The UHRC to my article is as laughable as it is ludicrous
“Don’t be afraid. Go on speaking, and don’t be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city”. Acts 18:9-10
I received a response to my article by the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) with a mixture of consternation and laughter. With consternation because the UHRC could debase itself by sinking so low and with hope that the article portrayed the type of people we have at the commission. If anyone doubted the commission’s mediocrity, the response to my article ostensibly authored by my sister Florence Munyirwa can really confirm that. I, however, must state that such media exchanges are healthy and they don’t only buttress freedom of expression which is a cardinal human right but also help to bolster democracy in our society. I will respond to the UHRC article in turn.
1. The Commission in its opening remarks states that it has observed me as “a self-acclaimed human rights defender” but adds that it’s concerned that I should get adequate mental health and counseling. I want to state from the outset that I appreciate that I need adequate mental health just like everyone including but not limited to all UHRC staff need mental health services. As to whether I am a self-acclaimed human rights defender, I refer the UHRC to United Nations Fact Sheet 29 for it is absurd that a whole National Human Rights Institution that has recently won an award from the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and holds an ‘A’ status given by the United Nation’s International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions doesn’t know who a human rights defender is.
On the allegation that I have assaulted a Police Officer at CPS and another at the UHRC Head Office, I kindly beg that Ms Munyirwa the author of the derogatory response comes to court to give evidence. The UHRC is full of lawyers and they know quite well that whoever alleges proves. As I speak, I am out on cash bail and I will periodically report to court to answer to the charges that were politically-motivated by the UHRC. I wish to state that the UHRC is only a National Human Rights Institution in name but in practice it is a political institution aimed at doing public relations for Museveni’s NRM regime by whitewashing the regime’s depraved and nasty human rights record.
2. That I have been admitted to Butabika more than twice. I find the UHRC reasoning not only wanting but also unfortunate and absurd. The UHRC has engineered my being taken to Butabika on two occasions. They only do that after I have punched holes in what they do and shown them that they have to respect donors’ and taxpayers’ money. On both occasions, I have not been subjected to drugs because I have asserted myself. I want to request that the UHRC produces a medical report from Butabika if it is to continue using that pretext to gag me and dismiss me as an insane person. I must add, though, that I will proudly accept to be labeled insane if that’s what it takes to fight for justice in this country. I will however, not shy away from assuring those who label me insane that for them they are suffering from schizophrenia which is the highest form of mental illness. May I also assure the UHRC that stigma is antithetical to promotion of human rights?
3. Award for Best African National Human Rights Institution (NHRI)
I clearly stated in my article the reasons as to why the UHRC cannot be the best African NHRI. If the UHRC disagrees with what I stated, they should show how far they have gone in addressing the rights concerning the areas I raised. Fortunately, as I write this article, yesterday Friday, November 16, the Commission Chairperson Med S.K Kaggwa was at Makerere University School of Law on a function organized by the school’s Public Interest Legal Aid Clinic (PILAC) together with AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi and Prof John-Jean Barya addressing students, human rights and law practitioners. In his introductory remarks, Prof Christopher Mbazira remarked that the public had fears that with the appointment of Med Kaggwa as UHRC Chairperson the situation would worsen but it has improved. When time for discussion came, I told the audience and Mr. Kaggwa that I am fully convinced that the UHRC is promoting human rights in the breach and it never merited an award. Mr. Kaggwa couldn’t respond. In the morning hours yesterday, a day after responding to my article, the Commission locked both its gates to block my entrance. This was not the first time. They have done that several times whenever they behave in an uncouth manner towards me. Surprisingly, I had been to the Chairman’s office on November 9 and I had been given November 16 as the day when I would meet him. I am sure the locking of the commission gates had been ordered by Gordon Mwesigye or Florence Munyirwa who knew I would question her about her defamatory statement against me. It has taken me many years in school and out of school to build my name. I will not accept the UHRC, an institution mandated to protect and promote our rights cardinal of which is the right to human dignity which includes the right to one’s good name to destroy my name by a stroke of a pen. I will not accept that! Accordingly, I demand a written and published apology from the commission and if the commission can prove that I am defaming it like the statement claims, I should also be forced to apologise to it publicly. I know my observation about the UHRC is first justified and secondly, it is a fair comment. Justification and fair comment are two defences against defamation. If the UHRC through Ms Munyirwa can prove that their remarks are fair comments and/or justified, they should state so and re-echo their remarks.
