Unchecked criminals hit Ugandan civic groups

Two men are fighting for their lives today in a Kampala hospital where they are being treated for injuries they incurred last night at the headquarters of the gay-friendly Ugandan legal aid group, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF).

HRAPF is just the latest of many civic organizations recently targeted by criminals.

In a public announcement, HRAPF called for more effective police action to put a halt to such disruptive crimes. HRAPF stated:

Logo of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF)
Logo of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF)

These attacks come against the backdrop of a narrowing civic space and increasing incidents of break-ins at civil society organisations [CSOs] that have not been satisfactorily investigated or resolved. Since 2012, there have been reported break-ins at numerous organisations working in the field of human rights advocacy.

Organisations such as the Uganda Land Alliance, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the Legal Aid Service Providers Network, Akina Mama Wa Afrika and the Anti-Corruption Coalition have suffered break-ins in similar fashion and, despite timely reports to the police on all occasions, investigations have been unsatisfactory and the follow up insufficient.

This is the latest in a series of attacks against civil society organisations which, regardless of the motivations of the assailants, points to the increasing lack of protection provided to human rights defenders in Uganda.

We call upon the police to investigate this and the first attack on HRAPF, and all previous similar incidents to other CSOs as thoroughly as possible and prosecute all the persons involved. We also call upon the government of the Republic of Uganda to provide the necessary protection to the human rights defenders in Uganda by responding decisively to such threats against civil society organisations, and causing the investigation and prosecution of all persons involved in these incidents.

This is HRAPF’s full statement:

Statement on the second break-in at the offices of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum

Kampala, 9th February 2018

At about 3.00am this morning, a group of about nine unidentified individuals broke into the offices of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF). They jumped over the high perimeter wall surrounding the office, disabled the electricity supply and thus affecting the CCTV cameras, and then attacked the guards on duty and the attack dog with iron bars and batons.

One part of the group carried on the scuffle with the guards and the dog for close to one hour while the other plied open the main door to the main building and the back door, and triggered the emergency alarm in the process. The guards were able to escape by climbing onto the water tank and jumping into the next compound, sustaining severe injuries including a skull fracture to one of them. They are currently admitted at St. Francis Nsambya Hospital Kampala.

A security camera captured this photo of two of the four burglars who break into the offices of HRAPF on May 22 and killed a security guard.
A security camera captured this photo of two of the four burglars who broke into the offices of HRAPF on May 22, 2016, and killed a security guard. Ugandan police have made no arrests in the case.

The rapid response team from our security providers, G4S, arrived at the scene and scared off the attackers, and the police also arrived soon thereafter after being called by the neighbours. From the inventory so far done, nothing was taken from the HRAPF offices.

This is the second such attack that HRAPF has suffered within a period of less than two years, and all being executed in almost the same fashion. The first attack took place on the 22nd of May 2016 in which Mr. Emmanuel Arituha, the security guard on duty at the time was brutally murdered. The office of the Executive Director and the Deputy Director, Programs were entered, drawers ransacked and documents left strewn around.

Despite the police lifting fingerprints and blood samples, and HRAPF providing CCTV footage clearly showing the faces of the attackers, the police after constant reminders from HRAPF only provided a short report classifying the attack as a random attack, without providing how they came to that conclusion or identifying anyone who was involved and what had been done to them.

These attacks come against the backdrop of a narrowing civic space and increasing incidents of break-ins at civil society organisations that have not been satisfactorily investigated or resolved. Since 2012, there have been reported break-ins at numerous organisations working in the field of human rights advocacy.

Organisations such as the Uganda Land Alliance, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the Legal Aid Service Providers Network, Akina Mama Wa Afrika and the Anti-Corruption Coalition have suffered break-ins in similar fashion and, despite timely reports to the police on all occasions, investigations have been unsatisfactory and the follow up insufficient. This is the latest in a series of attacks against civil society organisations which, regardless of the motivations of the assailants, points to the increasing lack of protection provided to human rights defenders in Uganda.

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF
Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF

We call upon the police to investigate this and the first attack on HRAPF, and all previous similar incidents to other CSOs as thoroughly as possible and prosecute all the persons involved. We also call upon the government of the Republic of Uganda to provide the necessary protection to the human rights defenders in Uganda by responding decisively to such threats against civil society organisations, and causing the investigation and prosecution of all persons involved in these incidents.

We thank our development partners, implementing partners, friends, employees and clients of the organisation for standing with us through out this difficult time. We also recognise the efforts of our two guards, Mr. Sseezi Bwambale and Mr. Godfrey Okwi who are currently battling for their lives after injuries sustained during the attack. We also recognise the role of the Police in quickly responding after being informed of the attack and securing the scene of crime, and our neighbours who called the police and also notified our staff of what was happening. We thank you all for the continued support in the struggle to take human rights to all.

Adrian Jjuuko
Executive Director of HRAPF

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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