Ugandan Police hold balloons and signs condemning violence against women, Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 5, 2015.
Ugandan Police hold balloons and signs condemning violence against women, Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 5, 2015.

Between May 3 and September 4, the bodies of 21 women have been found in two Ugandan towns — Katabi and Nansana — not far from the capital, Kampala. Officials say many of the victims had been raped, strangled and mutilated. 

To date, 44 suspects linked to these murders have been arrested. Half of them have been charged in court, including two alleged masterminds.

That is the latest information delivered to lawmakers Thursday by General Jeje Odongo Abubaker, the minister for internal affairs.

"In the case of Nansana, eight were victims of a gang of serial killers who sought to find blood and body parts to help them in their ritual practices," Abubaker said. "In the case of Katabi also, it was a case of murders related to ritual practices."

Abubaker said 18 of the killings were linked to witchcraft, while the other three women were killed as a result of domestic violence.

The speaker of parliament had demanded an explanation from the government, suspending parliamentary business for two days this week after the body of another woman was discovered near Kampala. 

Bahati Francis only discovered the body of his wife, Nakasinde Aisha, the seventh victim, after a three-day search.

He says he found her fingers and feet cut off, and he could not identify her. It was only when he was about to leave the scene of the crime that he saw a part of her skirt that had a yellow flower not soaked in blood, and that was when he identified her. He says at that moment, he went into shock and lost consciousness for an hour.

Aisha left behind three young children.

Police have come under fire from critics who say law enforcement has focused too much on targeting political dissent and not enough on fighting crime. 

In response to the killings, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said what he called "backward tendencies" like ritual killings remain a reality in the country and the government must address the issue.

However, not everyone agrees with the government's assessment of the crimes. 

Margaret Kyomuhangi, a legislator and the former head of investigations into human sacrifice for the Uganda government, says law enforcement should not rule out other possibilities.

"Every sacrifice, they are very associated to purity. They take bodies that have no scars, young children that have not, in their view, not sinned, tongues of babies, but we never encountered a rape before the murder," she said.

The Ministry for Security and the police continue with parallel investigations into the murders. Communities in and around the capital have launched neighborhood watch programs, patrolling streets with police and checking cars at roadblocks.

For now, Ugandans pray that another woman's body will not turn up in another bush.