NGOs Write to Kayihura on Break-ins

A total of 31 Ugandan and international human rights groups have united in demand for what they called “prompt, advice thorough, rx and transparent investigations into a series of attacks on Ugandan non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders by the Uganda Police Force.

In their letter to the Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura, ask the organizations said they were appalled by the severity of one of the recent attacks, in which intruders beat a security guard to death.

This they said demonstrated the urgency of addressing these attacks, for which no-one has been held responsible.

Between April and May 2016, intruders broke into the offices of at least three groups in Kampala the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), and the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda).

The break-ins followed more than two dozen previous break-ins at the offices of non-governmental groups since 2012.

The IGP following the incidents formed a committee of eight officers to investigate the break-ins in July 2014, but the NGOs are unhappy that no one has yet been brought to justice.

“The lack of accountability for attacks on non-governmental organizations has apparently led to an atmosphere in which attackers felt free to kill a security guard, in order to accomplish their aims,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Uganda Police Force needs to live up to its obligation to actively investigate these cases and bring those responsible to justice.”

At HRAPF, the assailants beat to death security guard Emmanuel Arituha, ransacked the offices of the director and deputy director, and stole documents and a television screen. They did not, however, take computers, laptops, or other electronic equipment

At FAWE, intruders stole a server, laptop and desktop computers, cameras, and projectors. At HRNJ-Uganda, camera footage shows a visitor apparently providing a dish of food containing sedatives to the security guards, allowing four intruders to search the premises after the guards fell asleep. More than two weeks after the most recent attack, police have not made any arrests.

Organizations whose offices were broken into in 2014 included Human Rights Network-Uganda, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Uganda Land Alliance, Action Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS, and Lira NGO Forum.

In a further attack on the premises of Uganda Land Alliance in July 2015, another security guard, Richard Oketch, was beaten to death. No one has been arrested for his murder.

“Human rights defenders already work in a challenging and often repressive environment in Uganda,” said Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF. “We’re determined to continue our work on behalf of the Ugandan people, but we need the police to stop disregarding these threats to our property, our physical security, and even our lives.”

Police recently when confronted with these accusations, said that investigations are still ongoing.

The police publicist Fred Enanga noted that the organizations that are interested in the progress of the investigations or the police reports about these cases would have to formally apply and be granted access.

The organizations that sent the letter to the police inspector general called on him to clarify the steps the police have taken to investigate the most recent break-ins, as well as the previous wave of break-ins in 2014.

The letter also asked the inspector general to outline how the police will protect human rights defenders, including HRAPF and others whose offices have been attacked, from further acts of violence.

“The lack of accountability and persistent impunity for attacks on human rights defenders and their offices sends a message that authorities condone and tolerate such attacks,” said Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes at Amnesty International. “Ending impunity is essential to protecting and ensuring a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.”

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