On 26th April 2012, the 9th Parliament with Hon. Wilfred Niwagaba as the mover of the Bill passed into law the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill 2010. This has been a long one coming since 1987 when Uganda as a state ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and other Degrading Treatment.
This comes at a time when the country is battling against a surge of demonstrations over several political and socio-economic issues partly attributed to the harsh political, economic waves sweeping across the world today. These demos have expectedly placed state security agencies in a rather uncomfortable situation of protecting the rights of peaceful civilians going about their work and at the same time, respect and protect the rights of demonstrators.
The media has been awash with reports of police excesses when dealing with demonstrators and Journalists through vile acts.The Uganda Law Society recently released a statement condemning the prevalent police brutality and abuse of police authority.
The US Mission in Uganda reports that in 2011 alone, local human rights groups recorded more than 100 attacks on journalists in Uganda. Recently a police officer descended on the right breast of an unarmed Ingrid Turinawe and started violently squeezing it in front of television cameras as if to draw her to surrender as she screamed out aloud in pain.
This is not a fast.
In January 2012, Bukedde TV showed sensational graphic images of a demonstrator assaulting a police officer in uniform.
In West Africa, unruly government soldiers have in the past cut off genitals of their opponents and eaten them. Torture goes on in our society regardless of whether it is perpetrated by security operatives or other individuals and many victims never get to receive justice.
Of course, torture was already prohibited under the 1995 Ugandan Constitution but passing of the Bill does not only affirm government’s commitment through the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) but also domesticates the state’s obligation.
This Bill set to be named the Anti-Torture Act provides victims/survivors with a system through which they can seek redress against such inhuman acts whether committed by individuals, non-state actors or state actors.
For example, the Bill seeks to make the crime of torture to be triable by a chief magistrate’s court which was not the case in the past where such cases were entertained by the Uganda Human Rights Commission. These courts are scattered across the country which makes it easier to file a case and follow up to access justice.
The Bill also criminalises torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment by putting in place a specific crime of torture with punitive sentences of up to life imprisonment. It further takes acts of torture perpetrated by private individuals into account. Previously, private individuals would commit acts of torture and get away with it.
Under the passed Bill, use of acts of torture to obtain information to be used in courts of law as evidence will render such information inadmissible. This will encourage civil/lawful investigations and interrogations free from torture.
The argument of superior orders has been commonplace in almost all torture cases which inevitably tends to draw liability to the state which has led to unnecessary costs in compensation by the state to the detriment of the poor tax payer. This law shall emphasize individual liability by nullifying such arguments. The cost of rehabilitation and reparations will be borne by the individual perpetrator. This responsibility will naturally discourage torture acts because of the likely sanctions.
We now fervently await His Excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda to assent to the Bill as we move to fight torture and make access to justice for torture victims/survivors real.