To some, ‘Nalufenya’ is a word that doesn’t glide off the tongue easily, maybe it’s the four syllables? No, maybe it’s the fact that it’s an awry town in Jinja synonymous with Uganda’s very own Abu Ghraib Jail. Nalufenya Police Station sends shivers down spines, especially for those who’ve allegedly suffered at the hands of the diabolical operatives that run the prison or those who’ve heard and read the stories of those tortured within the prison walls.
Torture, of course, is an abuse of human rights, contravenes the Constitution of Uganda, a number of aiding laws 1 and international human rights instruments that Uganda is a party or signatory to. The alleged harrowing experiences in Nalufenya and other places of detention show that a sizeable number of security operatives in Uganda function in total disregard of the law or are above reprimand.
Our saving grace, the Parliament of Uganda has a fully-fledged human rights committee mandated to hold the executive accountable and also keep it in check with regard to Human rights amongst other roles. The committee recently visited the facility upon instruction of the Speaker of Parliament, Hon Rebecca Kadaga and voila found nothing suspicious at the facility. One inmate even had a mosquito net, a detail that was not left out in the story that followed the heroic visit.
Perhaps, it’s not what I wanted to hear, that they found nothing suspicious, maybe I had hoped they would find some prisoners with gaping wounds and bleeding nails from scratching the walls in horror or pitchfork wielding guards at the gates of Nalufenya. Why would I honestly think they’d be that careless? I blame myself! The visit also happened without the watchful eye of the media, Parliament journalists often escort Members of the house on such fact-finding trips save for this time round. Why would I want the media to interfere with such a sensitive investigation? It beats me!
In the past I have noted with concern, the indifference the committee extends towards multiple cases of human rights abuse in Uganda. From the onset, the committee has not out rightly condemned the actions of perpetrators of torture and other offenses publicly to send a strong message of disapproval. While the committee investigates abuses already reported by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, it has not out of its own volition, investigated emerging human rights concerns of public interest outside the reports. Hell, this time, the committee had to wait for instructions from the Speaker to do a job which is clearly within its jurisdiction.
The modus operandi of this committee, in my opinion, is flawed and have even documented why I think the committee ought to be chaired by the Opposition like the other accountability committees in Parliament. The chairperson of the committee, Hon Jova Kamateeka, who also belongs to the ruling National Resistance Movement Party has a penchant for quickly dismissing the government and its agents’ roles implicated in many of these human rights complaints. This causes me to doubt the objectivity exerted on a number of the committee’s decisions in regard to rights abuses especially when the perpetrators are government agents.
While it would be unethical for the committee to act on a hunch, many of these rights abuses have been documented over time. There is actual evidence that people have been tortured in Nalufenya not once or twice and it’s discourteous to Ugandans that the reports coming in are that the place was found squeaky clean by esteemed members charged with promoting and protecting our rights. The first time I got wind of the activities inside the prison, was a while back when a close friend was detained for the possession of a shirt displaying the face of Dr. Kizza Besigye While not detained at the facility, he met people at the Kireka SIU who shared experiences of the place, and they were ghastly stories. And even I am not privy to the resources or information that the Committee has at its disposal. I’m guessing it’s just the lack of political will in this case on the part of the committee and a number of other human rights actors.
Abuses of rights and freedoms are rife in this country and reports of torture keep surging on a daily basis. The Human Rights Committee can’t afford to keep ignoring them or wishing them away because this only makes it worse. In order to safeguard against future biases, the leadership will definitely have to change to that of the opposition. That notwithstanding, measures to clean out the rogue elements within security organizations should be undertaken like President Yoweri Museveni instructed.