Uganda’s continued illegal detentions and torture of Rwandans an affront against humanity

The families of Rwandans illegally incarcerated in Uganda, like Rene Rutagungira, Emmanuel Rwamucyo, Augustin Rutayisire and many others like that who have been in prison for over a year, some coming to two years now, continue to suffer anxiety.

They endure the agony of not knowing what will happen, or has already happened, to their loved ones.

The situation is the same for the families of the over one thousand Rwandans in prisons all over Uganda that have never gotten a fair trial, nor a chance to defend themselves.

As for those who are currently suffering torture in CMI dungeons, Ugandan Military Intelligence, they are just sick with worry.

Businessmen Rutagungira – whom CMI agents abducted in Bakuli, Kampala, in August 2017 – Rwamucyo and Rutayisire, both abducted in Mbarara in March 2018, have on separate occasions been produced before the Uganda Military Court Marshall at Makindye.

That was deemed by their lawyers to be a violation of their rights, as civilians. It has been a stalemate since then, with Uganda continuing to illegally imprison the Rwandan nationals.

The whereabouts of many of the Rwandans that have been abducted by Ugandan security operatives are unknown. Their families are all certain of one thing. Their people are suffering illegal detention.

These are people who, despite the lengthy and irregular incarcerations, have not been charged with any crime. They were ordinary Rwandans – traders, businessmen and women engaged in export and import work.

Others worked with faith-based organizations. Ugandan authorities have frequently defended this repression by claiming that the Rwandans they abduct have entered Uganda illegally, or that they were spies.

Others, such as Rwamucyo and Rutayisire, were even accused of “illegal possession of firearms”. Then the story was changed to “spying”. They have so far failed to produce any proof of that as well.

Rwanda’s protests to Uganda have fallen on deaf ears. Dozens of notes verbale from the Rwanda High Commission to the Ugandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asking for the whereabouts of incarcerated Rwandans have been ignored.

Ugandan authorities simply ignore the communications and continue with the violations, while in public they feign Pan-Africanist and preach hollow integration.

These arrests have been indiscriminate and brutal, which is how the Museveni regime, in its unprovoked hostility towards Rwanda has chosen to behave. Even old men, women and young people or children have been picked off buses and been taken to police stations on concocted charges either of “espionage” or “illegal entry”.

On 17 May, Uganda’s Foreign Minister, Sam Kuteesa, alleged that the only Rwandans arrested in Uganda “are those found on the wrong side of the law”.

Yet Uganda not charged them in any competent court of law or followed any due process (in addition to denying these Rwandans any access by Rwanda's consular representatives in accordance with international norms).

“It is heart wrenching that civil and human rights are being violated. People’s lives and families are being changed for the worse due to inhuman actions of Ugandan security agencies,” said Gawaya Tegulle, a lawyer for some of the detainees.

Some of those detained have become crippled due to torture, including frequent beatings in detention, electric shocks, and other inhuman treatment. Others have lost their mental health.

Other detainees have lost their lives, for instance Robert Tumwine, who died at his sister's house in Mbarara not long after they dumped him out of one of CMI’s torture dungeons.

Any national of a member state of the East African Community is protected by the protocols that make up the laws of the Community.

Any person travelling, or settling in a member state is not to be arrested, imprisoned, tortured or have their freedom infringed upon in any way, without proper cause or, where such proper cause is demonstrated, in full accordance with due process.

That is as long as they can provide proof they are a citizen of any of the countries. A national identity card is sufficient proof of that. Each and every Rwandan that Ugandan authorities dumped at the border – after releasing them from their lengthy incarceration – had presented their national ID to the Ugandan authorities at their point of entry.

Ugandan security officials are also in the habit of confiscating or tearing up border passes of Rwandans travelling to Uganda, then arresting them on accusations of “illegal entry”.

The situation became so bad that the Rwandan government issued a strong warning against her citizens crossing into Uganda at the beginning of March this year.

Francis Harimwomugasho a Kampala attorney said the time had come for the international community to get involved in order to arrest Uganda’s brutality and illegal abductions and detentions without trial of Rwandans.

According to legal experts, Uganda should be held in contempt of international law in its inhumane and illegal treatment of those Rwandans in its custody, whether in its secret detention centres (the so-called 'safe houses'), or the various military or civilian jails and prisons.

Uganda's violation of its own constitution's civil safeguards, East African Community law and international human rights standards, should not be allowed to continue unchallenged.

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