4. Slow resolution of disputes and failure to pay UHRC awards
I must state that I find the reasoning given by UHRC wanting and laughable. When the UHRC states that they have to take time to adhere to the principles of natural justice, I laugh out loud instead of mourning. It’s well-known to everyone who cares to know that it’s a principle of natural justice that “justice delayed is justice denied”. Put another way, it is a maxim of equity that “delay defeats equity”. So, Ms Munyirwa, what exactly do you mean when you evoke natural justice? I hope the UHRC knows the principles of natural justice? I know there’s a principle of law that requires the judges, the commission in this case to listen to both sides. This principle is called “Audi alteram partem”. Adhering to this principle doesn’t mean the matter should take ages before it’s resolved. Otherwise, how come the courts are faster yet ordinarily the tribunals should be faster than courts in dispensing justice? On the court awards, I wish to re-echo what the commission chairperson Mr. Med Kaggwa said at the above mentioned function at Makerere University. The chairperson stated that “the government owes Sh4.5 billion to human rights victims and it seems not interested to pay yet some of the victims need this money to treat themselves”. This augments my statement that the victims rarely get the awards. The question to be asked thus is, “What does it help to lodge one’s complaint with the UHRC when there will likely be no compensation even if one won the case?” Granted, the UHRC has no budget for awards. Is it not a toothless barking dog? Has it ever petitioned parliament to amend the UHRC Act to allow it the mandate to compensate victims? My considered view is that the UHRC is in place for propaganda purposes – i.e to show that the NRM is committed to fight human rights violations. During my Secondary School days we would say, “Tubamanyire” meaning we have known you. Surely, some of us have known the UHRC.
It is quite unfortunate for the UHRC to state that I have personal vendetta against any UHRC staff member. I share nothing else in common with those people apart from the fact that I am impassioned for human rights and justice which ironically they shamelessly abuse although their mandate is to promote, protect and defend them. I am told that a group of enraged young men (call them “patriots”) under the leadership of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Uganda’s current president picked fire arms on February 6, 1981 to fight a government that they had lost to in an election that had been held hardly two months before on December 10, 1980. That group of “patriots” walked on dead bodies to ascend to state power five years later. No state institution including the UHRC has ever labeled such “patriots” violent. Paradoxically, I, Vincent Nuwagaba who only uses my pen and my tongue am portrayed by the UHRC to be violent. What a contradiction? What an absurdity?
5. The Commission fights human rights defenders
I want to re-echo what I stated that the Commission fights human rights defenders who are critical of the government’s sordid human rights record. I am a human rights defender and I don’t have to labour to prove that. My record can speak for me. I believe if nobody is willing to speak your story, your story should speak about you. When I was a students’ leader at Makerere University since 2001-2004, I consistently decried the inhuman and degrading treatment the government subjected to the government-sponsored students. I wrote several letters in the Daily Monitor and anybody including but not limited to the UHRC can check the Monitor archives to ascertain my claim. I wasn’t paid by anybody but was driven by my passion for justice and human dignity. I strenuously opposed the repeal of Article 105(2) in our Constitution both on air and in print. I have rescued so many people detained illegally in the police cells. Just recently, I helped all the inmates of Murchison Bay Prison make phone calls to their people free of charge. Before my incarceration there the Welfare Officer Nurru Kateregga used to demand for money before making any phone call for anybody yet the welfare office is funded by our very organization the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) under the Para Legal Advisory Services project. I continue to be a fearless voice of the voiceless and what frustrates me is the fact that we don’t have a fully independent press. Otherwise, I would be exposing the most glaring human rights cases that you cannot believe. In all I do, I get no salary; I get no funding from donors or taxpayers’ money. So what is the UHRC claim to fame vis-à-vis poor Vincent Nuwagaba?
