23 March, 2023
A cross-section of participants at a capacity-building training on the application of the Human Rights Enforcement Act (2019).

Hoima|Wakiso | Sept. 2022: A baseline study for the Pre-Trial Detention population in selected prisons found that 37% of detainees had low levels of education and earned less due to the nature of their work. The most common offences committed were related to property like theft. 

This was revealed at during capacity building trainings for lawyers, judiciary, the police, prison officers, and state attorneys on the application of the Human Rights Enforcement Act (2019) in pre-trial detention cases. The training was organized by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda in collaboration with Avocats sans Frontières (ASF) and LASPNET to support efforts in addressing human rights issues in the context of pre-trial detention in Uganda. The trainings were attended 25 participants (10 females and 15 males) in Hoima and 28 participants (13 females and 15 males) in Wakiso district.

Mr. Rashid Bunya, the Project Coordinator at Avocats sans Frontières (ASF) said that in May 2021 the organization commissioned the study to highlight the socio-economic profile of detainees to provide an overview of the grounds for detention in Uganda. According to the study, of the 34,967 on remand prison population, 29,675 were eligible for mandatory bail.  

Dr. Katja Kerschbaumer, the Head of the Austrian Development Cooperation in Uganda said that Austria was concerned that the 48-hour rule during pre-trial detention was not being adhered to at the police level. 

“We have partnered with the Uganda Police Force to collect data on the reasons why suspects overstay in police custody. This data will allow us to address this issue from a knowledgeable point of view,” Dr. Kerschbaumer said.

Ms. Jashmin Nambi Kasujja, a Human Rights Officer at Uganda Human Rights Commission, Hoima District, said that the Judiciary should ensure that suspects of crimes obtain fair and independent court proceedings. 

“State and non-state actors are required to observe a wide range of international, regional and national laws that prohibit torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and the prohibition are always absolute. UHRC’s 2021 Annual report, registered 69 cases of enforced disappearances and 64 victims were released due to the commission’s intervention,” Kasujja noted. According to the Human Rights Enforcement Act 2019, when a matter of torture arises during a criminal trial, the courts are mandated to declare the trial cancelled and set the suspect free.

Mr. Fred Sekindi, a human rights officer at OHCHR observed that the enforcement of procedural and constitutional rights is fundamental to ensuring respect for human rights and persevering the integrity of the justice system. “The constitution guarantees protection of personal liberty. The state must act towards ensuring that human rights violations don’t occur to eradicate the aspect of individual compensation by the state,” Sekindi said.

During arrests and detention, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty forms the bedrock of the justice system. Mr. George Musisi, an Advocate of the High Court emphasized that “suspects should only be detained in places authorized by the law. The Children’s Act for instance, states that law enforcement officers must inform the parents or guardians immediately during the arrest of children and ensure their mandatory presence when the child is making a statement. Many times, this isn’t the case.” 

Ms. Karen Fowler Lund, a Human Rights Officer at OHCHR retaliated that the principle of legality is a fundamental principle of the rule of law. “One must not be arrested or detained if the alleged offence committed is not clearly established as a crime. A detained person on criminal charges must be presumed innocent up to and including the end of the final appeal,” Ms. Karen emphasized.