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Commonwealth's Uganda

Touristclick Uganda Travel News

Commonwealth's Uganda

by, United Kingdom

Commonwealth countries have been accused of turning a blind eye to Uganda's appalling record on torture and human rights abuses.

With the Queen, the Prince of Wales, Gordon Brown and about 50 other heads of government in the club of former British colonies about to arrive in Kampala for a biennial conference this week, President Yoweri Museveni has laboured to present a new Uganda, detached from the horrors of its past.

There are calls for Commonwealth leaders to put pressure on President Museveni
But more than 7,500 complaints of torture and cruel or inhuman treatment have been made in the last 10 years, according to the Uganda Human Rights Commission.

Many involve claims against a jumble of fierce paramilitary units established by the president, who seized power by force 21 year ago and is still a serving general. They are accused of crushing political opposition and of neutering the legal system.

Armed troops wearing unofficial uniforms and nicknamed the Black Mambas have twice stormed the high court in Kampala during political cases, most recently in March, seizing defendants who had just been cleared of treason.

During the elections in February 2006 - the first multi-party poll since Mr Museveni seized power in 1986 - riot police broke up the last rally of the main presidential challenger.

advertisementYet when the Ugandan president met President George W Bush at the White House earlier this month, his democratic record was not on the agenda.

Delegates gathering this week in Kampala will also hear little of Uganda's long list of abuse claims or details of how the country's constitution was changed to allow the president to exceed prescribed term limits.

They are also unlikely to discuss his government's dire record on corruption, which led Britain to cut £15 million of its £70 million in annual aid in 2005.
"Human rights are fundamental to the Commonwealth and [its] leaders meeting in Kampala should urge President Museveni to improve his government's human rights record," said Elizabeth Evenson, the Uganda researcher for Human Rights Watch.

"Intimidation of the judiciary should stop, impunity for human rights violations by Ugandan soldiers should end, and prosecution for the most serious crimes committed by both sides to the conflict in northern Uganda should be ensured."

One torture victim, arrested over unproven links to an opposition party, echoed the call for Commonwealth leaders to put pressure on Mr Museveni over his record.

"If they have to shake his hand, they should, but they must tell him that unless he changes his torturous ways, they will never do it again," said Patrick Okiring, 43, who was tortured for 28 days. Mr Okiring was moved for a month between army barracks and police "safe houses" without being allowed to see his family or a lawyer.

"They tied my hands behind my back and emptied a 25-litre jerrican of water over my head until I could not breathe," the father of six said.

Mr Okiring was cleared of treason but immediately rearrested during the Black Mamba raid on the high court. He is now on bail on murder charges that diplomats said were almost certainly false.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission received 1,222 complaints last year, 264 related to torture.
The situation has improved in recent months, but critics claim that this is simply window-dressing ahead of the Commonwealth meeting, which the Queen will open on Friday.


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