A personal account of human rights abuse in Uganda raises questions about the role of mainstream human rights organisations supported by international donors.
My pen has since the beginning of 2011 been silent. So many people have been wondering as to what could have happened to me but some have insinuated that I joined Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM). And just like the French saying goes, ‘La bouche qui manger ne parler pas’, meaning that a mouth that is eating doesn’t speak, some people think I am now eating with the ruling cabal. On the contrary, I am still wondering as to why the ruling NRM wants to exterminate me using state institutions that are mandated to protect our rights and our lives.
THE UGANDA HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION NAKEDNESS
On 8 February 2012, I went to Speke Resort, Munyonyo for a workshop organised by the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC). The Uganda Prisoners’ Aid Foundation (UPAF) was invited to present a civil society perspective of the state of prisoners’ rights in Uganda. As UPAF’s research coordinator and a person well-conversant with not only prisoners’ rights but also human rights generally, given that I am an ex-prisoner and a human rights defender and scholar, the UPAF chairman Mr. J.K. Zirabamuzale assigned me to write the paper. The agreement was that when he presented it, I would be around. I have in the past attended UHRC workshops whenever our organisation is invited and I have been at the forefront of quite a number of human rights activities together with UHRC and other human rights organisations.
This time when I arrived in the conference room, I found Ms Christine Nading, Assistant Commissioner of Police Legal speaking. The issues she raised demanded that they be responded to by a person who knows the conduct of the police thoroughly – not the one who reads about the police in newspapers and watches them on television sets. I accordingly, wrote a chit for UHRC’s Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa asking to be given time to respond to Christine Nading. I thought I was doing the most diplomatic thing only to be told a short while later that I was not supposed to be in that function. I explained to them that our organisation (UPAF) was invited and that we were presenting a paper.
I was kicked, humiliated, dehumanised and brutalised by the police at the orders of Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa, UHRC’s Director of Monitoring and Inspections, and Gordon Mwesigye, the UHRC Secretary. In a human rights function, organised by the Uganda Human Rights Commission to prepare for the Universal Periodic Report (UPR), a human rights defender who has sacrificed too much, suffered at the hands of the police, been put in jail for advocating the rights of the voiceless is subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the very people who are mandated to protect all Ugandans’ rights. Shame on Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa and shame on Gordon Mwesigye, and if these people were human enough they should have resigned from their offices on that very Wednesday of 8 February 2012.
After roughing me up, I was driven to Kabalagala Police station in the UHRC vehicle. From Kabalagala, I was driven to Butabika Mental Hospital in the Police Patrol vehicle. When I reached the Out Patient Department (OPD) of Butabika, the policemen who had taken me there were embarrassed when the hospital staff told them, ‘the man is sane, why have you brought him here?’ Meanwhile before reaching Butabika I was deprived of my Bata shoes, my shirt, money and many other possessions. They left me there and I walked on my own half-naked as they had deprived me of my shoes and my shirt.
HELL IN BUTABIKA
I was lucky to find a friend who took me to his home and gave me lunch, a shirt and shoes and Sh5,000 for my transport. The following day on 9 February 2012, I went back to Butabika and this time I had gone to talk to the hospital administration to warn them against pandering to the whims of those that are persecuting me on political grounds. What befell me instead was total hell. Dr Julius Muron ordered the hospital guards to arrest me and take me to the police. At the police post, Muron himself said, ‘This man is perfectly sane, he doesn’t have any mental or psychiatric problem but he is causing chaos within the hospital’. He then added, ‘Keep him here and charge him’. I was then locked up at the police post. Later I learnt that when one of the policemen came (he wears civilian attire and therefore he could be the Criminal Investigation Detective), he told Muron that they had no way to charge me because I hadn’t committed any offence.
Thereafter, I was grabbed by the hospital guards at the orders of Dr Julius Muron and taken to Kirinya ward from where Dr Muron subjected me to 18 injections, nine on each side of the buttocks and later dumped me into a side room which is an equivalent of the solitary cells from which they torture some prisoners in Luzira. Later I became unconscious and I regained my consciousness after 12 days on 21 February.
I have been told that if one of the support staff members who happens to be my relative (whose name I will not reveal now for fear of reprisals) wasn’t there to feed me by forcefully opening my lips, get mushrooms for me, wash me and nurse me like his own son, I would definitely have died.
