Human rights defenders uniting under the umbrella Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET) have joined the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) to demand humane treatment of accused persons by government law enforcement agencies.
In a statement issued Monday, Mengo-based LASPNET decried the deteriorating observance and protection of rights of accused persons by the law enforcement as well as the country’s judiciary.
LASPNET particularly expressed concern of the growing concern by judicial officers to use stringent bail conditions and legal technicalities to deny or delay justice for accused persons. The concern comes on the backdrop of recent exorbitant bail fees which were slapped on Dr. Kizza Besigye and female opposition politicians who were arrested recently.
“The Network has continued to witness discrepancies in grant of bail by a section of Judicial officers at Buganda Road and Law Development Center courts through attaching harsh and selective bail conditions to accused persons hence frustrating the access to bail as a recourse for Access to Justice… This is evidenced in the matter of Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye who was charged with incitement of violence and when he appeared on 25th May 2022 before the Grade One Magistrate of Buganda Road, H/W Siena Owomugisha he was granted a cash bail of Thirty (30) million shillings which in the mind of any reasonable Judicial Officer should be harsh and exorbitant… Similarly, on 30th May 2022, Hon. Member of Parliament Anne Adeke, Deputy Lord Mayor Doreen Nyanjura and 6 others appeared before the LDC court on charges of inciting violence and remanded until 7th June 2022. On both occasions they were denied their right to apply for bail on mere technicalities contrary to article 126 (2) (e) which says justice will be administered without due regard to technicalities,” LASPNET wrote.
LASPNET argue that whereas the bail conditions were later revised by the High Court Judge Michael Elubu from Shs30m to Shs3m, general consensus is that the earlier set bail conditions for Dr. Besigye were harsh, selective, excessive and interfered with the accused right to bail under Article 23 (6) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda which is hinged on presumption of innocence.
They reminded the judiciary that the right to apply for bail is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 23 (6) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda; the basis of which is enshrined under Article 28 of the Constitution which provides that an accused person is to be presumed innocent until he/she is proved or he/she pleads guilty.
“The same provision states that an accused is entitled to a fair and speedy trial before an independent and impartial court or tribunal established by law. This therefore goes without saying that Bail is a safeguard to procedural rights of all suspects who are considered innocent until proven guilty,” LASPNET said, adding that bail should therefore not be used as a form of punishment or informed by biases of prosecution nor the presiding judicial officer, if fairness and due process is to be followed by all judicial officers that took an on oath of impartiality.
It is against this background that LASPNET appealed to the police, DPP and presiding judicial officers especially from the lower bench to desist against perpetuating abuse of accused persons’ rights through tactical violations of the constitution.
Some of the violations highlighted in this regard include: failure by the judiciary to expedite immediate release of activists, objection to bail by the DPP even where cases are bailable, and disrespectful arrest of accused persons by the Police, most times on very flimsy charges.
UHRC TASKS BRISONS
LASPNET’s concerns came on the heels of similar concerns that were raised by the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) in respect to violation of prisoner’s rights.
UHRC’s worries were raised in a May 31, 2022 letter the Commission’s Chairperson, Ms. Mariam Wangadya, wrote to the Commissioner General of Prisons.
As per the letter seen by The Inspector, Wangadya expressed concern over the possibility that the prisons authorities were not doing enough to protect the rights of inmates, which could be putting them at great risk of even losing their lives.
Wangadya’s letter followed the fatal accident which happened at Nalongo village in Luweero district leading to the death of five inmates from Butuntumula Central Prisons.
With several inmates and warders injured, the country was left in shock when a picture went viral showing an inmate receiving a drip while lying on the bare floor as a warder also received similar treatment from the same hospital’s bed.
Further analysis however showed glaring traffic law breaches including transporting many prisoners in a goods truck as opposed to a passenger vehicle, which increased the chances of increased fatalities once the accident happened.
It is in the same breath that Wangadya demanded the prisons bosses to give a comprehensive report to UHRC regarding these rights violations.
“I have learnt with concern of an accident that occurred at Nalongo village… which resulted in the death of 5 inmates involving Uganda Prisons Services lorry registration number UG 0363U….I therefore seek clarification on the nature of the activity that the inmates were being transported to participate in,” Wangadya told the Uganda prisons boss. She added, “I also wish to hear from you Uganda Prisons Services’ plan to prevent occurrence of such accidents in future.”