OCTOBER 1, 2009: Troops Killed Unarmed People in Riots

Troops Killed Unarmed People in Riots

SOURCE: Human Rights Watch

Kampala, October 1, 2009 – The Ugandan government should immediately order an independent investigation into the killing of unarmed persons during and after riots in Kampala on September 10 and 11, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today.

A Human Rights Watch investigation found that at least 13 people were shot by government forces in situations where lethal force was unnecessary. The Minister of Internal Affairs reported to parliament that 27 people had died during the riots and that seven were uninvolved in riot activity.

"Shooting in self defense is one thing, but we found that some soldiers shot at bystanders and shot through locked doors," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to put an impartial investigation in motion now."

The riots in Kampala, Uganda's capital, began on September 10, when police blocked a delegation representing the Buganda kingdom from visiting Kayunga district. The cultural king of Buganda, known as the kabaka, was planning to visit Kayunga for National Youth Day two days later. The visit was opposed by leaders of the Banyala ethnic group in Kayunga, who reject the kabaka's authority. The kabaka's supporters took to the streets to protest the police action, and violence began soon afterward.

Sources at Kampala's main hospital, Mulago, indicate that 88 victims of the violence were admitted for treatment over this period, most for gunshot wounds. Victims were taken to other hospitals as well. According to the minister of internal affairs, at least 846 people were arrested for alleged crimes committed during the riots, and the arrests continue. At least 24 of the alleged rioters have been charged with terrorism for destroying government property, and many others have been charged with unlawful assembly and inciting violence.

During and after the unrest, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 50 victims and their family members, witnesses, doctors, and local and senior government officials. On-the-ground research was conducted into the circumstances surrounding the violence in the Kampala neighborhoods of Nateete, Kasubi, Busega, Ndeeba, Bwaise, Bunga, the Salaama Road at Nakinyuguzi zone, and in Mpigi town.

Human Rights Watch investigated several fatal and non-fatal shootings by security forces on September 10 and 11 that raise serious questions about the level of force employed in response to the riots. In a number of cases throughout the city, there is strong evidence that security forces shot individuals who were not threatening them or others.

This challenges statements by some government officials that live ammunition was only fired into the air to clear the streets of protesters.

However, President Yoweri Museveni, addressing parliament on September 10, after the riots broke out, contended that "initially police acted slowly" in response to the unrest. "Looters," he said, "will be shot on sight, as will those who attack civilians."

Human Rights Watch said that investigations should look into the circumstances of the rioting and into how to improve policing during demonstrations. Thus far, there is no clear evidence to support the contention of some Ugandan government officials that the Kampala riots were organized in advance. The Buganda kingdom government has denied any role in organizing the riots. Some rioters do appear to have employed parallel tactics, such as burning tires to block roads in several areas of the city, especially on the afternoon of September 10.

Human Rights Watch urged the police and other security forces to abide by the United Nations Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The principles call upon law enforcement officials, including military units responding to national emergencies, to apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force, to use force only in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, and to use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. The principles also provide that governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense under their law.

"Much of the attention has focused on the politics surrounding recent events," said Gagnon. "But the real tragedy is that families have lost loved ones in entirely unnecessary circumstances. They deserve to see justice done."

Violence and the Response

Human Rights Watch found that in the early stages of the demonstrations on September 10, some protesters resorted to violence in some areas of Kampala, burning at least five cars, one passenger bus, and one delivery truck, blocking some main roads with burning tires and debris, looting shops, and throwing rocks at police and members of the armed forces. In Nateete, protesters burned a police station. In Bwaise, a factory was set on fire. No one was reported injured in either fire, and local hospitals did not report any burn victims. Police, some in riot gear, used teargas in several areas of the city.

Uganda's inspector general of police (IGP), Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, told Human Rights Watch that military police and the army's Presidential Guard Brigade were deployed under his orders to support the police beginning at around 4 p.m. on September 10, and that infantry soldiers were deployed in support shortly thereafter. Kayihura said that these units fired live ammunition into the air to scatter rioters.

Human Rights Watch's research indicates that the security forces faced some situations in which the use of firearms may have been warranted. One witness described seeing a rioter steal a civilian security guard's gun near Kampala Bus Park on September 10 and shoot a policeman in the leg. Kayihura provided two other instances, in Nateete and Sseta, where rioters fired on the security forces. It remains unclear if anyone was injured in those two instances, and those events were not investigated by Human Rights Watch.

Kayihura told Human Rights Watch that, while all government forces had been ordered to use minimum force, non-lethal options such as rubber bullets and pepper spray are not standard issue in all police posts. He claimed that the security forces had few alternatives to shooting live ammunition into the air. Other knowledgeable sources in the police told Human Rights Watch that the police stocks of tear gas had run low and that officials feared they lacked the means to secure the city without using firearms.

Where Lethal Force Was Not Necessary

However, among the episodes that raise serious questions about the use of force, in Bwaise on September 10, local people gathered to observe the fire brigade fight a fire set by rioters earlier that afternoon. An army armored personnel carrier drove by the crowd and the troops on board fired, striking Hussein Mujuuka in the back of the head and killing him instantly. At least 10 others were wounded by the gunfire. Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that local residents responded by burning tires along the Bwaise-Kampala Road. They said that shootings by the military continued during the evening hours in Bwaise and that many other people were wounded. Deaths from military gunfire also occurred the same day in Kawempe, Nakulabye, Mulago, and the Ndeeba areas of Kampala...

For the full story, please see: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/AMMF-7WERJ7?OpenDocument