The son of Uganda’s president, along with senior military commanders, have been named in a complaint by lawyers before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a wave of abductions and torture by security forces.
The ICC is already reviewing an earlier submission from the opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi, the former reggae singer known as Bobi Wine, describing widespread human rights abuses before presidential polls held in January.
President Yoweri Museveni claimed victory in the vote, which was marred by allegations of fraud and the death of at least 50 people during protests. Most were shot by security forces.
Kyagulanyi’s National Unity Platform party has listed more than 600 members and activists said to have been detained. NUP officials believe the true figure is likely to be higher.
Lawyers, campaigners and victims blame the Special Forces Command, an elite military unit, for the abductions and tortures. The new complaint, also filed on behalf of Kyagulanyi, will be submitted to the ICC this week.
The SFC is commanded by Museveni’s son 47-year-old son Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is named in the complaint along with several senior officers.
“In Uganda today, the civil function is subverted in favour of the military that patrols all towns and cities,” the complaint alleges. “The military maintains power of arrest over civilians who are held on vague and indeterminate charges.”
The complaint describes hundreds of abductions. Some detainees have had their joints or genitals beaten with wires, have been burned with cigarettes or had fingernails torn out. At least one detainee has been confirmed as having died in custody, although the death toll is thought to be much higher. Many of those abducted have suffered significant and potentially lasting physical and psychological harm.
Ugandan military spokespeople have repeatedly denied responsibility for any abuses, and Museveni in a national address in February dismissed allegations that his forces had illegally detained civilians, saying the army was “a disciplined force” and that his party “does not kill” its opponents.
Maj Jimmy Omara, a spokesperson for the SFC unit, told the Guardian the allegations against the unit and its commanders were baseless. “There are no abductions. These are normal arrests. Operations here are managed and controlled by the police force so I don’t see where the SFC would be involved,” he said.
However, in a letter dated 23 February that was sent to the Monitor newspaper, Museveni stated that the SFC had held more than 50 civilians without charge since November. Those held “have been with SFC, helping them to expose the whole criminal scheme of elements of the opposition plus their local parasite and foreign backers,” Museveni said.
The 76-year-old authoritarian ruler, who has been in power since 1986, also acknowledged that he had reinforced security ahead of the elections by deploying special forces who “killed a few” people he described as terrorists.
“Because of misbehaviour and plans to stop the elections, the security forces deployed heavily. In the case of Kampala, we brought in a commando unit that had been exemplary in Somalia. They killed a few terrorists who were here,” he said.
On 4 March the minister for internal affairs, Gen Jeje Odongo, told the parliament that 177 people were in detention on military charges and in military custody.
The Special Forces Command was set up in 2011 and trained in 2014 and 2015 by US Navy Seals. Muhoozi was its commander at this time. The training covered close-quarters combat, sniper operations and combat casualty care, among other topics. (Source: The Guardian)