Training of State Prosecutors on Prevention and Prohibition of Torture

Remarks by Ms. Nicole Bjerler Deputy Head of Office in Uganda - UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda

  • The Director Public Prosecutions, Hon. Justice Mike Chibita
  • The Senior State and State Attorneys
  • Acting Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Mr. Meddie Mulumba
  • Staff of the Uganda Human Rights Commission
  • OHCHR colleagues
  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome and thank you so much for joining this training.

I wish to specifically thank the Director of Public Prosecutions for making this training possible by availing your staff.

My gratitude also goes to the Uganda Human Rights Commission for your continued collaboration and support on a wide range of human rights, including this training.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

This year, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As you know, this is a milestone document in the history of human rights – it is the very foundation of our work.

From this document emanate several treaties and covenants that further elaborate specific areas of human rights. As we celebrate the UDHR, we recognize that its aspiration and vision of ensuring respect for human rights of everyone, everywhere, is as relevant today as when it was adopted 70 years ago.

The UDHR in its third preambular paragraph states that:

“...it is essential - if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression - that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”

The UDHR thus underpins the importance and the need for redress through a transparent and impartial judicial process, whenever violations occur. It is the role of none other than the national legal and justice systems to ensure that this goal is achieved.

One of the most egregious human rights violations is torture.

The UDHR in Article 5 clearly states that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” A similar provision is articulated in Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Uganda ratified in 1995.

Even earlier - in 1986 - Uganda ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT). This instrument categorically states in Article 2(2) that:

“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

In line with the obligations under the Convention Against Torture, Uganda’s 1995 Constitution provides for freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in Articles 24 and 44.[1]

In 2012, and as you know, Uganda took additional positive steps by enacting the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012 (PPTA), followed in 2017 by Regulations to the Act.

The enactment of this legal framework is worth all the praise, and yet, its relevance is only realized when put into practice. In fact, the UN Convention against Torture calls upon states to actively investigate and prosecute all allegations of torture within their territories.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is why we are so pleased to have this conversation with you today. Prosecutors are key players in this process. You have incredible power within the justice system.

In order to properly articulate the power of prosecutors, I will borrow the words of US Attorney General, Robert H. Jackson, who went on to be the Chief US Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II. In 1940, he stated the following:

“The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America…..The prosecutor can order arrests, present cases to the grand jury in secret session, and on the basis of his one-sided presentation of the facts, can cause the citizen to be indicted and held for trial. He may dismiss the case before trial, in which case the defense never has a chance to be heard. Or he may go on with a public trial. If he obtains a conviction, the prosecutor can still make recommendations as to sentence, as to whether the prisoner should get probation or a suspended sentence, and after he is put away, as to whether he is a fit subject for parole. While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst……”[2]

A prosecutor is therefore called to noble service - a role that must be performed with due diligence, fairness and courage. The duty of a prosecutor is to seek justice, and not to merely convict. A prosecutor plays a critical role in advising the police on which charges to prefer against an individual, sanctioning files for prosecution among others.

It is unfortunate that since the enactment of the PPTA in 2012, and despite the numerous reports of alleged torture, no criminal charges have been preferred under the Act.

It is against this background that UN member states, as part of the 2nd Universal Periodic Review, called on Uganda to:

“[e]nsure that the police force, the Directorate of Public Prosecution and the Uganda Human Rights Commission investigate all allegations of torture to hold perpetrators accountable” and

…..”Take immediate measures to investigate the excessive use of force and incidents of torture by the security forces and to prosecute and punish its perpetrators.”

We at OHCHR stand ready to support Uganda and its institutions in efforts to advance on this recommendation. We are hoping that through this training, we can together reflect on the PPTA, identify gaps and challenges with regard to its implementation, and come up with strategies on how to address these challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing, I would like to commend the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and all prosecutors for the incredible work that you do to support victims of crimes and their families, despite the operational challenges that you face.

I would like to assure the Directorate of OHCHR’s continued support as you perform your important role in working towards justice for victims in Uganda.

I thank you for your kind attention, and I wish you fruitful deliberations.

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[1] Art 24 - No person shall be subjected to any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Art 44 - Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, there shall be no derogation from the enjoyment of the following rights and freedoms—Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

[2]“The Federal Prosecutor” An Address by Robert H. Jackson, US Attorney General https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/ag/legacy/2011/09/16/04-01-1940.pdf