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Tumwine offers no apologies on houses of torture

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By Charles Kamya Ssentamu

While appearing before the parliamentary committee on human rights, Security Minister Elly Tumwine admitted that there is no law that supports the operation of so-called safe houses, also known as ungazetted places of detention.

Gen. Tumwine admitted to this as he responded to queries on the existence of these sinister places of torture where people continue to suffer in ways that lend maximal impunity for those that operate them. “I do not know the exact number, they change with the needs of intelligence services,” Tumwine answered when asked the number of these “safe houses” in the country.

Thousands of Ugandans have suffered inhuman torture from these off-the-books places of detention and some have ended up succumbing to injuries sustained there and dying.

The existence of these inhuman places, by Tumwine’s own admission, is a threat in itself to the population. How many people are unjustly detained in them? How can people be certain they also aren’t used by unscrupulous elements, to settle score in “Mafia dealings” for instance? These and similar are burning questions for which people like Gen. Tumwine aren’t giving answers.

A case in point is Evans Bright Gabula who appeared in the same commission where his account of the suffering at the hands of ISO operatives left many legislators in tears. Gabula’s plight is what in the first place led to the parliamentary inquiry into these places of torture.

Asked about the legislation that justifies their existence in Uganda, with no shame at all Tumwine said there was no law, but hastened to add that they were mandated under the draconian Security Operations Act of 1987. The act was improvised just months after Museveni and his colleagues captured power, a time when the country was operating under a state of emergency.

There are many harrowing accounts, recounted by people like Gabula that have suffered inside them. The beatings; the subjecting of people to electric shock; the immersing of people in ice baths; the deliberate starvation, all evoke past memories such as the time when Idi Amin’s State Research Bureau rode roughshod over the population.

When asked by the Parliamentary Committee to elucidate on the conditions in the safe houses, and what it is like for those detained in them Tumwine had this to say: “People are not being kept badly. They live in good and secure habitation suitable for the purpose.”

Popular Ugandan legislator, Hon Robert Kyagulanyi more popularly known as Bobi Wine has been on record calling out government to decommission safe houses, having been “a guest” to some of them himself.

Unfortunately, even the legislators who are probing the existence of safe houses will not get anywhere with their probe. The reason is because these are in place with one purpose: to help President Museveni brutalize Ugandans in his determination to cling onto power, for life.

This is evidenced in the condescending demeanor by Tumwine towards his colleagues during his appearance before the committee. He knows very well he has the backing of paramount ruler.

At best, the Committee will compile a report with a raft of recommendations, then the report will only be shelved to gather dust.

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