The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has asked the army leadership to make the General Court Martial sessions more open and participatory to the public.
Kadaga made this call following a remark by Brig. Charles Wacha, the Head of the Directorate of Human Rights in the UPDF that it is difficult for the public to access the barracks where the army courts conduct their sessions.
This was at the launch of the Third Quarterly Report of the Uganda Law Society (ULS) titled, The State of the Rule of Law in Uganda at the Kampala Serena Hotel, Tuesday, 18 September 2018.
The Speaker cited the example of when Parliament holds its sittings of the Budget Day at the Kampala Serena Conference Centre so as to enable many members of the public attend the event.
“Why don’t you do what we do and get out and sit for purposes of the public being able to participate. If you are really interested in justice, facilitate the public to be able to attend the court martial either as witnesses or as spectators so that we can know what you are doing there,” she said.
Kadaga also said that she has intention of lodging cases against soldiers of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces who were involved in the violation of the human rights of civilians in Arua and on the islands.
“I want to be told how I can initiate proceedings against a number of soldiers in the court martial or elsewhere for violating the human rights of the people of Uganda. The brutality meted on civilians in the fishing industry has gone on unabated,” Kadaga said.
On Sunday, 16 September 2018, while on a fundraising drive in Bukooli Island, the fishing community raised concerns over the increasing torture meted on them by soldiers. The Speaker promised to take up the matter with the concerned Ministers.
The President of the Uganda Law Society, Simon Peter Kinobe, offered to support the Speaker in ensuring that justice is done if the army does not get back to her on what action would be taken against soldiers involved in the violations of human rights.
“You raised a concern relating to how you can initiate proceedings against men in arms, in the event that the UPDF is not willing, please bring those names to our attention, we are going to start private prosecutions of people that violate rights of Ugandans,” Kinobe added.
Prof Fredrick Ssempebwa, the Chairperson of the ULS Advisory Panel also weighed in on the role of the military in the trial of civilians saying that they have always condemned these trials adding that, “the courts have addressed these matter and civilians should be tried in the proper civil courts”.
“We don’t see the rationale but it could be explained to us; because am found with a gun which could be licensed, then I must go to the military court?” he said.
Ssempebwa added that the Law Society believes only the Director of Public Prosecutions is mandated to try civilians according to Article 120(3) of the Constitution.
Brig. Wacha however, said that the trial of civilians is provided for in the UPDF Act if they are found to be in unlawful possession of arms, ammunitions and military stores.
The military has come under scrutiny following the chaos in the lead up to and after the Arua Municipality by-elections that saw several Members of Parliament arrested and allegedly tortured. The MPs and other members of the public were also arraigned before the General Court Martial and Gulu Magistrates Court.
The ULS quarterly report also notes that there is general rise in threats to the right to life as seen in the recent murder of former Buyende DPC Mohammad Kirumira.
“This recent killing is yet another dent to government’s seeming resolve to put an end to the wave of killings that have been plaguing the country,” the report states.
The report recommends that the perpetrators of torture should be investigated, prosecuted and punished. It adds that the cases against those arrested and charged for crimes allegedly committed during the election should be expedited to ensure fairness and justice.