Parliament has passed a motion to inquire into the conduct of the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF).
Sponsored by MP Paul Mwiru (FDC, Jinja Municipality East), the motion received unanimous support, save for Local Government Minister Col Tom Butime and Brig Gen Flavia Byekwaso (UPDF).
Debate on alleged torture by the army has been amplified by claims of torture suffered by fishing communities at the hands of the Fisheries Protection Unit of the army.
The matter saw Speaker Rebecca Kadaga rebuke a section of the army for condoning the alleged acts of torture, which the army denies.
Kadaga now says her criticism of the army has earned her threats from unidentified quarters.
“Are you aware that I have been threatened for speaking on these issues [of the UPDF]? I am the Speaker of Parliament; I have been threatened with death,” said Kadaga during the House sitting on Wednesday, 11 December 2019.
Justifying his motion, Mwiru said errant military officers are torturing innocents, especially on the fishing belts where the army is enforcing a ban on immature fish, which has birthed controversy for the army in light of persistent torture claims.
“The image of the UPDF is a good but there are errant officers who have abused their powers; we have had a debate on whether the UPDF can even intervene in civil matters,” said Mwiru.
MP James Acidri (NRM. Maracha East) said that the inquiry should extend to the elite Special Forces Command (SFC), which he accused of torture.
“…we always assume that when we are talking about the UPDF, we include the SFC; we have seen how lethal the SFC command has been, we have seen their footsteps in Arua and even here,” he said.
With the 2021 elections approaching, Acidri said the motion will help clarify the role of the army in the elections.
“This motion is timely because we are heading to 2021 general elections and the army will be instrumental,” said.
Engaging in curbing illegal fishing activities, said MP Felix Okot Ogong (NRM, Dokolo North) is not in line with the army’s mandate, saying they have strayed from their mandate.
“The Constitution is very clear and it stipulates the mandate of the UPDF but right now what our army is doing is not within the mandate of the UPDF,” said Okot Ogong.
MP Francis Mwijukye (FDC, Buhweju) concurred, saying the army should return to its domain of guaranteeing territorial integrity.
“The army is not trained to keep law and order, they are trained to kill the enemies of Uganda; they are now doing the work of the police, that is why they are making mistakes,” he said.
Minister Butime however said the probe should squarely target the errant officers.
“If anybody threatened you, that person threatening you could be an errant officer; we should punish the errant officers,” he said.
This is similar to what Brig Gen Byekwaso suggested.
“The issue of the human rights abuses, we should demand for the prosecution of the errant officers and not the entire institution; let’s focus on the errant officers,” she said.
Speaker Kadaga said she will communicate the procedure of handling the inquiry.