OPINION: HRW Report on Kasese Clashes Lacks Depth


Government has received a report of Human Rights Watch on the November 2016 Kasese incidences, titled “Uganda: Ensure Independent Investigation into Kasese killings”.

Our examination of the report however reveals several inconsistencies and flaws that do not represent the true facts of the subject matter. The report lacks depth, especially on the genesis of the near break down of law and order, which almost plunged the Rwenzori Sub Region into anarchy. It deliberately omits the incidents that led to the security forces responding, not only to defend themselves but also to maintain law and order.

The following need to be noted for those who may have missed out on the background of this situation:

July 7, 2014; militia groups allied to Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu in the Rwenzori region carried out coordinated attacks against security forces and civilians. Altogether, they carried out 13 attacks as follows:

o At 3.00pm, they attacked Policemen at a weigh bridge at Hima, killed a Policeman, injured another and took away two (02) sub machine guns.

o At Bigando, a UPDF soldier who was on pass leave was killed in cold blood and his family burnt in his house.

o In Bigando, the militia also killed six (06) Basongora civilians.

o At Karugutu Police post, these lawless people injured one Policeman and took away one (01) sub machine gun.

o At Kikyo Police post, they took one sub machine gun.

o At Kirumiya Police Post, they took one sub machine gun.

o At Ntandi, they took 2 sub machine guns from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) personnel.

o At Kibuku, they ambushed UPDF soldiers who were taking reinforcements to Bundibugyo, killed one of them and took one SMG, but the attackers were neutralized.

o In Bundibugyo, they attacked the Police Station, killed the Officer in Charge of Station and one policeman. They took his weapon.

o They attacked Stanbic Bank but the attackers were neutralised.

o These same militias attacked the Camp of 39 Battalion at Kanyamirima injuring one UPDF Captain and killed one soldier. They were however repulsed.

o The attack on the Palace of Bamba King saw one gun being taken and one Policeman injured.

  • On March 3, 2016, two soldiers who were on pass leave were kidnapped by Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu militia near the Kasese palace as they passed by. The two were killed.
  • On March 10, 2016, six soldiers on patrol were attacked, hacked with machetes by Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu militia and left seriously injured by the road side.
  • On the evening of March 15, 2016, the GISO of Kyabarungira sub county and his brother were attacked and stabbed in Kasese town, by suspected OBR Youths leaving them seriously injured.
  • On Mar 23, 2016, a gang of criminals associated to OBR cultural guards, armed with machetes, attacked Kidodo Police post in Kasese Municipality, leaving 01 police man killed and 01 gun taken.
  • On the morning of March 23, 2016, clashes in Ntotoro sub county of Bundibugyo left 20 people killed, sparking a fresh wave of IDPs, approximately 5000 who sought refuge in Bubukwanga Camp.
  • On November 5, 2016, one soldier on pass leave was killed in Karangura sub-county, Kabarole district by militias claiming loyalty to the Bakonjo King.
  • On November 25, 2016, security forces recovered two submachine guns and disbanded a militia camp at Karangura subcounty in Kabarole district.
  • On November 26, 2016, using their Prime Minister’s Office AS A BASE, the militias carried out simultaneous attacks on police posts like at Hima, Bwera, Maliba, Mubuku, Bwesumbu, Buhuhira and Bugoye, killing 16 Police officers and made off with weapons.
  • On November 26, 2016, the security forces disbanded the attackers’ camp at Ihandiro and recovered submachine gun and magazines, fuel bombs, Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu uniforms, machetes, among others.
  • On November 27, 2016, security forces raided the Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu palace in Kasese, recovering a number of petrol bombs, machetes, and Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu uniforms. Guns recovered from the palace were the same that had been earlier stolen from the police.
Relatives collect bodies of loved ones who were killed when Uganda security forces stormed the palace of Charles Wesley Mumbere, king of the Rwenzururu, in Kasese town, western Uganda on November 27. PHOTO/ COURTESY

Directives were issued by government to the militias to disband in accordance with the laws, and in the interest of national security, but they regrettably decided to ignore all the calls, thus necessitating government intervention.

Today’s HRW report ignores the death and causalities the militias inflicted on members of security forces and civilians over the years. It further promotes violence in the region referring to machetes as “agricultural tools” as opposed to Uganda penal code act that defines them as lethal weapons. History reveals that machetes have been used in the great lakes region to cause genocide.

As opposed to the HRW report that sixteen children were killed during the operation, there is no evidence to back this falsehood. UPDF has a well documented record of protecting children, women and non combatants wherever it has operated.

Government of Uganda challenges the authors of the report to mention the families of missing persons and the alleged dead children. They should also provide evidence of deliberate and systematic targeting of children and women.

Our record establishes that a total of 103 deaths were registered. Out of these, 91 were male and 12 female, 16 of whom were police officers. A total of 51 bodies were unclaimed and were subsequently buried in a public cemetery in Kasese after toxicological and DNA samples were taken from each body and have been stored for any future reference. Therefore, anybody who claims a missing person can contact the police.

The report recommends independent investigations on a matter before the courts of law. This is untenable for now because it is at odds with the subjudice rule. However, Uganda does not lack independent investigative capability if there is need. And therefore, the call to suspend some commanders from their duties or restrain them from conducting government duties is uncalled for and unacceptable.

The main focus of government has been pursuing criminal investigation, bringing suspects to prosecution and restore order which is being achieved.

Ofwono Opondo is the executive director of Uganda Media Centre