The response by Ugandan police to rioting in the capital Kampala last week was unwarranted, an influential rights group said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had received reports of police going house-to-house and removing people from their homes, and witnessed truckloads of unarmed men being beaten.
“We have been very concerned about police brutality, the police response, the use of live ammunition, for example, in situations which didn’t warrant it (and) severe beatings of men who were not armed,” HRW researcher Maria Burnett told Reuters.
Violence broke out in Kampala last week, triggered by land and power disputes between the government and leaders of Buganda one of the east African country’s four ancient kingdoms.
The king of Buganda was due to attend a celebration in a town east of Kampala on Saturday. Last week, security forces stopped his officials visiting the area to prepare the ground and the king cancelled his trip after the riots.
At least 14 people, including a member of the security forces, died and scores were injured in three days of clashes in the centre and outlying districts. Kampala was quiet yesterday.
Government spokesperson Daudi Migereko said there was a team on the ground taking note of the casualties.
“I want to state once again that as government we regret any loss of life and property and I wish to register, on behalf of government, condolences to the families that have lost their innocent dear ones,” he told reporters.
Talks with king to resume
Police chief Kale Kayihura told reporters security forces had arrested 550 suspects during the unrest. He said some officers had overreacted after coming under attack in some districts of the capital.
“The thugs pelted the officers with stones and other missiles, and some officers, apparently, overreacted by opening fire in a bid to disperse the criminal gangs,” he said.
East Africa’s third biggest economy has been hailed for its political and economic stability over the last two decades following years of civil war during the 1970s and 80s.
President Yoweri Museveni has been admired for fiscal reforms and poverty alleviation. But critics, including some Western donors, accuse him of rights abuses and repression.
“The government is committed to resolving issues of contention through discussion, dialogue and constitutional arrangements,” said Migereko, adding that the Buganda king was now prepared to sit down and hold talks with Museveni.
Burnett said the Ugandan police had a history of using heavy force to quell unrest.
In April, HRW said Uganda’s anti-terrorism unit had unlawfully detained more than 100 people over the past two years and tortured 25 suspects. It said four died from their injuries.
“We have always been concerned here in Uganda about the problem of both police brutality, but also the use of torture and detention as a tactic to crack down on free speech and journalism,” Burnett told Reuters.
The government took four local stations off the air after the police chief said “sectarian” radio broadcasts had fanned the violence. The Ugandan Broadcasting Council also ordered several prominent TV and radio talkshow hosts to be suspended.
Pic: Riots in Kampala Uganda