By Abdi Ali
Published November 29, 2016
A human rights body has called upon the Government of Uganda to investigate the conduct of its security forces who are reported to have killed dozens of people and arrested many more in western Uganda
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the orgy of violence pitting Royal Guards of the region’s cultural kingdom, Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu (Bakonzo) against Government forces occurred on November 26 and 27, 2016 in Kasese town.
“Details of the violence, including the total death toll, remain unclear,” HRW says. “Police have stated that 46 Royal Guards were killed and 139 others arrested following attacks on several police stations on November 26, during which at least 14 police officers were killed. The king [Charles Wesley Mumbere Irema-Ngoma] was also arrested on November 27, and eventually transferred to Nalufenya Police Post in Jinja, eastern Uganda, where he is still being held. There is no independent corroboration of affiliation or total number of those killed.”
Maria Burnett, Associate Africa Director at HRW says the events on November 26 and 27 as “yet another tragic loss of life in the Rwenzori region which has already suffered many death.” Burnett says the Government should both investigate and prosecute anyone involved in crime on both sides of the feuding forces to prevent the violence in the region from igniting again.
Saying police have blocked access to the area around the palace in Kasese and that families are not permitted to collect bodies of their dead, HRW says images of “what appeared to be dead bodies, some of men with their hands tied behind their backs, circulated on social media on November 27” and that Joy Doreen Biira, a Ugandan journalist who reports for Kenya’s KTN televisin network, was arrested and charged with “abetting terrorism” before being released.
HRW argues that journalists should report on events of public interest without fear of arrest or intimidation from state forces.
HRW says thatBakonzo and Bamba ethnic groups clashed following contested local elections and political infighting, resulting in at least 30 people being killed between February and April 2016. “During the subsequent law enforcement operations, Ugandan police and military killed at least 17 people. One police officer and two soldiers were also killed,” the rights body says.
In July 2014, local media reports suggested that after members of the Bakonzo ethnic group attacked police and army posts, government security forces killed at least 100 people in reprisal killing.
“There has been little or no investigation of the conduct of government forces in these violent episodes or into the arrest of hundreds of civilians, some of whom have faced trial before military courts,” HRW says.
Appealing to the Government to either release or prosecute people arrested within 48 hours, HRW contends that “everyone, including government troops and their commanders, should face investigation into their conduct that led to the death” and that “the prosecuting authorities should investigate all instances of lethal use of force by security forces.”
The rights body reminds the Government of Uganda that “The United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require law enforcement officials, including military units responding to national emergencies, to apply nonviolent means before resorting to force, to use force only in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, and to use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. The principles also provide that governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense under their law.”