Sit-in success: Uganda police promise armed guards

HRAPF legal officer Betty Balisalamu confronts poilce during the Feb. 12 sit-in at the Old Kampala Police Station. (Frederic Noy photo courtesy of HRAPF)
HRAPF legal officer Betty Balisalamu confronts poilce during the Feb. 12 sit-in at the Old Kampala Police Station. (Frederic Noy photo courtesy of HRAPF)

Human rights advocates at gay-friendly HRAPF held a sit-in at a Ugandan police station Monday to protest the failure of police to arrest criminals who have twice broken into their offices and previously murdered a security guard. As a result of the protest, police agreed to assign armed guards to protect HRAPF headquarters while investigations continue.

This account of the sit-in and related events was provided by HRAPF (the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum). For more information, see HRAPF’s full report and previous articles in this blog, starting with “Sit-in at Ugandan police station: ‘the only secure place’.”

THE SIT-IN AT OLD KAMPALA POLICE STATION AND ITS AFTERMATH

HRAPF and partners went through with the promised sit-in at Old Kampala Police station. The sit-in was also blessed by the Board of Directors, which sat in an emergency extra-ordinary board meeting on Saturday 10th February 2018. The sit-in was aimed at putting pressure on the Police to provide the report of the earlier break-in, to ensure commitment to the current investigations, and above all, there was genuine fear among HRAPF staff that a third and immediate attack was possible and therefore there was need for the Police to reassure staff of security.

The sit-in was held on Monday 12th February 2018 by different HRAPF staff and partners. The Police only allowed five HRAPF staff to enter the station with two lawyers. A meeting was held where HRAPF tabled its request for the report formally. …

Police officers trying to stop HRAPF staff and partners from participating in the sit-in. (Photo courtesy of HRAPF)
Police officers trying to stop HRAPF staff and partners from participating in the sit-in. (Photo courtesy of HRAPF)

HRAPF indicated its intention to sit-in at the station until the station provided the full report of the investigations into the last break-in at HRAPF. HRAPF also asked for protection by the Police, and reassurance of the HRAPF staff that they would be secured. The Police representatives informed HRAPF that the file for the first break-in had been called by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Crime Intelligence and as such, the Division was not in a position to provide the report. They however promised to follow up formally and provide a response. It was agreed that HRAPF’s lawyers should write formally to headquarters asking for the report upon which letter the Division would act to ask for the report from headquarters and give feedback to HRAPF. They also stated that the whole team was new and were not part of the old team that was there at the time of the first break-in. They promised to fully investigate the case and follow up on all leads.

The Police also promised that in the interim, two armed police guards would secure HRAPF’s premises every night until the investigations were complete. The Division Police Commander and a team of other officers also agreed to address HRAPF staff and reassure them of the Police commitment to secure their place of work. As a result of these concessions, the sit-in was called off as the Police is given time to work on its promises.

In the meantime, the rest of the HRAPF staff who were not allowed inside as well as partners demanded entrance to the police station and were repulsed by the Police. Journalists were also stopped from coming closer to the police station. The group then resorted to carrying placards and matching, which the police also stopped. One of the HRAPF staff, Mr. Eriya Nawenuwe was arrested by the police, but he was later released as part of the agreement between the HRAPF team and the Police.

 

The Division Police Commander …   and her team promised that all leads would be followed. HRAPF remains optimistic that the team will follow through on their promises and investigate the case to its conclusion as well as bring the culprits to book.

Back door was broken to allow  burglars to enter HRAPF offices. (Photo courtesy of HRAPF)
Back door was broken to allow burglars to enter HRAPF offices. (Photo courtesy of HRAPF)

SUSPECTED MOTIVE OF THE BREAK-IN

It remains hard to know or speculate about what the motive of the attack was. Like for the previous attack, this too did not seem like an ordinary robbery. The intruders had access to computers and other electronic gadgets but they did not take any of these. This makes it improbable that the intruders were after property or money. Since the last attack was never properly solved, it remains unclear what the motive of the break-ins are.

