Saturday, August 31, 2019

UGANDA: Celebrating 3 decades of Museveni's safe houses (PHOTOS)


CHANGE OF GUARDS - “Madam Speaker, I wish to mention that a safe house is a secure place used for intelligence work, all intelligence and security agencies world over operate safe houses...........running safe houses is not peculiar to Uganda but it is a worldwide intelligence practice."
       Extract from Gen. Tumwine's written statement on the floor of Parliament -  mid August 2019.

"What I know is there are safe houses but you (MPs) will not be allowed to go there because the law does not permit you."
      Gen. Tumwine - before the Human Rights Committee of Parliament -  late August 2019.

In another gamble to remain relevant, Uganda's toothless Parliament is back in arms with the executive over the issue of torture chambers dubbed Safe Houses.  When the matter came to the floor of Parliament a few days ago, the Speaker ordered the parliamentary committee of Human Rights to visit the said Safe Houses.  Instead of moving straight to the alleged locations of the alleged Safe Houses, the committee opted to summon witnesses for interviews.  That is how the Minister of Security, Gen. Elly Tumwine told them off about the existence of the Safe Houses before warning them to mind their own business.

Operations of Safe Houses are as old as the Museveni regime.  The earliest Safe House was located within State House at Entebbe.  It was an isolated residential house that was tightly guarded.  The cover was that it was being used by SPLA's John Garang, yet it was housing Museveni's 2nd Lady and daughter of Mzei Nyindombi of Kebisoni in Rukungiri.  The custodian of that tightly guarded secret was then, Capt. Aronda Nyakairima.  When Janet Kataaha found out, the house was abandoned and the 2nd Lady and her children shifted to somewhere around Bugolobi before being resettled in Kisozi.

The use of Safe Houses by Museveni's intelligence outfits came to prominence in the late 1990s with the advent of Gen. Tumukunde to the helm of the intelligence community.  Military Intelligence (CMI) took the lead as ISO trailed.  It was initially associated with the mass arrests of Muslims who were accused of having links with ADF and grenade blasts in Kampala.  However, such safe houses were located within CMI's premises at Kitante Courts.  Following the launch of the global war on terrorism, Uganda joined the fray by founding the Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force (JATTF) that was housed at the infamous Kololo Safe House next to the residence of the Danish Ambassador's residence.   When JATTF's Kololo Safe House was exposed, more Safe Houses were established in different rented Safe Houses in Kampala.

Around the same time, the diplomatic fallout with Rwanda came to the scene.  Safe Houses for Rwandan dissidents were set up in Mbarara Municipality, Makindye at Gen. Muhoozi's house next to Kasirye Gwanga's residence and Bweyogerere.  At one time, the Rwandese delegates on the Uganda-Rwanda Joint Verification committee embarrassingly accurately led the team to the Bweyogerere Safe House.   The same fallout accounts for the shadowy PRA rebels that were allegedly linked to Dr. Besigye.  Consequently, a number of opposition activists fell victim to these Safe Houses.  To deny PRA potential recruiting ground, the regime initiated the notorious Operation Wembley (OW) under then Col. Elly Kayanja.

At a Safe House that also served as its head office along Clement Road just behind the MTN Towers in the city centre, OW summarily executed, tortured and detained victims.  OW summarily operated regional Safe Houses in Mbale under Lt. Siraji, in Mbarara under Capts. Rudahigwa and Rwakanuma, in Fort Portal under Cadre Among Rutenta and in Bunyoro under Lt. Abel among others.  OW operations were complimented by the Kalangala Action Plan (KAP) under Maj. Kakooza Mutale whose Safe House was located at Sure House along Bombo Road.  Public outcry over the excesses of OW were echoed by the  Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),  Amnesty International (AI), local human rights NGOs and picked up by Parliament.  OW was rebranded Violent Crime Crack Unit (VCCU) and relocated to Kireka.

Under VCCU, the atrocities continued unabated including among other methods Liverpool (water boarding) and Sauna (hoarding of about 100 victims in a tiny concrete structure that had no outlet for fresh air) where every morning dead bodies would be separated from the living.  Within Makindye Barracks there was the infamous underground cell commonly known as Go-Down where civilian victims of both OW and VCCU were horded for some years. To provide a quasi legal backing, Museveni created a parallel Court Martial headed by the same General Tumwine.  Its mandate was simply to remand in Makindye Barracks those who were lucky enough to survive the Safe Houses.  That's why throughout his tenure at the Court Martial, there was no single trial of any OW suspect.

Safe Houses were used to detain and torture victims of business rivalry, family conflicts over property, and as lodges by senior security officers with married women.  Whenever any human rights organization or parliamentary committee would put government to task, there were vehement denials.  Whenever such organizations would insist on making spot visits to Sate Houses, security agencies would panic by shifting and hiding the victims, cleaning of walls of interrogation rooms and in some instances presenting stage managed victims who would paint a positive image.

Since then, the use of Safe Houses has never stopped except that it surges depending on the pertaining political situation.  Since time immemorial, Safe Houses are exclusively operated by Military Intelligence (CMI) and ISO.  Some police officers like Musana, Magara, Elly Womanya and others were attached to JATTF, OW, and VCCU which has over time evolved into Rapid Response Unit (RRU), Flying Squad and Special Investigations Unit (SIU).  Until the recently abandoned Nalufenya Safe House, the police never formally operated Safe Houses.

Safe Houses have been and continue to be an acceptable norm in Uganda.  That is why they are no longer a secret and in recent times they have even been allowing family members to visit victims and even releasing some on bail.  It is in the same regard that the Minister of Security, Gen. Tumwine did not hesitate to confirm to Parliament that Safe Houses exist.  Therefore, it is hypocritical for Parliament to pretend that the phenomenon of Safe Houses is new.  May be the ongoing uproar is in commemoration of the three decades of Safe Houses in Uganda!


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