Human Rights Watch Calls for International Investigation into Kasese Killings, Resignation of Gen. Elwelu

A police officer on guard inside the burnt Rwenzururu palace

Three months after the clashes between security operatives and the elements of the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu kingdom in Kasese which police said claimed 87 people including 16 police officers, more about  Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international human rights watchdog has called for an independent investigation into killings.

The watchdog has further urged that the commanding officers of the military operation which saw the Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere’s palace raided and ravaged step down pending the investigations.

On Wednesday, the associate Africa Director for HRW, Maria Burnett said the events that transpired in Kasese warrant an independent, impartial fact finding mission with international expertise.

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This comes after a separate investigation conducted by HRW in Kasese in which several victims, witnesses and army officers referred to.

“Ugandan government should immediately suspend the commanding army and police officials believed to be most responsible for the killings and other abuses committed during the November violence,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released on their website on Wednesday.

“The government should promptly investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible in accordance with international standards. The government should protect witnesses and compensate the families of victims,” it added.

The report gives specific reference to the recently promoted Maj. Gen Elwelu saying; “he should be removed from command pending a full investigation, and should not participate in any internationally-supported training, conferences or joint exercises until investigations conclude.”

HRW said their appeal for an independent investigation is based on the unwillingness of the government of Uganda to prosecute the perpetrators and give “a more accurate death toll”.

“The government should acknowledge a more accurate death toll and facilitate the exhumation, identification, and return to family members of all the bodies disposed of by police and military in any location, guaranteeing the families’ safety.”

According to its preliminary findings, Human Rights Watch places the actual number to be much higher – at least 55 people, including at least 14 police, killed on November 26, and more than 100, including at least 15 children, during the attack on the palace compound on November 27.

“The horrific events of November in Kasese warrant international scrutiny in an independent, impartial investigation that can determine all the crimes that took place, including potential crimes against humanity,” Burnett said.

“The victims’ families deserve answers about why the military and police killed the people in the palace, including young children.”

In its statement, HRW raises concern that while government has arrested and charged more than 180 people, including the Rwenzururu King, Mumbere with murder, treason, and terrorism, no member of the police or military has been charged for the killing of the civilians, including children.

The watchdog adds that the army spokesman, Brig. Richard Karemire in February revealed that there has been no investigation into the military’s conduct and that none is planned.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 95 people in six subcounties of the Kasese district, including many families of the people killed, and reviewed video and photographs of the events. But it says many people voiced significant fears of reprisals given the presence of security forces in the area.

“In video footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch, two soldiers are seen beating shirtless male detainees who are lying on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs after running out of the burning palace compound,” the statement reveals.

“The assault on the palace in Kasese, which killed more people than any single event since the height of the war in Northern Uganda over a decade ago, should not be swept under the carpet,” said Burnett

“People in Kasese are still looking for their family members, including children, and they deserve answers and justice for these gruesome killings,” she added.

In its report, HRW said it spoke to 14 families and some of those are still looking for the victims’ bodies but are afraid to ask questions about the attack or where the bodies are.

It says 15 children between ages 3 and 14  from these families who were last seen in the palace compound in November are still missing.

“Human Rights Watch found evidence, including accounts by confidential sources and medical personnel who witnessed the events, that security officials had misrepresented the number of people killed and eliminated evidence of the children’s deaths,” says the report.

HRW claims to have spoken to several army officers who expressed significant discomfort with the events in Kasese but were unsurprised by the absence of investigations into the military’s conduct.

“They said they did not believe that any local entity would have the space or independence to conduct a meaningful investigation without obstructions from the government and fear of reprisals.”

A high ranking military official is reported to have told HRW that; “It was a horrible event, but who in this country can investigate?” said one high-ranking military official. “It is far above us all. How do you wake up and start investigating so far above you?”

It should be recalled that in January, a group of Members of Parliament including the Leader of Opposition in Parliament Winnie Kizza filed a petition to the International Criminal Court seeking an investigation into the killings in Kasese.

ChimpReports has learnt that government is set to respond to the report released by HRW later today.

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