By Alex Muhumuza
Last week, lawyers of Rwandan nationals illegally detained in Uganda (in conditions of extreme physical and psychological abuse) by security agencies called upon the Museveni regime to release them. It wasn’t the first time they were making such an appeal.
The lawyers add there is no legal basis for the Ugandan authorities to keep the Rwandans in detention. Eron Kiiza and Anthony Odur of Kampala law firm Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates, during a press briefing on Wednesday, pointed out that even when there has been some pretense at court procedures – as in the cases of their clients Rene Rutagungira, Iyakaremye Claude, Emmanuel Rwamucyo and August Rutayisire – it was quite astonishing that they were tried in military court.
“That’s a clear abuse of their rights as civilians,” the attorneys pointed out.
The Ugandan Constitutional Court, in resolving the issue whether the General Court Martial had jurisdiction to try civilians stated, in 2005, that the military tribunal under the UPDF had no jurisdiction to try civilians. In a case that the Ugandan Law Society brought against the Attorney General, the Court confirmed that trying civilians in the Court “would be contravening articles 210 and 126 of the Constitution of Uganda.”
The Constitutional Court emphasized the General Court Martial “was created to regulate the UPDF, and so is incompetent and incapable of offering a civilian a fair trial.”
Going by these rulings, there is no reason Rutagungira, or others detained in military facilities would still be in detention, leave alone the fact that Ugandan authorities haven’t been able to bring any charges against them. That’s what their lawyers keep coming back to in insisting they be released.
But, given the regime security agencies’ record of utter contempt for laws or legal procedures, one can be certain their (lawyers) entreaties will once again simply be ignored.
The attorneys who also double as human right defenders, revealed that there are over a hundred Rwandans in various detention centers that aren’t being presented in courts of law for prosecution. They’ve disclosed time and again that those they have managed to see display signs and marks on their bodies of severe torture.
The prisoners represented by Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates include some that have been in detention for over two years, typified by Rene Rutagungira who was abducted by agents of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence in August 2017 during an evening out with friends in a bar in Kampala. The CMI men just approached him abruptly and before he knew what was happening, they were forcefully dragging him away, as per their modus operandi.
They accused the Rwandan civilian first with “espionage”. Afterwards they changed it to “running an espionage ring”. And then it became, “abducting Rwandan refugees”. In all this they showed nothing to support their accusations. All the time Rutagungira and his family maintained he only ran his personal businesses in Uganda; and that he was totally ignorant of the things they accused him of.
CMI just dragged away someone against whom they had no proof, to torture him in the dungeons of Makindye Military Barracks. According to his lawyers, even former Internal Security Minister Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde participated in the torture of Rutagungira – at one time in late 2017 reportedly driving to Makindye, to slap and kick Rutagungira “to extract a forced confession.”
Two other Rwandans Emmanuel Rwamucyo and Augustine Rutayisire represented by Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates too suffered the ordeal of abduction and extreme physical abuse. Members of Uganda’s security forces in Mbarara abducted the two men, robbed them of their money, according to family members and eyewitnesses, and then drove them to the barracks.
Reports are that Maj. Fred Mushambo, the UPDF Second Division Counterintelligence head, in cahoots with one Mukama Moses Kandiho the brother of CMI chief Brig. Gen. Abel Kandiho, gave orders for the two Rwandans to be tortured. Afterwards Rwamucyo and Rutayisire were transferred to CMI headquarters, Mbuya for further torture. Later on, they were detained in Makindye Barracks.
Such behavior; such brutal, extra-legal arrests of people that have committed no crime or against whom they have no evidence – as has long defined the workings of Ugandan security agencies, most notoriously CMI – puts the likes of CMI at the level of kidnappers, legal analysts say. CMI or ISO behave like state-sanctioned kidnappers and by the same token those they detain are hostages, said our source on condition of anonymity.
In normal circumstances when someone is arrested, agents of the law present warrants. They inform the arrestee of the charges, and accord them the opportunity to get legal representation. Those taken prisoner are supposed to have their day in court, and if the charges against them can’t be sustained with evidence, whoever is detained will be released.
Ugandan Military Intelligence, and other security agencies have – ever since President Museveni adopted his hostile policy against Rwanda with through support of groups bent on destabilizing it – adopted a stance that turns every ordinary Rwandan into their enemy.
CMI and ISO have been working hand in hand with agents of Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC – whose activities of recruitment and others on Ugandan territory is documented in the December 2018 UN Group of Experts on DRC report – to harass, abduct, detain or torture Rwandan citizens.
The victimization of these Rwandans most often is on the basis of nothing more than the fact they’ve come from Kigali, therefore – possibly! – they are agents of Kigali! So, agents pull them off a bus, or drag them from a market, a shop, a house, anywhere else, throw them into a vehicle and off to some place of torture.
A few other Rwandans are targetted because they look strong and able bodied, and therefore could make good RNC rebel fighters. The method – though it isn’t the main one for recruitment – is to torture them, until some break and agree to join RNC rebels rather than endure more pain. Yet others, such as Rwandans already resident in Uganda that look prosperous or well-off, are targeted as potential RNC contributors of funds or material. When one refuses, they are harassed with threats or arrested on trumped-up charges.
Yet others are hit by rogue security agents looking to rob them, and line their own pockets. They use Museveni’s anti-Rwanda hostility as a loophole, like Mukama Kandiho and Mushambo did to Rwamucyo and Rutayisire.
Such is the Ugandan regime security agencies disregard for the law that countless times, such as when the High Court in Kampala have issued up to 12 orders of habeas corpus to military authorities (CMI) to release illegally detained Rwandans, they just disregarded them.
Such conduct prompted frustrated members of the Uganda Law Society (ULS) to issue the following communiqué: “as long as a court of competent jurisdiction issues an order, it must be respected.”
“But when have the violent security agencies of Museveni ever respected any laws!” one member of ULS asked, shaking his head.