Uganda anti-terror unit using torture: rights group

A Ugandan anti-terrorism unit has detained 106 people illegally over the last two years, torturing many in custody for links to a rebel group and al-Qaeda, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.

Detainees described how officers of the Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force (JATT) beat prisoners with whips, canes, chairs and guns, and peppered suspects’ eyes and noses with red chillies, the group said.

“The soldiers started beating me with a black whip. And then one hit me very hard on the back with the flat of his hand. It felt like my heart would burst out of my chest,” the group quoted a former male detainee as saying.

Reuters reports the New York-based HRW said suspects were held in a Kampala suburb after arrest. All but two of the detainees were Muslim, and the majority were never charged with a crime.

Uganda conveniently uses the broad mantle of anti-terrorism to abuse and torture suspects,” Georgette Gagnon, the group’s Africa director, said in a statement.

The force — comprised of the police, army, and other security agencies — was created to combat the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group blamed for a series of bombings in Kampala in the 1990s.

Based on more than 80 interviews, including 25 with former detainees, HRW said three people had been tortured to death.

Uganda‘s chief of military intelligence, Brigadier James Mugira, who has control over the unit, denied anyone had been killed in custody, according to the group.

“Nobody can torture someone to death under this government,” the advocacy group quoted Mugira as saying.

He said that his staff was trained by the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom.

Ugandan officials were not immediately available for comment but have denied abuse allegations in the past.

HRW asked Uganda to disband the force and for donors to withhold funding until allegations of abuse are investigated.