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Uganda's human rights record deteriorated after Idi Amin seized power in 1971. By the end of the 1970s, it was one of the worst in the world. Several hundred thousand civilians died at the hands of local security forces. In 1986 Museveni pledged to improve Uganda's reputation for human rights. To achieve this goal, the NRM arrested and tried soldiers and civilians for such crimes, and the government worked to improve its reputation for respecting human rights.

In May 1986, NRM officials created a Commission of Inquiry into the Violation of Human Rights to investigate these crimes under all governments since independence until the day before the NRM seized power. The commission examined judicial and other records regarding arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and executions. Its hearings began in December 1986, when an investigation team and the commission's chief counsel, Edward Ssekandi, began selecting witnesses who would testify in public session. One of the most controversial witnesses, a former NRA political instructor, testified that political opponents were considered traitors.

A lack of resources hampered the commission's performance. Financial and transportation problems initially confined its activities to Kampala; later, these difficulties temporarily brought public hearings to an end. Although a February 1988 Ford Foundation grant enabled the public hearings to resume, the commission's final report was unavailable in late 1990.

In 1987 the president also established the post of inspector general of government (IGG) to investigate individual complaints about human rights abuses committed since the NRM came to power. The inspector general answered only to the president and had the authority to seize documents, subpoena witnesses, and question civil servants as high ranking as cabinet ministers, with presidential approval. Government officials had to cooperate with the IGG or face three-year prison terms or fines. Budgetary problems and staff shortages reduced the inspector general's effectiveness, and there were complaints during the 1988-90 period that his investigations were too slow and produced no results, despite lengthy testimony and evidence by international human rights groups and individual witnesses.

Several nongovernmental human rights organizations also worked to improve conditions in Uganda. The UHRA, for example, has monitored developments in Uganda since the early 1980s through its quarterly publications, The Activist. Initially, UHRA's relations with the government were tense after the 1989 arrest of UHRA Secretary General Paulo Muwanga for comparing the NRM's human rights record to that of the Amin government. Muwanga was subsequently released, and a UHRA report in 1990 generally approved of Museveni's human rights record.

The Uganda Law Society is one of the most vocal advocates for protection of human rights in Uganda. In 1990 a quarter of the country's 800 lawyers belonged to the Uganda Law Society. Apart from speaking out against human rights violations in northern and eastern Uganda, the Uganda Law Society has called for an independent judiciary, an end to illegal arrests and detentions, legal reform, and constitutionalism. A lack of funds and resources has hampered Uganda Law Society activities.

The Ugandan Association of Women Lawyers works to inform rural populations of their legal rights, promote family stability through legal advice and counseling, ensure equal protection under the law for women and children, and promote Ugandan citizens' welfare by emphasizing laws that promote economic development. In March 1988, the association opened a legal clinic to help indigent Ugandans, especially women and children. By August 1990, the clinic had handled more than 1,000 cases dealing with property rights, inheritance, and a variety of family and business concerns.

To counter accusations of human rights abuse, particularly in northern and eastern Uganda, the government has punished members of the NRA convicted of assault or robbery against civilians. Several soldiers have been executed for murder or rape. Military officers even carried out some of these executions in the area where the crimes were committed, inviting local residents to witness the executions. Despite protests by several international organizations, these executions continued in 1990. Uganda's attorney general, George Kanyeihamba, justified the practice, insisting that strict discipline was necessary to maintain order in the military.

Despite these harsh measures, human rights violations continued in parts of northern, eastern, and western Uganda in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In October 1987, for example, witnesses reported that soldiers killed 600 people in Tororo District during an NRA counterinsurgency operation. People in the southwest claimed that the security services killed a number of school children in antigovernment protests and that as many as 200 villagers were shot for refusing to attend a political rally. Murders of people suspected of being rebel sympathizers were also reported.

In early 1989, Dr. H. Benjamin Obonyo, secretary general of the antigovernment Uganda People's Democratic Movement (UPDM), corroborated evidence of atrocities acquired by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. He also charged that the NRA had "burned or buried civilians alive" in regions of the north and east.

Throughout 1990, according to Amnesty International, the NRA killed a number of unarmed civilians in the districts of Gulu, Tororo, Kumi, and Soroti. Despite several government inquiries, Amnesty International claimed that no NRA personnel were ever charged with these human rights violations or brought to trial. Moreover, more than 1,300 people remained in detention without charge at the end of 1990. Government officials labeled most of these allegations "exaggerated," but it was clear that they were unable to eliminate abuses by the military forces and that Uganda would face mounting international protests engendered by such abuse.

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Several comprehensive studies deal with the evolution of security issues in Uganda. The colonial era is covered in H. Moyse-Bartlett's The King's African Rifles and Uganda, by H. Thomas and R. Scott. A. Omara-Otunnu's Politics and the Military in Uganda, 1890-1985 also assesses the development of the security services. A. Mazrui's Soldiers and Kinsmen in Uganda provides insight into the military's role in society. Conflict Resolution in Uganda, edited by K. Rupesinghe, is a compilation of papers by Ugandan scholars presented at a 1987 conference in Kampala concerning Uganda's quest for peace and stability.

Uganda's tradition of an open and lively press was being revived in the late 1980s. New Vision, Guide, and numerous other local newspapers report and comment on current developments. Numerous government publications also provide valuable information on the history of the security forces, conditions of service, and the effects of political and cultural change on them. Uganda Journal is useful for information about the historical development of the security services. For more recent information on the Ugandan military, see African Defence Journal or the National Resistance Army's journal, The 6th of February. Preindependence information on crime and the criminal justice system is available in the Annual Reports of the Uganda Police Force and the Prison Service. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1990

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Uganda Table of Contents