There are speculations that it could be the work done by HRAPF, but the organisation has not received work related threats in the recent past. The two guards say that the intruders kept asking them the whereabouts of money in the office and also were apparently on phone asking the person they were calling to describe where the money was. The guards however feel that this seemed to be intended for their ears in order to disguise the motive. It is improbable that a thief who is interested in money would not take electronics.

Again the guards state that the attackers were loudly speaking about the incomplete mission last time, and that they were ready to complete it this time round. For now, it remains unclear what the motives of the attacks are.

STAFF REACTION TO THE BREAK-IN

Staff members were visibly shaken by the break-in especially this being the second in less than two years. The most frustrating part for staff is the fact that no one knows what the motives of these two attacks are. This leaves staff members wondering about their safety and whether it is the work they do that is putting them in danger or not. Some staff members reported failing to sleep because they are worried and scared.

A debrief was held for staff where they shared their feelings about the incident and what they thought the motives of the attacks are. They were then given a week off to recuperate and recover from the incident before resumption of work. It was also resolved that staff will get access to psychosocial support and also have a formal forum to discuss the incident as the case was for the first break-in.

At press conference, HRAPF supporters hold placards demanding a full investigation of the break-ins. (Photo courtesy of HRAPF)
At press conference, HRAPF supporters hold placards demanding a full investigation of the break-ins. (Photo courtesy of HRAPF)

HRAPF’S CURRENT EFFORTS TO RESTORE ITS SYSTEMS

HRAPF with the support of partners is currently working to rebuild its security systems. Fundraising efforts to this end are going on, and the management is using the week when staff are off to reconnect the broken CCTV and alarm systems. The Uganda Police together with [security company G4S Secure Solutions] re providing night security. With support from partners, HRAPF is sure to beef up its security. Long-term solutions are also being considered and assessments for such long-term support are being done. We thank our partners for this support. The Board of Directors is due to sit again on Saturday to discuss the more permanent solutions further.

HRAPF’S SUGGESTIONS TO PARTNERS FOR SUPPORT

Like was the case in the first break-in, HRAPF recommends the following to its partners:

i) Support the organisation during its period of reconstruction and rebuilding of its security systems and staff morale. Funds are still needed to support HRAPF. For individual donations to HRAPF, please visit http://hrapf.org/donate/

ii) Speak out against the attack and call upon the Government to fully investigate this attack and the earlier one, and to provide answers to HRAPF, G4S and the family of the deceased guard, Emmanuel Arituha, as well to Mr. Bwambale and Mr. Okwii.

iii) Call upon the state to investigate the rampant break-ins at the offices of civil society organisations

iv) Call upon the Police to finalise investigations and to provide updates to HRAPF and G4S.

v) Call for the protection of human rights organisations and human rights defenders generally.

APPRECIATION

HRAPF sends its appreciation to the Uganda Police Force, particularly the Division Police Commander of Old Kampala Police Division, Grace Nyangoma for the professionalism exhibited since the incident happened, and for working closely with HRAPF afterwards. We also appreciate our two guards, Mr. Seezi Bwambale and Mr. Godfrey Okwii for fighting the intruders in order to keep HRAPF secure. We wish them quick recovery. We thank our security service provider G4S for the emergency response and providing medical support to the injured guards; all our partners who came to commiserate with us, attended the press conference and braved the sit-in at Old Kampala Police Station; our neighbours who called the police and also called us and in a large measure helped to foil the break-in; and our staff members for their commitment to HRAPF and its work, even in the face of such adversity.

CONCLUSION

HRAPF is thankful for the endless support from partners, friends and colleagues and for standing with us in this difficult time. We are grateful for the messages of support. We call upon the Police and the state to thoroughly investigate these incidents and provide adequate protection to human rights defenders in the country and the civil society sector.

For more information, contact: Adrian Jjuuko, Executive Director, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) Plot 390 Prof. Apolo Nsibambi Road, Namirembe PO Box 25603, Kampala, Uganda TEL: +256-782 169505 E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.hrapf.org

Previous articles:

 

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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