Following His Recent 'Apology' Comments, Uganda's Gen. Yoweri Museveni Must Face Legal Consequences For Mass Crimes Committed By His Army

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Man in the news. Maybe Uganda's Gen. Museveni believes after 28 years the arms of justice are closing on him?

[Africa: Commentary]

At face value, it appears that Gen. Yoweri Museveni has, at last, apologized to his victims for the crimes committed in his name by his soldiers against the people of the northern and eastern parts of Uganda. 

He cannot, and did not, apologize for the crimes committed in Luwero because, in his mind, either there were no crimes or somebody else killed the people of Luwero.

A close look at his statement made in Mayunga however shows that Gen. Museveni did not apologize to anybody, anywhere in Uganda.

Instead, he pleaded ignorance. He claims not to know what crimes his "disciplined" army has committed, and continues to commit in Uganda.

Gen. Museveni, in his address in Mayunga District when marking the 28th anniversary of the National Resistance Movement's (NRM) military government acknowledged that the National Resistance Army, now Uganda People's Defense Force (NRA and UPDF respectively) committed serious crimes in the eastern and northern part of Uganda for which he is ashamed.

Gen. Museveni went on to say that he did not know why the people did not "report" those incidents to him. Apart from the Mukura Railway incident and the Bucoro pit incident, Gen. Museveni disclosed that there are other incidents which are coming to light now.

At Mukura, between 69 and 120 youth were arrested by the NRA, locked-up in a disused railway wagon, and left to suffocate and die.

Some of the murders were depraved, grotesque and macabre.

At Buco, hundreds of civilians, in the name of fighting insurgency, were rounded up, tortured, raped, humiliated and many were forced into pits that the victims were forced by the NRA to dig at gun points; the pits were then covered with logs and earth and a fire set atop. The victims were roasted to death.

Gen. Museveni refers to these mass murders simply as "incidents" without remorse or apology. He is simply "ashamed". Is Museveni ashamed because the mass atrocities have become public knowledge? Conveniently, Gen. Museveni forgets to remember the NRA mass murder at Kona Kilak where more than 1,000 undefended unarmed civilians were massacred by the NRA.

Soon after Gen. Museveni’s statement, many politicians, NRM propagandists and opportunists went on air and in print to extend extravagant congratulations to Gen. Museveni for his "apology" for the crimes committed by his soldiers.

But, did Gen Museveni actually apologize? If so, to whom did he apologize and for what acts of crime? Did he also apologize for his failure to protect the civilian population from death, torture, rape and other inhumane acts, or did he apologize for his failure to punish the army perpetrators?

The Commander of Gen. Museveni’s NRA/UPDF, Gen. Katumba Wamala, in the Daily Monitor of Wednesday, January 29, 2014 promised that the army will investigate NRA atrocities in Teso sub-region. In the statement attributed to him, Gen. Wamala stated: “We will go back to those areas and find out whether the population has some issues to raise.”

Do the army conduct investigations only after the victims of army atrocities have raised issues? And, does that constitute competent, objective and credible investigation of the circumstances under which the crimes were committed? In other words, the same institution that committed the crimes "investigating" those atrocities?

Based on what Gen. Museveni said, the only conclusion one can draw is that  he  neither apologized nor did he accept responsibility for the crimes committed by his soldiers and in his name. Being ashamed is a moral response to an embarrassing situation. A response to a criminal act is to accept responsibility and face the consequences.

The politicians, opportunists and the NRM apologists have all along asked the wrong questions.

The correct questions may be re-framed as follows: Did Gen. Museveni know, and if so, when did he know, that the NRA/UPDF committed grave crimes in the northern and eastern parts of Uganda?

If Gen. Museveni did not know that the NRA/UPDF was responsible for the mass and systematic murders of the civilians, then he ought to have known because of his official capacities as: President of Uganda; Commander-in-Chief of the army; one time Commander of the Army; Defense Minister; Chairman of the Army council; Chairman of the NRA High Command; and, Chairman of the NRM ruling political party, amongst others posts he held and continues to hold. 

