of the many areas of civil rights… police officers would regularly apply the penal code and carry out inconclusive investigations, given the limitations imposed on them by inadequate facilities and logistics further aggravating the human rights situation.

Anticipating civil rights abuses, Civil Society Organizations, Uganda People’s Defense Forces, Uganda Police and Uganda Human Rights Commission, supported by Danida set up a civil-military liaison office.(Could we exclude this bse, this is another project and then we include what I have written below in italics)then you link it with the next paragraph?

One of the components of the Human Rights Protection project was provision of legal aid services resulting from the various forms of human rights violations either by individuals or law enforcement agencies. This was intended to ensure that perpetuators of human rights violations do not go unpunished. However, on a number of occasions, prosecutions of suspected perpetrators was not possible as victims preferred compensation even when they had good cases that could succeed in court. Most of whom expressed fear of reprisals by the perpetrators or possible failure to attain justice in the legal justice system.

The legal aid section received various complaints of human rights violations whether perpetrated by the armed forces, politicians, or private citizens and determined the course of action to be taken and when it involves illegal detention, the offending organization is asked to account for their actions.

The cases followed and taken up by the legal aid section have either culminated in the release of the suspects, their trial in the courts of law or in the reprimanding of the culpable security officers.

Omiat stresses, “We are saying we should do the right thing by carrying out adequate investigations so that we are not seen to be involved in torture, which takes many forms including illegal detention and delayed administration of justice.”

As a result of the foregone one-year interventions, Omiat says

  • People are now able to engage with law enforcement agents to observe the law and respect human rights.
  • SODANN’s Human Rights monitors in the 17 Sub-counties of Soroti district document and regularly follow up complaints of violations and guide complainants on the course of action to be taken; they carry out advocacy and make interventions with law enforcement agencies.
  • The gap between the people and law enforcement agencies has been bridged and confidence in the armed forces enhanced
  • By the close of the project, 535 complaints of torture, illegal detention, land deprivation, domestic violence (majority of cases are land-related) had been registered.

The project has been unique in involving Civil Society Organisations and the government, targeting suspected perpetrators responsible for the administration of justice. With the closure, fears abound that the gap that prevented the common-man to meaningfully interact with and get hearing from the leaders in the security and law enforcement agencies could re-emerge.

Some of the complaints SODANN has had to deal with

Pulumera Akello, 38, Aarapoo village was widowed in 2007, with 11 children all girls, ranging from one to 20 years. The husband named Betty Asio a 20-year old daughter as his heir, but the clan decided that since the heir is a young girl, they would take control of the property especially as ‘a woman has no right to property.’

“When I once slaughtered a chicken for dinner, my brother-in-law reported the matter to the clan elders and an urgent clan court demanded an account of my action. They said Asio who agreed with me to slaughter the chicken cannot be an heir since she is a girl. They now want me to transport clan members from different places to come for a general clan meeting about the matter. This requires hiring two trucks at a cost of about Ushs1mn, besides footing their bill for feeding. I need help; I need access and free use of my property to provide for my children’s needs.”

According to Uganda’s constitution, the denial of property to the widow and her children is contrary to Article 26 (c) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda. It states, “No person shall be exempt deprived of property….” It is also contrary to Article 31 (2) of the 1995 Constitution.

SODANN intervened by educating clan members about the rights of widows and orphans to property ownership and the legal implications of failing to adhere to the deceased’s will. Akello and her children have since repossessed what rightly belongs to them.

Odeng Yathoni, 21 of Kateta Village

My father was in 1989 kidnapped by rebels and my mother was killed leaving me to take care of my young siblings, a boy and a girl. We took refugee in Bukedea, a long way away from home until 2007 when we dared to return home, to find that our relatives had taken over our land.

The LC1 Chairman claimed our father had already sold off the land and when we demanded for proof, he retorted, “You are not Ojokomaido (your father) who sold the land…go and look for your father.”

I reported the matter to Uganda Human Rights Commission where I was given a letter to LCII of the parish, but the LCII asked for UShs320, 000 to have the case registered in their court.

When we eventually found our father in Mayuge district and brought him back home he said, “I have never sold any land of mine.” We have no where to cultivate yet we have families. He said his brothers and sisters had occupied the land because we were away in Bukedea. He soon disappeared.

This is a violation of rights to property contrary to Article 26 (2) of the Constitution of Uganda stating, “No person shall be compulsorily deprived of property…”

SODANN intervened and advised the complainant to file a civil suit in the LCII Court that ruled in favour of the complainant.



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