6. I want to thank the UHRC for putting a very big smile on my face. I am sure the UHRC is caught between a devil and a deep blue sea. This reminds me of a story that my grandma Susanna Kirakwende (RIP) used to tell me when I was young. The story is about a hyena which was swallowed meat fats that were glued on a stone that had been overly heated. When the hyena swallowed the meat, it found it extremely hot. Therefore, the hyena started asking itself, “Ncwere, ncwere obunuzi, miire, miire omuriro”, meaning “if I spit, I will spit the delicacy; if I swallow, I will swallow fire”. The hyena stayed in its indecision until it died of the hot meat fat glued on a stone that was as hot as a furnace. Likewise, in its myopic folly of portraying me an insane man and at the same time prosecuting me, the UHRC will ultimately sooner than later meet its demise. As a matter of fact, the UHRC has since February 8, this year subjected me to inhuman and degrading treatment but also instigated pharmacological torture against me. I am part of the civil society group that developed the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill which was enacted into law and assented to by the President on July 12, 2012. I also did a media campaign for this law by publishing articles in newspapers. I am sure the UHRC knows very well that among the forms of torture highlighted by the Act is pharmacological torture. Can the UHRC claim it has not tortured me or can Mr. Gordon Mwesigye claim he hasn’t tortured me?
As a matter of fact, I have no problem with the police at the UHRC. I know they are just used as attack dogs. One of them has on one occasion asked me, “how come you don’t quarrel with anybody but when Mwesigye sees you he becomes hysterical?” and I told him, “ask yourself that or ask Mr. Mwesigye”. I never go to the commission with any tool – not even a safety pin or a razor blade. How come they fear me? I know sooner than later we shall dismiss Ugandan dictators without arms. And I am happy I am becoming an expert on non-violence revolution using nobody’s experience. I am not using Mahatma Gandhi’s experience; I am not using Martin Luther King’s experience. I only request the journalists to always cover me so that in the near future there’s a video, audio and written evidence of how to overthrow decadent regimes. I have learnt that to overthrow Museveni, we must start with his roots – who are his cadres in state institutions. Museveni merely thrives and survives on decadent institutions. That’s why I will go for some elements in the police such as Edward Kale Kayihura and Andrew Felix Kaweesi; I will go for his cadres in the UHRC, I will go for his cadres in the judiciary and his cadres in the Electoral Commission. We eject cadres from state institutions, we shall have ejected Museveni.
I find it laughable that with my levels of education, with my work experience in academic institutions, research institutions and human rights organizations, I Vincent Nuwagaba, can be branded by the UHRC a vagabond that has to be kept off its premises! I have stated this several times and I have to reiterate it. Public institutions are impersonal. They only exist to serve the public. The UHRC doesn’t belong to Gordon Mwesigye, Med Ssozi Kaggwa, Roselyn Karugonjo or Florence Munyirwa who shamelessly abuse the otherwise revered institution. I definitely love the UHRC. Incidentally, I even love and respect the UHRC staff including those who degrade, dehumanize and torture me. But I vehemently hate their filthy actions and character. I separate sin from the sinner. I accordingly, hate the sin but I unreservedly love and respect the sinner.
7. Visits to detention centres
I find it laughable if not ludicrous that the UHRC says it visits detention centres yet it has never published the grave human rights violations inflicted on the prisoners especially in prison farms. Please, go to Murchison Bay prison and ask for a prisoner called Gerald Kamanzi. Ask him how he had three bullets showered into his foot. Ask him whether he is a convict. If he is not, tell the entire world why remands are used to do hard labour in the prisons’ farms. Mao Tse Tung once said “No investigation, no right to speak”. The truth of the matter that UHRC only does propaganda not human rights work. The Commission should let people like us who do human rights work do the talking and the commission does the listening. By the way, very soon, I will publish the glaring case of a young man who was castrated by the state operatives and his case was abandoned by the commission depending on flimsy and uncalled for technicalities.
8. Partisan officials at the UHRC
I know that all fairly educated Ugandans know for sure that very few state institutions if any employ people on meritocracy basis. By the way this also goes to non-state institutions. My concern, however, is about state institutions. Before one gets a job, they must be from an NRM family, they must be NRM members or sympathizers and in a number if not all cases, investigations have to be carried out up to the Local Council level. We have village internal security officers (VISOs), parish internal security officers (PISOs), Gombolola internal security officers (GISOs), District security officers (DISOs) and so forth. We also have MISOs (Makerere internal security officers) and I have friends in ISO who tell me that ISO deploys everywhere – including in churches, mosques, non-governmental NGOs, hospitals, academic institutions, name it. At the function at Makerere University, Mr. Med Kaggwa acknowledged that he was appointed to head the commission because he was an NRM cadre. Prof John-Jean Barya, expressed worry that president Museveni has always stated that he wants to appoint NRM cadres to run the judiciary. IGP Kale Kayihura is an NRM cadre and all the leaders in the police are NRM cadres – on Tuesday, November 13, the OC CID at CPS proudly told me and some two Makerere students of how he is an NRM cadre and how they are ready to crush the opposition. He even candidly pulled out his NRM card and showed it to us! The entire Electoral Commission is headed by NRM cadre (we have done a scientific study for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and UNDP headed by Professor John-Jean Barya). Thus, if all other state institutions are run by the UHRC, what’s so unique, what is so special; what is so spectacular about the UHRC?
