KAMPALA – The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah has directed Parliament’s Human Rights Committee not to be intimidated by the statements made by the Minister of Security General Elly Tumwine not to access safe houses saying the lawmakers should proceed with their planned visit to suspected safe houses in Kyengera and Kalangala.
Oulanyah made the directive during yesterday’s plenary sitting in response to questions raised by lawmakers led by Janepher Egunyu Nantume, Chairperson Human Rights Committee and Joseph Ssewungu (Kalungu West) on how the Committee should proceed with investigations that a number of Ugandans are being held and tortured in those safe houses in total contravention of their rights to trial and fair hearing as well as access to their lawyers and families.
Nantume wondered whether it would not be a conflict of interest to allow the torture Victim witnesses who also double as committee members in her committee like Francis Zake (Mityana Municipality) Latiff Ssebaggala (Kawempe North) to which Oulanyah ruled that the if the witnesses should step aside from the inquiry until investigations are completed.
However, Ssewungu raised concern about the conduct of the Tumwine who frankly told the committee MPs will not be allowed to access the safe Houses arguing that the Minister’s utterances created fear within the committee that is meant to carry out an oversight role on behalf of Parliament.
Ssewungu said, “The Speaker ruled and directed the Committee to go there physically. Is it procedurally okay for the MP who is a Minister to rule in the Committee that they can’t access those areas? Can the Minister direct the Committee that they can’t access those places?”
Oulanyah however said there is no issue to debate about and encouraged the Committee to proceed with its planned visit, “You have the prerogative of this house, you have the mandate, you have been given an assignment to go and visit be stopped from there, you go there and be stopped then the issue will arise because right now, there is nothing,” said Deputy Speaker.
While appearing before the Committee on Wednesday, Gen Tumwine told lawmakers on the Human Rights Committee that they have no mandate to visit some security places especially the safe houses, because their actions would be in contravention of the constitution.
After confirming their existence and their purpose being to keep hard core criminals for close monitoring, Tumwine turned down the committee’s intentions to visit the safe houses and added that the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure do not supersede the constitution hence insists they can’t access the safe houses.
“There is nothing which is open for everyone. There are limitations to everything. Even in your house, there are areas which people don’t reach. There are areas for security reasons which this Committee isn’t allowed to visit,” said Gen Tumwine.
Gen Tumwine also refused to respond to a number of questions raised by MPs especially on the number of safe houses Government is operating, procedure to determine candidates fit for safe houses, accessibility to the detainees by family, lawyers and loved ones and asked for more time to avail answers to their questions.
Gen Tumwine said he is aware of the existence of safe houses in Uganda but couldn’t ascertain the number adding that Safe houses operate under the Security Intelligence Organizations Act and denied allegations of owning a safe house in Nakasero as alleged by Hon Kyagulanyi.