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Rights Group Says Ugandan Anti-Terror Unit Tortures Suspects

  • Derek Kilner

The organization Human Rights Watch has accused a Ugandan security unit of torturing suspects accused of terrorism. In a new report based on interviews with alleged victims, the group claims that suspects were beaten and denied access to lawyers.

Allegations of misconduct by Uganda's Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force have been voiced before. But in its new report, Human Rights Watch attempts to provide further evidence, drawing on testimony from 25 former detainees and over 50 other witnesses.

According to the organization, over 100 people have been detained illegally since 2007, and at least 25 tortured. Researcher Maria Burnett tells VOA from Kampala that most of the alleged victims are taken to the task force's headquarters in the capital's wealthy Kololo suburb.

"Victims assert that they have been mostly severely beaten during interrogations lasting several hours that happened over several days. Detainees were beaten with boots, guns, shoes, batons, chairs were placed on their hands, and someone would stand on the chair," she said.

Human Rights Watch claims at least four detainees have died in the past two years, and another five are missing. The group says detainees have been held for up to 11 months without access to a lawyer or family members.

Burnett says donor countries that support Uganda's security forces, such as the United States and Britain should put pressure on Uganda.

"We imagine that all of the development partners to Uganda are well aware of the history of allegations in this location and by this operation and we encourage them to think seriously about bringing these issues up with the government and considering withdrawing funds that may be used by this group," she said.

Ugandan officials have denied that the unit abuses prisoners. An army spokesman told the AFP news agency that the army will investigate the allegations.

The Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force was established 10 years ago, drawing on staff from the police and intelligence agencies.

According to Human Rights Watch, most of those detained are part of Uganda's Muslim minority and are accused of being members of the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group based in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The group says foreign nationals have also been detained by the unit.

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