9. UHRC position on topical human rights issues
I am glad that the UHRC says that it gives its position on topical human rights issues. How come, I don’t see its position on the right to education; the right to health; the right to employment and the right to adequate standards of living? How come the Commission is not upfront and forthright on socio-economic rights which in most of my newspaper articles I have accentuated? How come the police stay in condemned asbestos roofed houses far contrary to ILO Convention 162 that was ratified by Uganda many years ago? How come the commission has always been silent about workers’ rights which are a springboard for all other rights? How come in the wake of public universities’ fees hike tuition, Mr. Kaggwa said it was alright? How come many civilians are tried in military courts and stay in prison for more than six years as remands? Go to Murchison Bay and look for John Bosco Olweny. Follow his case to its logical conclusion and then tell me that UHRC does human rights work. Talk about human rights reports is hogwash. Unfortunately, the UHRC will win an award as the best NHRI from the ACHPR and will get an A status from the UN International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions on the basis of the reports it makes. But do reports promote and protect human rights? I am in the field and know what is taking place. If I was allowed freedom to utilize my brains and time, I would write a paper on each of the components raised. I believe, though that I will do my best before I am exterminated. If I am killed before doing that so be it.
The UHRC rightly states that it is the only National Human Rights Institution and it will remain so. The statement adds that UHRC has no need to compete for supremacy with any other organization. I know the UHRC personnel feel offended whenever Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) is appreciated. But that’s because UHRC has abdicated its duties and obligations. It has been overshadowed by FHRI in the field of human rights and in Uganda human rights is synonymous with Livingstone Sewanyana and FHRI. I also want to state that organizations such as the National NGO Forum currently headed by Mr. Richard Sewakiryanga are doing a more relevant job than the UHRC. However, I will not overly critique the UHRC. Surely, virtually all state institutions in Uganda are now kaput.
Anybody who tries to block me from accessing the services of any state institutions is a somnambulist; a sleep walker for I know I am a citizen and not a subject. The UHRC can only do that if they banish me. Unfortunately for them, several direct and indirect overtures have been made to banish me and I have refused. Ask the human rights defenders who are close to me how many times they have attempted to get me asylum in the most highly developed country America. Conduct research and establish how many US government officials have had interviews with me and asked me what I want and I never tell them I want asylum.
I would like to refer everyone including the UHRC of the scripture “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2Corithians 4:8-9).
Finally, I advise my sister Florence Munyirwa not to be used. After receiving the statement in my inbox I asked her in a text message whether she was ready to finish the battle she had launched against me and she replied by saying she was not involved in any fight against me because she doesn’t want strife adding that the statement was by the UHRC. My worry, however, is why does she accept to be used as though she is a robo? As a matter of fact, I cannot fight her for I know she is not a problem. Let her learn that she can only make a plausible point by attacking the points I raise not by labeling me a mentally deranged person for I am sure readers can decipher who is mentally deranged between me and her owing to what we write. Labeling me insane is just diversionary aimed to forestall us from asking the tough questions. I know I am not only a critical thinker but a philosopher king who cannot indulge in trading insults.
The UHRC should also apologise to HURINET’s Patrick Tumwine for abusing his name in matters the commission doesn’t know. The truth of the matter is that on September 28, when we had a workshop about the right to know, I was grabbed by the police from the hotel at the orders of the Director for information in the Office of the Prime Minister Simon Mayende because he felt uncomfortable with the truth I was speaking. Patrick Tumwine followed me out after my arrest and pleaded with the police to release me in vain. When I told him about the UHRC statement he was very disappointed that the UHRC can disgrace itself to that level! I cannot rule out anything including but not limited to being put to death for my advocacy for total, real liberation of this country. Therefore, I request that whatever I have documented be published online and in hard copies in case I have been exterminated by Museveni and his cadres including UHRC staff. All generations will thus know what Vincent Nuwagaba stood for.
Vincent Nuwagaba is a human rights defender