Without any sense of shame, even when I regained my consciousness, I was kept on drugs; the same drugs which almost claimed my life in 2008. On the 23rd I left Butabika without any formal discharge.
The Pan Africanists at Makerere who saw me were shocked and suggested that I must go for a medical examination. At first I hesitated but every passing day, I am losing weight at a rate that has gotten me worried. All the very small sized trousers that I had already shelved cannot even fit me.
Meanwhile as Dr Muron did whatever he did, I was deprived of my property – my laptop computer, my shirt and jacket, my pair of trousers, my wallet containing huge sums of money, my belt, my phone, shoes and a bible. When I went to Butabika, I was initially only given a phone and Sh100 but later, they gave me a pair of shoes and a bible.
I have in the past sued Dr Tom Onen together with the Attorney General under civil suit 92/2009. Sadly, although neither the Attorney General nor Dr Onen filed a defence and therefore I was waiting for ex parte judgement, I was shocked to learn that my case was dismissed on 28 August 2009 at a time when I was on remand in Murchison Bay Prison Luzira on trumped up charges of assault and threatening violence. The ‘crime’ I had committed though, to which I pleaded guilty, was opposing the increment of fees in public universities by up to 126 percent.
After suing Dr Onen, I was declared persona non-grata in Butabika and I was tortured, traumatized and tormented several times by the police and Butabika Hospital guards at the orders of a one Grace Lubale, a former Butabika Hospital Administrator. Grace would tell me, ‘Nuwagaba, you sued us; you are therefore not allowed to step here’. Even when I would go to visit the victims of political persecution and the thieving political establishment such as Gaudence Tushabomwe, who was conned of her money by an organisation that had links with the ruling party, I would be tormented.
The UHRC whose mandate is to ensure the protection and defence of our rights has also fallen victim and it is at the forefront of the perpetration, perpetuation, orchestration and promotion of injustice.
When I reported to the president about my ordeal, some of the young men and women initially seemed interested in giving me a fair hearing. With time, however, Justus Karuhanga, President Museveni’s former legal officer told me, ‘Nuwagaba, you can go to court and sue the government’. I am interested in knowing whether or not the office of the president ever had a hand in the dismissal of my case without even giving me a ruling.
The courts, which are supposed to be temples of justice, cannot dispense justice to the unsung victims such as Nuwagaba. The Ugandan media can only write about a personality whom they feel can sell their papers; the so-called human rights organisations of which I am a member to some cannot inspire hope. They employ people whose interest is not promoting human rights but making money. Many of our human rights organisations, if not all, get money from donors purportedly to help the voiceless citizens. What they do instead is write accountability papers for the donors and they give no accountability to the voiceless citizens on whose behalf they get the funding. In analysis, they con, cheat and dupe the donors who give them money to help the voiceless.
I know I am broaching a hot subject but I must not keep silent. I have taught in the university and have worked with civil society organisations. I have seen only one genuine human rights organisation in Uganda called Uganda Prisoners’ Aid Foundation under the stewardship of J.K. Zirabamuzale. It is the only organisation that does human rights work even when it has no funding from anybody and none of the staff is a salaried employee.
I have seen discrimination, sectarianism, and inequality perpetrated by the so-called human rights defenders. No wonder many of them do not have the wherewithal to challenge the government where it goes wrong.
I am a Ugandan citizen, not anybody’s subject. Like I have stated before when I wrote to IGP (Inspector General of Police) Kale Kayihura, I am an ethnic Mukiga and the Bakiga have never had a king. Accordingly, we have never been subjects. I am a firm believer in non-violence and my icons are Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and our very own Norbert Mao. Whoever feels threatened by my words must him/herself be suffering from schizophrenia. I have several times been thrown in jail for no offence committed. In 2008 I escaped death by a whisker as Dr Onen was used to kill me; just recently Dr Muron wanted to kill me and I don’t know whether I am safe yet. As a citizen, I demand justice or death.
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a
Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE
* Vincent Nuwagaba is a human rights defender. Vincent blogs at www.vnuwagaba.blogspot.com and can be reached via email at vnuwagaba[AT">gmail.com