Uganda’s parliament has established a committee to investigate security companies suspected of involvement in human trafficking. The investigation comes in the wake of mounting concern over thousands of men and young women sent abroad to become domestic servants or prostitutes.
Uganda has had a Trafficking in Persons Act since 2009, but no one has been prosecuted despite 16 ongoing investigations, according to the U-S State Department.
“We take this [human trafficking] issue very seriously,” said Elijah Okupa, a member of parliament for Kasilo County, who has been closely following the issue.
He blamed the executive branch of government for failing or being unable to enforce the Trafficking in Persons Act. “I think it [failure to implement] is a weakness on the part of the government. That is why in our petition we are urging and directing government to prosecute all those found to have violated this law.”
Okupa singled out Uganda Veterans Development Ltd (UVDL) – the company accused of exporting hundreds of Ugandan women into domestic slavery in 2009. “I think they are beneficiaries in this scam. There are people who are benefiting from [human] trafficking.”
He said the company, which is “owned by Col Mudola, a member of the ruling MRM [party] executive committee,” had its license cancelled and then re-issued.
This calls into question the seriousness of the government in addressing the issue, especially where it involves members of the ruling party, said Okupa, who petitioned Parliament to investigate the controversy.
He said many of people named in the matter and those behind the companies accused of trafficking have close ties to government officials. He mentioned Nava Nabagesera, a former presidential assistant, and one Toyota Kaguta, a brother to President Yoweri Museveni.
The parliamentary committee report is expected by mid-March, he said, “but even before that we have asked the minister of security to provide security to the girls who have come back because they are being harassed.”
Okupa said women who have come back are being intimidated for bringing the issue to the attention of the media, and to parliament.
“We also demand from government the list of all the people who have been taken out of the country by these companies and details of where they are.”
The testimonies of some of the 18 women who have been repatriated to Uganda from Iraq tell of being raped, tortured, and worked to exhaustion.
A report released in early February said that more than 600 Ugandan girls are currently trapped in Malaysian prostitution rings, where the human traffickers take advantage of lax immigration laws between Uganda and Malaysia.
The International Organization of Migration (IOM) says victims of trafficking who have returned to Uganda report being subjected to sexual slavery, rape and torture.
Ugandan sources suggest there may be as many as 600 trafficked Ugandan women currently in Malaysia, with between 10 and 20 more arriving each week.