HRW asks Uganda to shut torture black sites
HRW has urged Uganda to shut down illegal detention centers in a report featuring interviews with witnesses and former detainees.
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the Ugandan government must stop using its practice of illegal detention as a weapon against its dissidents and must close the facilities.
HRW released this statement in a report documenting the use and prevalence of torture in black sites. The report was also backed with interviews with 51 people, among whom were 34 former detainees in these sites, and people who witnessed the abductions at the hands of police and army forces, as well as the country's intelligence agency (ISO) between April 2019 and November 2021.
The crackdown on the government's political dissidents reached a high note in the two months before Uganda's general elections, which took place in January 2021. The period saw instances of unlawful detainment of government, with some forcefully disappearing.
The location of the detained remained unknown in a number of these instances, according to HRW, even more than a year after the elections ended with the re-election of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been ruling Uganda since 1986.
"Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Uganda to immediately close all so-called safe houses and other unauthorized detention centers," the organization said, adding that "authorities should immediately release all detainees held in such places of detention or bring them promptly before a court to be charged."
Torture black sites
The victims related their stories to HRW, wherein they were forcefully put into vans, known locally as "dones", and were taken to clandestine detention facilities supervised by the ISO.
The locations of the sites ranged from residential neighborhoods in Uganda's capital, Kampala, to an island in Lake Victoria. According to the accounts, the detainees were tortured, with their captors pulling out their fingernails, burning them with an iron, or sexually assaulting them.
Some victims were handcuffed, chained, and suspended from the ceiling for 12 hours at a time in what is called a "Rambo". Other incidents included being injected with unknown substances, getting shocked with electricity, while others had bricks hung from their testicles.
Award-winning Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija (pictured) fled to Germany in February for medical treatment, saying he was tortured during his detention over charges of insulting the president and his son.
The Ugandan parliament's house committee on human rights had published a report in February 2020, documenting cases of torture at the detention centers, calling for a probe into the issue, but nothing happened.
"The Ugandan authorities, as a matter of urgency, need to reform the police and other security agencies to dismantle the structures that have enabled these horrific abuses to occur and go unpunished,” said Oryem Nyeko, Uganda researcher at HRW.