Uganda human rights groups welcome passing of Anti- Torture Act

A number of human rights organizations in Uganda have welcomed the move by the parliament of Uganda in passing the anti-torture bill into law.

A number of human rights organizations in Uganda have welcomed the move by the parliament of Uganda in passing the anti-torture bill into law.

The Uganda parliament passed the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill 2010, or the Anti Torture Act as it shall now be known, at the end of April (April 26, 2012).

In response, the Coalition Against Torture (CAT), the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the UN human rights office in Uganda congratulated the effort made by the speaker of parliament, the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee and the honourable Wilfred Niwagaba MP, the mover of the bill, for their tireless work in passing the historic bill.

A statement released by the human rights organizations reads: “The passing of the bill affirms the absolute prohibition of torture under the Uganda constitution and domesticates Uganda’s state party obligation under international human rights conventions. In particular, it reflects our commitment to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Other Degrading Treatment or Punishment that Uganda ratified in 1987.”

The statement notes that recent reviews of the human rights situation of Uganda under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism highlights the challenges of torture in Uganda with more than 20 nations emphasising the need to have torture criminalized in Uganda.

The Anti Torture Act will provide torture victims with mechanisms of redress against acts of torture committed by both individuals, official and state actors.

The challenges to be addressed include the following:

  • Criminalising torture, cruel inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. Much as it is recognised as a problem, the absence of a specific crime of torture has greatly contributed to the exacerbation of its perpetration within Uganda. With a specific crime of torture now established, practices that have hitherto been unpunished shall receive deterrent punitive sentences of up to life imprisonment.
  • Expounding the definition of torture: The international and hitherto applicable definition of torture is limited to official and state actors, meaning private individuals have been perpetrating torture with no legal ramifications. The Anti Torture Act addresses this l by allowing the definition of torture perpetrators to include private individuals.
  • Emphasis on individual responsibility: With most of the charges of torture brought against the state, individual actors have gotten off scot free in all proceedings, most of which have been logged before the Uganda Human Rights Commission and subsequent awards resulting into unnecessary cost to the Ugandan tax payer.
  • The emphasis on individual responsibility nullifies arguments of superior orders and brings the cost of rehabilitation and reparations to the individual perpetrator thus saving the taxpayer unnecessary costs. This shall ensure lawful actions of state and non- state actors.
  • Information obtained through torture: The law shall make all information obtained through torture inadmissible in court. This shall guarantee lawful interrogation and investigations. With torture triable before a chief magistrate’s court, access to justice for survivors of torture will become easier since these courts are found in most parts of Uganda.

The bill now awaits assent by the president of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.