No Justice for Victims of Forced Disappearances in Uganda

In recent weeks, Ugandan media has been awash once again with reports of armed men linked to the state security forces kidnapping people and taking them to unknown locations, where they have no access to lawyers or family.

On November 28, three men in civilian clothes accosted Yahya Mwanje, a Muslim cleric, outside a Kampala mosque and drove off with him in a Toyota HiAce van, locally known as “Drones.” That same day in Kampala, plainclothes men picked up opposition politician and former presidential candidate Joseph Kabuleta inside his office and took him away in a Drone to an unknown destination.

Mwanje and Kabuleta were later revealed to have been detained by security forces: Mwanje by the military, while two days later police charged Kabuleta with “promoting sectarianism.”

Many other people, mostly opposition supporters, remain missing.

On November 29, the National Unity Platform, Uganda’s main opposition political party, reported to the Uganda Human Rights Commission that 25 of its supporters have been missing since as far back as 2020. Six of them, the party said, had been abducted in various locations in Kampala in November by a man in military uniform and three armed men in civilian clothes.

In March, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting years of similar arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and the use of illegal detention centers by Ugandan security officers. These abuses escalated in the two months before the January 2021 general elections and continued for several months afterwards. At the time, security forces arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared critics of the government, opposition leaders and supporters, and alleged protesters.

In June, Human Rights Watch presented these findings personally to President Yoweri Museveni. He pledged to hold the perpetrators accountable and to look into the case of Frank “Kaka” Bagyenda, the former director of the Internal Security Organisation, who we found played a central role in such abductions and unlawful detentions. But since that meeting, there has been no indication that steps are being taken to hold Bagyenda or any other alleged perpetrators to account for these crimes.

The government’s failure to investigate these abuses and hold errant security officers to account has only emboldened them to continue. Instead of merely making promises, Museveni’s government should take concrete steps to ensure that victims of enforced disappearance and their families receive justice.

Source: Human Rights Watch