This afternoon, the Security Minister Gen. Tumwine appeared before the Human Rights Committee of Parliament to answer questions on the existence of illegal detention facilities and human rights violations by security personnel
In response, Tumwine began by stating that Security services use appropriate safe houses not for detention but for the following functions; 1. Coordinate clandestine intelligence operations 2. Secure and protect witnesses in danger 3. Observe and surveil around hardcore criminals
He also went ahead to confirm that indeed security forces in Uganda have safe houses that they use for different purposes.
Asked under what laws safe houses operate, Gen. Tumwine answered that there might be no specific law but he does not know of any law that bars them.
Asked to clarify the number of safe houses in Uganda, Tumwine answered that there are several depending on the need at the time.
Tumwine then was asked where the safe houses are located and he said “In different locations where operations seem them fit to fulfill the purpose and functions as provided in the Security Operations Act 1987”
Gen. Tumwine was then asked to disclose the number of people in safe houses but he rather could not say exactly because according to him, the number changes according to the needs of intelligence services. He also added that hey don’t charge people in safe houses. People are charged in courts of law.
Commenting on the condition in the safe houses, Gen. Tumwine said that people in safe houses live in good and secure habitation suitable for the purpose.
As regards the procedure to get in and out of the safe houses, Gen. Tumwine said that it depends on permission by the director-general or any officer authorized by him. Entering depends on the relationship with operations for which the safe house was created.
The committee members then asked the Minister why ISO doing police work. He answered that ISO doesn’t do police work. It works with police for the arrests.
General Tumwine was then asked if he was aware that offenses are made against women in the safe houses. He said that he was not aware of any woman against who offenses have been made. He also denied the existence of any children below 18 years in safe houses.
In response to the Minister, Hon. Latif Ssebagala said that since there is no law and the minister has been very clear on that, as the committee on human rights, they take it that there’s no law in this country that allows these safe houses, in fact, torture houses to operate.
He, therefore, requested the committee to change the name of the houses from safe houses to torture houses because nobody has ever been taken to these houses and comes out to say “I was treated with butter and bread”.
In his usual confident (bordering on arrogance) tone, Gen. Tumwine retorted that “To be a freedom fighter, you must be a human rights activist. I, therefore, want to welcome your goodwill to know that we went to the bush to fight for human rights considering what was happening in the regimes of Amin and Obote”
“I am in agreement with you that they were bad situations in the past which we have dedicated all our life and effort to fight against. The National Resistance Movement struggle was deliberately not to resist alone but to move forward as well,” Tumwine added
“The safe houses that I know are for the reasons I said, it is where intelligence work is done, not for torture. The houses that I know and I am defending are not for detention or torture. I don’t torture people and I can’t condone torture, I am still willing to die for the violation of human rights.”