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Torture is simply inexcusable
May 15, 2007
Recently Daily Monitor run an investigative report about the new methods being employed by security agencies to torture suspects in an effort to extract information or confessions.Doctors and psychotherapists at the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation for Torture Victims (ACTV) at Kamwokya in Kampala have reported a rise in the number of patients who report “invisible torture” inflicted upon them by security operatives. Invisible or systematic torture simply refers to the new methods of torture designed not to leave any marks or scars on the bodies of those who are abused.One of the victims whose human rights have been violated explained the excruciating pain that was visited on him by his tormentors .The victim talked about how his torturers sadistically told him that they were going to install ‘speed governors’ in his legs. They straightened his legs and hit him with a baton on both knee joints and ankles for four painful hours. This victim suffered broken legs and is receiving treatment at the ACTV.Invisible torture is only part of the many forms of cruel and inhuman treatment of suspects or political opponents by dictatorial regimes. The variety and inventiveness of torture includes kicks and punches to the body and head; blows with truncheons or wood bats; placing a pistol on one’s head and issuing death threats; applying electric shocks to the body, rape, destruction of soft tissue with pliers, chili powder put in body orifices, burning with cigarettes, repeated dunking of the head in water.In addition to state sponsored torture, individuals or groups may also inflict torture on others for similar reasons; however, the motive for torture can also be for the sadistic gratification of the torturer.Whatever form it takes, prohibition of torture is absolute. The right to be free from torture is protected under the International Bill of Rights. The Convention Against Torture (CAT) defines torture as any act committed by state agents or persons holding positions of authority; by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for the purposes of obtaining information or confession, punishment, intimidation or for any reason based on any kind of discrimination.The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) further provides that the right to be free from torture cannot be suspended or limited in any circumstance even in war, threat of war, political instability or public emergency – and it cannot be defended on the basis of orders from superiors. Our constitution also protects an individual form torture or any other inhuman or degrading treatment. In fact, information or confessions which are obtained by illegal means cannot be admitted in evidence.Unfortunately, while the Uganda government has acceded to the legal prohibition based on a universal philosophical consensus that torture and ill-treatment are repugnant, abhorrent, and immoral, it is yet to sign and ratify these important international legal instruments. It is not surprising therefore that reports of torture in safe houses have continued to grace the cover pages of our national news papers. It is true that coercion is one of the basic characteristics of the state; especially African states, which are dictatorial in nature. But this coercion should be lawful. You can still use legal means to beat the errant, transgressing members of society in line. You do not have to torture someone to make them respect the law. In most cases torture is encouraged by people in authority and those who carry out the gratuitous acts of torture are usually motivated by the fear of loss of status or respect, and the desire to be seen as a “good citizen” or “good subordinate”.The people who encourage torture or cordon it should know that what goes around comes around. Today it is me, tomorrow it is you. The government must treat the use of torture as a criminal offence, make efforts to prevent torture, explain that it is prohibited in all our armed forces , thoroughly investigate allegations and ensure that the victims and witnesses who complain of torture are protected and get compensation and rehabilitation.Our criminal penal law should be amended to introduce provisions that specifically deal with the offence of torture and impose tough sanctions for the offenders. The section dealing with causing grievous bodily harm is simply inadequate and does not capture all the ingredients of torture which is a more serious offence.
Next week: Charging journalists for sedition is unconstitutional.
The writer is a Journalist and Advocatemsserwanga@gmail.com0772 43 46 77