Investigate harassment of Muslims in Uganda further
The recently released Human Rights Watch report on the torture and murder of Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) suspects entitled “Open Secret: Illegal Detention and Torture by the Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force, JATT, in Uganda” was a chilling reminder that all was not well in Uganda, especially if you are a Muslim. The anti-terror unit we are told, was formed specially to crackdown on ADF a rebel group based in Congo. This is a very dangerous approach to national security, where a section of society is specially targeted.
The vicious cycle of torture goes like this. To be seen to be working, the unit must arrest some Muslim suspects. They torture them to extract confessions. Some die in the process. Others escape death with serious injuries. Others lose limbs, other body parts and left to rot after their unceremonious release. Because they were innocent in the first place, even those who are forced to confess to escape torture cannot be charged in a court of law as there would be no evidence to sustain a prosecution. To be able leave jail, suspects are coaxed into applying for amnesty. This is in effect an admission to guilt. This becomes good statistics for JATT. The Americans and British who fund the unit pour more funds into the operation. Arresting Muslims is therefore big business. Uganda’s position as a partner in the war on terror is enhanced for every confession obtained. Consequently, the regime in Kampala extends its lease of life, despite its unprecedented corruption record, habitual electoral mal-practices and the alarming levels of nepotism in government.
These allegations must be fully investigated by an independent commission. This is not the first time that Muslims in Uganda have been targeted. Hundreds were massacred in Western Uganda and many more in West Nile in the aftermath of the fall of Idi Amin. No human rights organisation in Uganda has cared to investigate these massacres. A commission of inquiry headed by John Nagenda after the fall of Amin to investigate human rights abuses since the sixties did not find it appropriate to handle the Western Uganda and West Nile Muslim Massacres. To date, the victims of the ugly incidents which included murder, confiscation of property and displacement are still crying out for help. Something ought to be done by Uganda Human Rights Commission, other human rights organizations and the government.
Unless practical steps to address the situation are taken, the perceptions of marginalisation and harassment of Muslims in Uganda will persist. Unfortunately, the Army, through its spokesperson, and the executive, through the security minister have only invested in a disastrous public relations exercise that assumes that the population is not intelligent enough to understand that what they are doing is “smart denial of documented fact”. They must instead confront the facts, compensate torture victims, families of the those who died in the hands of JATT and thoroughly investigate the culprits who have succeeded in turning JATT in Kololo into another Naguru based Public Safety Unit or the Nakasero Headquarters of the State Research Bureau of the Idi Amin era.
The recent harassment of Muslims comes at a time when public display of religiosity has assumed alarming proportions. When the first lady wanted to stand for parliament, she evoked God. When she became a Minister of State, she evoked God. When the IGG was desperately trying to save her job, she evoked Jesus and even sang a long praise song at a press conference. The secular foundations of the country have been shaken to the core. Religion in Uganda is no longer personal. It is official business.
The danger here is that Muslims, facing constant harassment will also find it appropriate to force their belief into the public arena, get radicalized, mobilise their people using religion, basing on the undeniable evidence of torture. This would encourage more young Muslims to join rebel activity. In fact, by their own opportunistic actions, government security agencies are helping ADF and perhaps other rebel groups to recruit more easily. It is what happened when Obote II security forces miscalculated and thought they would harass suspected young men to intimidate them from rebellion. They instead found the shortest route to join Museveni’s NRA. The rest is now history.
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