By Patience Kirabo
Since his abduction on 7 August 2017, Rene Rutagungira is still in Uganda military custody, where he has been subjected to torture, ill treatment and other human rights violations and abuses.
It is now almost two years after Rutagungira was forcefully taken from a bar in Bakuli, a neighborhood of the Ugandan capital, while sharing a drink with friends. The abduction was a typical CMI, Uganda military intelligence, operation. They just grabbed the Rwandan national from his bar stool and took him away as he struggled and shouted for help. The abductors first took him to CMI headquarters in Mbuya, and then transferred him to Makindye Barracks where they have illegally detained him since.
Rutagungira is denied any contact with his family. The authorities have denied him consular visits, despite many attempts by the Rwandan High Commission in Kampala to visit him. It is provided for in international law that when a foreign national is jailed in a country, the embassy has a right to visit him or her. Ugandan authorities never allow consular visits for any of the Rwandans that Ugandan security agencies abduct.
While at Makindye, Rutagungira’s lawyers say, he was tortured with methods that included beatings and electrocution. He lost a lot of weight and was in very bad health. Rutagungira’s torturers included Gen. Henry Tumukunde, the former minister of security, who wanted to forcefully make Rutagungira confess that he was “a spy”. Despite all the torture Rutagungira has maintained he has never been a spy.
In May 2019, the Rwandan’s lawyers filed a motion to have him released from Makindye immediately. They cited his deteriorating health due to severe torture, and the fact that it is illegal to charge him, a civilian, in a military tribunal. The single appearance Rutagungira had in court was at the Makindye General Court Martial. They produced no evidence against him.
According to the constitution of Uganda a military tribunal has no jurisdiction to try civilians. In a case that the Uganda Law Society brought against the Attorney General, the Constitutional Court of Uganda confirmed that trying civilians in military tribunals “would be contravening Articles 210 and 126 of the Constitution of Uganda”.
“A court without jurisdiction over a matter is incompetent and incapable of offering one a fair trial within the meaning of Article 28(1) of the constitution,” the Constitutional Court ruled.
Tumukunde, Kandiho and others had no proof, and no case against Rutagungira whose friends and family all know him as a law abiding person that was only running his business in Kampala and nothing else. Rutagungira fell victim to the security system that has taken instructions from Museveni on its hostile stance against innocent citizens of Rwanda. Knowledgeable people, such as journalists that cover security issues say that Rutagungira is one of the many sacrificial lambs in the Museveni regime’s propaganda wars against Rwanda.
They accused Rutagungira of “espionage” and “kidnapping”. Rutagungira and his lawyers challenged his accusers to substantiate their allegations, which up to today they have failed to do.
Abuse, rape, torture and ill-treatment characterize treatment of the countless Rwandans suffering in CMI-run ungazetted detention centres. Some detainees have been beaten so badly they became disabled. It has become the order of the day to hear that “Ugandan authorities have dumped Rwandans at the borders.”
The bodies of most of these Rwandans, including women with small children, show many marks of torture. Many are mentally traumatized. While the number of female detainees is less than the males, it is reported that women suffer the extra humiliation of being deprived of privacy, or being held in facilities without female guards.
“That exposes the women to risks of sexual abuse,” said Kampala attorney Gawaya Tegulle who represents a number of Rwandans illegally detained in Uganda. Pregnant detainees risk losing their babies because of lack of hygiene, skilled birth attendants and similar poor conditions.
Some deported women have told horror stories of how they were undressed by Uganda’s security officials who said they wanted “to see how a naked Munyarwanda looks.” They also simulated electrocution of their private parts after they were made to sit in water that the security officers then threatened to add electricity to.
In many prisons of Uganda where thousands of Rwandans have been detained with no proper procedure, they endure beatings, starvation and forced labor like digging on government farms, making breaks and other slave labor.