Soldiers turn MPs away from ‘safe houses’

Members of a Parliamentary committee investigating the existence of ‘safe of houses’ used by security agencies to torture suspects have been denied access to some of the facilities in different surburbs of Kampala city.

The MPs who sit on the Human Rights Committee set out this morning with a team of journalists to visit some the alleged ‘safe houses’ at  Nkokonjeru, Kyengera and Nalukolongo.

Led by the committee chairperson Janefher Egunyu Nantume (Buvuma Woman), the MPs were turned away by UPDF soldiers manning the alleged detention facilities.

A soldier who identified himself as Vincent Kalibala, the in-charge of the Kyengera facility spoke to the MPs through a small hole of the gate telling them that they needed clearance from the Director General of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) Col. Kaka Bagyenda.

He advised the committee to go to the ISO offices in Nakasero and seek permission from Bagyenda.

Despite insistence from Nantume that the Committee has powers from Parliament to carry out the visit, Kalibala said he could not give any further statement on the matter.

After the discussion yielded no fruit, Nantume briefed Journalists describing the situation as sad and unfortunate.

“It’s unfortunate that we cannot be allowed to access this facility in an effort to exercise our mandate. We are going to discuss as a committee on the way forward,” said Nantume.

Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi said that the development further exposes a blatant abuse of human rights by ISO.

Kawempe North MP Latif Ssebbagala said that the committee cannot stand and see Ugandans being harassed and keep quiet. He said that they will leave no stone unturned in regard to the alleged tortures in Safe Houses.

At another facility in Nalukolongo in Musoke zone, the MPs found UPDF officers and others clad in Local Defense Unit (LDU) uniform at the gate. They also declined to grant the MPs access directing them to seek permission from an officer only identified as Maj. Sulait at Nateete Police Station.

Two residents who preferred anonymity claimed that a timber seller identified as Yiga was recently killed at the facility and the UPDF officers disguised his death by shooting in the air saying that he wanted to flee.

At Kyengera, residents who gathered on arrival of the committee said that the facility is no go area for them since they are barred from standing near the premises.

“We stay around here but the army officers never allow us to get close to the gate. We only see soldiers entering and coming out and sometimes we hear cries of help from inside,” said one of the residents.

Last month, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga directed the Human Rights Committee of parliament to investigate claims about the presence of Safe Houses in Lwamayuba and Kyengera where several Ugandans are reportedly being tortured.

The directive followed concerns raised by Kawempe North Member of Parliament Latif Ssebaggala and his Arua Municipality counterpart, Kassiano Ezati Wadri who narrated the horrendous torture of Ugandans in ungazetted places.

Ssebaggala cited several complaints about missing persons from different constituencies across the country explaining that he was approached by some people who managed to escape after allegedly being kidnapped by the Internal Security Organisation-ISO operatives.

Ssebaggala claimed that after picking the suspects, ISO takes them to Katabi in Entebbe from where they are loaded on canoes and boats and taken to Lwamayuba on Kalangala Island.

Equally, Kassiano Wadri reported a case of kidnap and rights violation claiming that Jamila Asha Atim, a Record Clerk at Arua Regional Referral Hospital was kidnapped by men in a white vehicle on April 17, 2019, as she was heading home. He explained that Atim’s relative approached police, which wasn’t aware of the incident.

“As the relatives went further to try and find out from other security agencies, it was later discovered that Atim is being detained in Kyengera Safe House along Kampala-Masaka road. In this same Safe House people have undergone horrendous torture, they are given one meal in four days,” said Kassiano.

The Committee is scheduled to meet with the ISO Director Bagyenda on Wednesday over the matter.