Incidentally, even if he did not actually know that his NRA/UPDF soldiers committed crimes, after he discovered that serious crimes were committed by his army, he still incurs responsible for the failure to investigate and punish the perpetrators. He cannot hide behind ignorance by pleading that he did not know that his soldiers are mass murderers and successfully shield himself from criminal responsibility.

There are publicly available credible literature that can demonstrate that Gen. Museveni knew, or ought to have known, that his soldiers were conducting indiscriminate, widespread and systematic mass killings in eastern and northern Uganda, notwithstanding Gen. Museveni’s new narrative which, since 1986, is structured around denying accountability and blaming victims of his atrocities.

Uganda’s human rights records since 1986 when Museveni assumed power are well documented and are available in public domain. Amnesty International, for example, in its report first published in March 1989 under the title “Uganda: The Human Rights Record 1986-1989” documents serious violations that include extrajudicial executions, torture and detention without trial.

All these acts are serious international crimes.

The following year in 1990, Amnesty International Issued another report titled: Uganda: Death in the Countryside – Killings of Civilians by the Army in 1990.

This report provides details of mass and systematic murders in the districts of Gulu, Tororo, Kumi and Soroti in northern and eastern part of Uganda.

A more detailed Amnesty International report issued on 4 December 1991 describes massive arrests of prisoners of conscience from Gulu and Kitgum, arrest and detention of senior members of the Democratic Party; use of "treason" as a holding charge to justify long-term detention of persons unlawfully arrested, torture and ill-treatment of prisoners in military custody; and killings, abductions and other abuses committed by the NRA in northern part of Uganda.

A group of young boys, unlawfully arrested were simply re-designated "lodgers" and kept in detentions indefinitely and with right to counsel or representation. Many of those unlawfully arrested denied in detention. There were no post-mortem reports or independent inquests.

A much more recent report was issued in July 2013 by the Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP) under the title: “The Beasts at Bucoro”. The report does not only provide grim details of the NRA/UPDF mass murders at Bucoro, but also covers other equally serious crimes committed in the region.

There are several other reports by Human Rights Watch, other NGOs, newspapers and writings by scholars and individuals in and outside Uganda.

The lawyers in the Attorney General’s Chamber and the Attorney General of Uganda in particular, have easy access to all the above documents. As a principal legal advisor to the government, the Attorney General has the responsibility to bring these documents to the attention of the President and to advise on what steps to take in the conduct of investigations and prosecutions of the perpetrators.

It is therefore disingenuous for Gen. Museveni to plead ignorance and lamely argue that he did not know that soldiers who work for him are mass murderers. Amnesty International reports were always issued in real time. By paying attention to the details in the report, more lives could have been saved.  With all the above reports at his disposal, Gen. Museveni has no reason or excuse not to have known about mass atrocity committed by the NRA/UPDF.

If the Attorney General was incompetent, Gen. Museveni also had the services of his party’s legal team at the NRM Directorate of Legal Affairs. Gen. Museveni also has top legal advisers based at State House.

This group of lawyers at State House are separate and are in addition to the team of lawyers he has in the President’s Office. Gen. Museveni’s pleas of ignorance cannot be taken seriously by all reasonable men and women.

It is unthinkable that this plethora of lawyers did not know, or could not have known, that members of the NRA/UPDF individually, collectively or under orders from their respective field commanders were committing horrendous crimes and failed to report the same to the President.

President Museveni bears full responsibility for the acts of his subordinates, including for the acts of soldiers, field commanders, past and present army commanders.

To determine Gen Museveni’s culpability for the serious crimes committed by his soldiers, again the conversation must focus on asking the right questions: Did Gen. Museveni fail to prevent his soldiers from committing these serious crimes, or fail to punish his soldiers for the commission of the crimes?

For these issues to be legally resolved, Uganda needs an independent, credible and objective commission of inquiry comprising national and international experts with experience in the investigations and prosecution of mass atrocity.

Gen. Museveni must not be permitted to investigate his own culpability or that of his sectarian army.

 

Dr. Obote-Odora is an advocate and legal consultant.

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