Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Guard against terror without abusing rights
Recently Monitor Publications Ltd , in one of its editions , quoted top security officials talking grandly about the new tough measures instituted to secure the country against terrorist attacks.

As a country, its important that we secure our porous borders and waterways against terrorism. Ugandans must remain vigilant in the global fight against terrorists- whose extremist ideologies are hell-bent on causing maximum causalities and destruction of property in the civilised world.

But be that as it may, the new government anti - terrorism measures should not, at the same time , dull our pursuit as a people, the promotion and protection of the civil liberties enshrined in our national constitution.

While the state must be resolute in ensuring the safety of its citizens from terror acts , government should also take seriously the International Commission of Jurists, (ICJ) a body of human rights legal scholars- who are concerned that the new global counter terrorism legal regime has led to an increase in cases of human rights violations.

These extreme cases of human rights violations in the fight against terrorism which include interalia (among others), the holding of suspects in un-gazetted detention centers with out trial - coupled with torture - have been challenged in the US Supreme Court.

The court has since held among others, that the Guantanamo detainees (majority of whom are suspected terrorists arrested following the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States), have the right to go to federal court(s) to seek their release from indefinite detention.

Following that decision some ICJ scholars have argued and this column concurs ; that safe guarding persons from terrorist acts and the respect for human rights and humanitarian law, allow states a reasonably wide margin of flexibility to combat terrorism without contravening human rights and humanitarian legal obligations.

This is because in some countries the post 9/11 climate of insecurity has been exploited to justify long-standing human rights violations carried out in the name of national security.

Just like many countries around the world, following the events of 9/11, Uganda’s legislature enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002 as a measure to counter the threat of terrorism in the country.

The import of this law was the creation of the offences of terrorism, aiding and abetting terrorism, establishment of terrorist institutions, support, finance or execute acts of terrorism.

The Act also allows government security agents to intercept correspondences of and the surveillance of persons suspected to be planning or to be involved in acts of terrorism. The Act also specifically lists the terrorist organisations as, The Lords’ Resistance Army, The Lord’s Resistance Movement, Allied Democratic Forces, ADF and Al-queda.

Terrorism according to the Act has been assigned the meaning of an act committed by a person or organisation for purposes of influencing the government or intimidating the public or a section of the public and for a political, religious, social or economic aim, indiscriminately without due to regard to the safety of others or property intentionally or unlawfully cause death or serious bodily injury or extensive destruction likely to or actually resulting in major economic loss. When convicted one can suffer the death penalty.

But during the implementation of this law, there have been cases perceived by both the general public and international community especially those involving politicians as being an attempt by government to use the anti-terrorism law to harass or intimidate opposition politicians without having incriminating evidence against them.

Now that’s what is called political persecution and its not the right approach in fighting terrorism.
Let suspected terrorists be accorded their legal rights and once convicted by our courts then they should ultimately suffer the full force of the law.

We can protect ourselves against terrorism without necessarily infringing on the individual’s fundamental human rights. It’s possible to this balance right.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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