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Dutch Embassy Calls For End To Torture In Uganda - 2004-01-23


The Dutch embassy in Uganda is calling on the Ugandan government to punish its agents who practice torture and take other measures to end torture.

The First Secretary at the Netherlands Embassy, Francesco Mascini, says torture is a serious problem in Uganda.

He says it occurs most frequently in the command centers of Military Intelligence and the Violent Crimes Crack Unit, a police unit President Yoweri Museveni set up two years ago to deal with violent crime.

"With the security agencies, it's a systematic problem, and it has mainly to deal with people who are suspected of being part of political opposition or are terrorism suspects. Those kinds of people are especially vulnerable to torture."

He says a group of embassies recently approached the interior minister and others about torture by intelligence and violent crimes units.

According to Mr. Mascini, the police and prison services implemented disciplinary actions and preventative measures to stem torture after similar complaints were raised in the past.

The diplomat says particularly onerous is the existence of the so-called safe houses -- illegal detention cells where intelligence agents hold treason and terrorism suspects.

Netherlands Ambassador Matthieu Peters, who Thursday opened the African Center for the Rehabilitation and Treatment of Torture Victims in Kampala, made similar charges. He urged the Ugandan government to close the safe houses.

In April last year, the Uganda Human Rights Commission released a report saying there were 158 cases of torture reported in 1999, 97 cases in 2000 and 152 in 2001. It said the majority of cases occurred while victims were being held in police custody.

Presidential press assistant Francis Onapito Ekomoloit says the Ugandan government does not tolerate torture.

"The Ugandan government is very categorical in its opposition to any kind of torture and cruelty. It's true that there have been allegations of torture involving some state agencies but all these allegations have been subject (to) investigation. Where fault has been found there has been adequate redress."

Mr. Ekomoloit says the safe houses have been shut down and President Museveni himself has been very tough with army officers and others who were found to have practiced torture.