By Melodie Mukansonera
The Ugandan government has defied a High Court ruling ordering that a Rwandan national, Elly Tumwine, who was abducted by security operatives in that country be produced before court under habeas corpus. This is a court writ requiring a person in the hands of security organs to be brought before a judge or court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for the detention.
According to witnesses, Tumwine was abducted on May 16th this year from his mobile money business around Kakira Town Council, Jinja District in eastern Uganda by Military Police and other security operatives. Tumwine’s lawyers, led by Abdullah Kiwanuka, secured a High Court habeas corpus as granted by Justice Musa Ssekaana on June 01, 2020. The order instructed the government to produce the victim in court in less than 4 days.
Judge Ssekaana directed the Attorney General William Byaruhanga, the Commandant Special Investigations Unit of Police Elly Womanya and the Director Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Abel Kandiho to produce Tumwine before the court on June 4th, 2020. “This is to command you to have in the High court of Kampala immediately after the receipt of this order the body of Tumwine that is in your custody,” the judge ruled.
Tumwine’s lawyer, Kiwanuka, said that the arresting authority did not provide any reason of why they were holding his client whom they brutally bundled in a car and whisked away. “Ever since he was arrested, I and the relatives of the accused have failed to trace him. The relatives of the suspect are living in fear because they might anytime also be arrested,” said counsel Kiwanuka.
The application is premised on the fact that illegal detention infringes Tumwine’s right to personal liberty under Uganda’s 1995 Constitution. “Tumwine’s right to personal liberty has been and continues to be violated by the respondents and their agents who are keeping him in detention,” his lawyer argued.
Prior to the court ruling, the lawyer had told the court, “I seek for an order for the immediate production of Tumwine in court to show cause why he is in detention for more than 48 hours, or else he be released.” Tumwine’s sister, Juliet Kirabo, says that her brother’s house was searched before he was reportedly taken to the Special Investigations Unit of Police in Kireka, and then transferred to Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence headquarters.
She says that since then, they have not been given access to him, in addition to not producing him before any court of law or released as required by the law.
What has happened to Tumwine isn’t the first time it is happening to Rwandan nationals, or people of Rwandan origin in Uganda, as has been reported very many times before. For over three years now, Ugandan security operatives have been arbitrarily arresting Rwandans, illegally detaining them, incommunicado, and torturing them.
A lot of Rwandans that have been dumped at the borders after all kinds of mistreatment in Uganda have told a lot about constant harassment, persecution or torture of Rwandans at the hands of the likes of CMI and ISO. According to analysts, all this has been “part of a deliberate, anti-Rwanda policy adopted by Kampala, working with terrorist groups in the goal of destabilizing Rwanda.”
“There are hundreds of Rwandan nationals languishing in similar illegal detention in Ugandan prisons, torture dungeons, or ungazetted places of detention, the so-called safe houses,” Rwandan officials assert.
Recently Rwandan Foreign Minister, Vincent Biruta, said Rwanda has consistently emphasized key concerns to Uganda, mainly rotating around Rwandans that continue to suffer arbitrary arrests and such abuses in Uganda. “As you might be aware, we have raised these issues with Uganda on different occasions, including the fact none of the prisoners are ever allowed consular visits.”
Recently, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Sam Kutesa, said Uganda would hand over 132 Rwandans while another 310 would remain in Uganda to face charges in courts of law.
“Experts dispute the reasons Kutesa gave as to why the 310 will remain in detention (that they are accused of capital offenses).
The experts question how such a thing is possible for two reasons.
One is that in all of Uganda’s prisons there are said to be 194 prisoners accused of capital offences. (Therefore it can’t be possible there are over 300 Rwandans accused of capital offences – the kind of crimes that usually carry the death sentence). Secondly, abducted, or illegally jailed Rwandans never are accorded court hearings.
“So, how can anyone be sure of anything any Rwandan detained in Uganda is accused of?” an official asked.
Still, with regards to the release of the 132, Biruta said, “it was a good step, but challenges remained.”