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Uganda Coalition Wants UN Probe of April Protest Killings

  • Joe DeCapua

Uganda Police patrol as tires burn in the capital city Kampala, April 29, 2011 after riots broke out

Uganda Police patrol as tires burn in the capital city Kampala, April 29, 2011 after riots broke out

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is being called on to ensure there’s an “independent and transparent investigation” of the killings during April’s walk-to-work protests.

At least nine people were killed during the demonstrations over rising food and fuel prices. Police and the military used live ammunition during protests in Kampala, Gulu, Mbale and Masaka.

A coalition of more than 100 human rights, media and civil society groups sent a letter to President Museveni Wednesday calling for the probe. No one has responded, not the Ugandan president nor anyone else in the government.

“We’ve seen historically that when these kinds of killings by military and police have occurred during protests and demonstrations in Uganda, investigations or serious criminal inquiries haven’t occurred,” said Maria Burnett, spokesperson for Human Rights Watch in Kampala.

Independent and transparent

“This letter is an attempt to show the government that there’s widespread support for such an investigation. All different groups from around Uganda and not just human rights organizations, but teachers unions and community-based organizations, are equally committed to seeing accountability in these cases from April,” she said.

There are a number of options that would qualify as “independent and transparent” investigations in the coalition’s view.

“The first step, we’ve argued, is the government should invite the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions to come to Uganda and carry out an investigation. It would certainly be a step in the right direction for the government to invite that person in,” Burnett said.

Chrstof Heyns of South Africa currently holds the special rapporteur post. The U.N. says, “The mandate of the Special Rapporteur covers all countries, irrespective of whether a State has ratified relevant international Conventions.”

Burnett said, “Another option would be for international experts to support the criminal investigation. You know, Uganda security services currently received a great deal of support and training from various Western allies, the police in particular,” she said.

Déjà vu?

In September 2009, about 40 people were killed by security forces during demonstrations. Burnett said no investigations were held.

“It’s been the thing I think for many of us has made the situation in April of this year so troubling. Government ministries, government forces, the president himself, had all committed to investigate what happened in September 2009, but we never saw any criminal investigations go forward,” she said.

Burnett said a report was given to police about the 2009 demonstrations but no action was taken.

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