By Henry Gombya
The government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni today stands accused of using live ammunition to disperse peaceful protesters that ended in at least nine innocent civilians being killed. In a scathing report by the US-based rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRC), Maria Barnett, a senior Africa researcher at HRC says: “Uganda’s security forces met the recent protests with live fire that killed peaceful demonstrators and even bystanders.”
In a strongly-worded statement, HRC is calling upon the Ugandan government to ‘conduct a prompt, independent, and thorough investigation into the use of lethal force by security forces to counter recent demonstrations and rioting throughout the country’. The call is in response to recent demonstration in the East African country infamous for once having Idi Amin as its leader in the mid-1970s. Protesting against rising commodity prices and wasteful government spending, several Ugandans led by opposition political party leaders, decided to show their disapproval of what was going on in their country by ‘walking to work’, a slogan that came to be seen by the Museveni government as an attempt by the opposition to overthrow the 25-year old government of the National Resistance Movement (NRM).
HRC says it carried out investigations into fatal and non-fatal shootings by Uganda’s security forces. These included beatings, thefts and rapes that are said to have taken place between the dates of April 14 to April 29, 2011. “Based on multiple eyewitness accounts, Human Rights Watch documented at least nine unarmed people killed by government forces – six in Kampala, two in Gulu, and one in Masaka – none of whom were actively involved in rioting,” the HRC report says. Ms Burnett accused the Museveni government of allowing ‘a climate of impunity for serious abuses by the police and military’. She added: “A prompt, effective, and independent investigation into the violence is essential.”
The Rights Group claimed it had interviewed more than 60 people, including victims and their relatives, eyewitnesses, community members, medical staff, members of civil society, police, military, and journalists in Gulu and Kampala. It also claimed to have gathered forensic evidence, such as photographs of bullet holes, and medical and police records. HRC called upon the NRM government to include outside, independent international experts to participate in investigations and set out the concrete steps it will take to ensure perpetrators are held to account. “Specifically, the Ugandan government should invite the African Union and United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Executions to Uganda to conduct an in-depth investigation.”
Because of the deep mistrust between the security forces and communities affected by the recent violence, HRC said the inclusion of independent international experts would encourage witnesses to come forward. It called on donors, including the British and Irish governments to end support and training of Ugandan police and military units until the killings are investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.