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“Open Secrets” in Uganda

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“Open Secrets” in Uganda

Posted by Maggie Fick on April 19, 2009

Human Rights Watch released a report last week condemning the practices of Uganda’s “Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force,” or JATT, a force operated by the Ugandan military’s intelligence branch. The JATT runs Kololo, a notorious illegal detention facility that HRW called an “open secret” in Uganda. The report describes many of the illegal aspects of the detention facility, including torture and enforced disappearances of people that the government suspects of “terrorist activities.” The report notes:

In recent years, the most serious human rights violations in Uganda have taken place in the long northern war between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the government, during disarmament initiatives in the insecure northeast and in the context of government harassment of political opponents. Even though most of the country currently enjoys relative stability, state-sanctioned abuses by security forces and impunity for those responsible continue. Research by Human Rights Watch, as well as other nongovernmental organizations, has found that torture and prolonged illegal detention remain among the most recurrent and intractable human rights violations in Uganda. [Emphasis mine]

In other words, now that the rapacious Lord’s Resistance Army have shifted their base of operations out of northern Uganda and the region is slowly returning to a state of relative peace, Human Rights Watch considers the Ugandan government itself to be the most egregious abuser of human rights in the country. HRW recommends that:            

Donors to the Ugandan security efforts, such as the United States and United Kingdom, who are training and supporting Uganda’s counterterrorism operations, should work to ensure that basic rights are afforded to all suspects. These donors should withhold counterterrorism-related funding to the Ugandan security forces until the Ugandan government investigates abuses by JATT and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, or CMI, and prosecutes as appropriate those found to be involved.

As is the case with Operation Lightning Thunder (the recent Ugandan army-led joint military offensive against the LRA in northeastern Congo), the U.S. government’s support for the Ugandan government means that it bears some responsibility for Kampala’s actions—especially when Washington continues to provide direct support for Kampala’s military and counterterrorism operations.

N.B.: On a related note, see "A country adrift, a president amiss," an Economist article on Uganda from February.