A cancer that kills a person sometimes starts as a tumor. It first appears on one part of the body but eventually every part gets fatally infected. The latest Human Rights Watch report containing testimonies of more than 80 victims of the government torture chambers in Kololo is the best manifestation of a tumor that has transitioned into a cancer during the NRM reign.
When these illegal arrests and torture cases first came into the limelight in the early 1990s, people dismissed them as mere allegations against the state. Because these brutalities were mainly meted out on people from the north, there was little concern especially among the southerners who saw northerners as sympathisers and collaborators of Joseph Kony’s LRA rebels. They thought the northerners deserved it. Little did they know that the same fate would befall them. Today whether you are from the west, east, north or central, you are all vulnerable. And the incidence of state torture in the country is increasing by leaps and bounds. We are back to Idi Amin’s days.
Human rights organisations and activists have over the past 10 years documented cases of torture of victims in the government’s security detention chambers commonly known as “safe houses.” There is a horrifying story of a 25-year-old man who suffered monstrous torture in a government “safe house” and what happened thereafter.
“I went to the village and found my wife and children. They had lost a lot of weight and were looking horrible. They were also shocked to see me without my left leg… They were devastated. Worse still, I told my wife I couldn’t have an erection anymore. She said nothing, nothing. She has said nothing up to today,” Issa Wazemba told The Independent as he narrated the ordeal he went through at the torture chambers of the Joint Anti-terrorism Taskforce (JAT) in Kololo and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) at Kitante barracks.
This is one of the most saddening experiences a human being can be subjected to. But he is not alone. There are hundreds or even thousands of innocent citizens who have perished or been maimed at the hands of JAT and CMI agents. Yet these are not unknown gunmen or thugs. Their ranks and names are well known. But none has ever been prosecuted, which is proof that the torture is state-sanctioned.
While in custody, Wazemba was made to drink urine, he was often beaten and he would become unconscious, was held in a water-logged room and was one time forced to drink that filthy water because he was too thirsty to live another minute. Electric shock was applied on his genitals and he is now impotent. He had merchandise when he was arrested in November 2007. It was taken by his captors. After nearly a year in illegal detention without any case, he was given a mere Shs 200,000 to go back home. Up to now, he does not know what crime he had committed. But he is now almost useless to himself and his family, living off a friend’s handouts.
Similar horror stories of torture in military detention chambers are common in the media. So the president cannot claim ignorance of these atrocities. But nobody has ever been brought to book. This is state terror with impunity.
Some of the torture methods include plucking out one’s nails using pliers, suspending the victim on the ceiling and lighting sigiri (charcoal stove) underneath so that you are smoked like fish, suspending bricks onto your private parts, melting a plastic object onto your body, etc in order to extract a confession from the victim.
Twenty three years ago in 1986, you would have lost all your limbs if you suggested that President Museveni’s government could carry out such torture and brutality as used to happen in Idi Amin’s time.
Amin’s State Research Bureau (SRB) agents tortured or killed from Nakasero and Nile Mansions.” Today under President Museveni, the so-called bringer of hope, democracy and rule of law, the dungeons have shifted from Nakasero to Kololo and Kitante. And the killers now are not SRB; they are JAT and CMI. Aren’t we back to the Amin days?
Just on April 11, Hoima mayor Francis Atugonza was arrested by JAT and CMI operatives and taken to Kololo and Kitante torture cells. He was beaten and brutalised. Finally, there being no charge, they dumped him at Old Kampala Police Station. He was lucky to be released alive. Patrick Mamenero, that young man from Kabale did not have a chance to see another day. He was clobbered to death at CMI in 2002. There are spine-freezing stories of how people are taken to JAT chambers in Kololo or Kitante barracks and brutalised to death and their bodies dumped in unknown places.
I would excuse Amin because he was ruling by decree. But a leader who came here in 1986 declaring a fundamental change in Uganda, restoration of democracy and return to rule of law and constitutionalism cannot be excused for presiding over a state machinery that brutalises and kills its citizens with impunity.
Then you hear rogue cadres priding in childish arguments that at least today you are lucky to talk about such tortures, a chance you could not have had during Amin’s time. Does it matter whether you torture me and allow me talk about it or not? If one is raped but allowed to cry about it; and another is raped but is stopped from crying about it. Would it make sense to say that the other rapist is better because he allowed you to cry out after raping you? It’s just silly.