By Patience Kirabo
Rene Rutagungira, one of the many Rwandan nationals abducted by Ugandan security forces, was last seen in a military court in May this year.
Rutagungira, who ran some personal businesses in the Ugandan capital, was abducted in the suburb of Bakuli by Uganda Military Intelligence (CMI) two years ago. That happened while he was having a drink at a bar with friends. Since then he has been illegally detained, and undergoing torture in Makindye Military Barracks.
During Rutagungira’s appearance in the General Court Martial in Makindye, his lawyers filed a motion to have him released. Their pleas have up until now fallen on deaf ears. In addition, he has been denied contact with family or friends. His children many times cry, asking where their father is, according to family sources.
The Ugandan authorities, however, not only have denied him family visits, they also continuously denied the detainee consular visits, despite several notes verbal sent to the Uganda government by the Rwandan High Commission in Kampala.
Rutagungira’s rights have ceaselessly been violated. Taking reference from the Constitution of Uganda, a military tribunal has no jurisdiction to try a civilian. The Constitutional Court of Uganda in a case brought by the Uganda Law Society against the Attorney General, ruled that trying civilians in military tribunals “would be contravening Articles 210 and 126 of the Constitution of Uganda”.
Furthermore, the Court’s ruling said, “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”. That meant the Ugandan military had to release Rutagungira with immediate effect. They did not comply, displaying their trademark impunity.
Rutaganira has not been brought to court to be charged lawfully. This is a matter Rutagungira’s lawyers condemn the Uganda security agencies for, decrying their lack of professional ethics, abuse of the law, and violation of the victim’s human rights.
According to International law, any foreigner imprisoned in a given country is provided support from his or her national embassy delegation, and is given visitation rights. Ugandan authorities have intentionally violated this law by continuously denying Rutaganira consular visitation rights.
It is reported that the Rwandan national is still being subjected to torture that includes beatings and other forms of mistreatment. His family fear for his physical and mental health, the statements of his lawyers say. Despite repeated accusations that Rutagungira is “a Rwandan spy”, the Ugandan authorities have to date shown no evidence to prove this allegation.
Ugandan security authorities have made it a habit of detaining Rwandan with no proof, which is not confined to Rutagungira. Currently, it estimated over a thousand Rwandan nationals are languishing in prisons on accusations of “illegal entry”, or “espionage”, yet they never try the detainees so that the latter can defend themselves.
Ugandan security agents also have taken advantage of Museveni’s hostility against Rwanda to extort bribes, or confiscate money from Rwandans, and to steal other belongings from those they abduct or illegally arrest and jail. Like Rutagungira, very many Rwandans are locked up in horrible conditions in CMI’s “safe houses, the ungazetted houses of detention, and others cells run by agencies like ISO.
Whenever they decide to release some Rwandans, they dump them at the borders. Some Rwandans have been so badly tortured they cannot walk anymore, and have been put in wheelchairs. Others have been dumped in an almost unconscious state.
To date, Ugandan security agents have shown no sign of putting a stop to the abductions, illegal detentions and other criminal mistreatment of innocent citizens of the neighbor state. They have instead resorted to propaganda of smears, and projecting their violent actions upon Rwanda. Some Ugandan misinformation organs for instance seized upon an incident – like the case of a manager of the Uganda-based Trinity Bus Company that Rwanda Police in May (lawfully) questioned in relation to a large sum of money he was carrying – to claim “Rwanda had tortured him.”
The man, one Sebuzuru however shamed the Kampala propagandists when he said he wasn’t mistreated in Rwanda “for even one minute!” In fact, he added, “Rwanda Police treated me like a diplomat while they questioned me.” Sebuzuru had been in Rwanda Police custody for less than 48 hours. When it was established there was no reason to hold him any longer they drove him in a comfortable vehicle and handed him to their Ugandan counterparts.
One would expect Ugandan security authorities to display the minimum of lawful behavior when handling civilians that have absolutely nothing to do with Museveni’s quarrels with Rwanda.
CMI, ISO and others however only are very happy about behaving like lawless groups, the record clearly shows.