KAMPALA – About 58% of suspects in Uganda spend 3-9 days in custody, 31% spend between 10 days and 1 month in a police cell and 5% even up to 3 months without being produced before courts of law for trial, study has revealed.
According to the supreme law of Uganda, a suspect should not be detained more than 48 hours without being given a fair trial but according to a study done Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF) in partnership with Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET), “the 48-hour rule is not complied with.”
The baseline survey which was aimed at highlighting the socio-economic profile of detainees and also provide an overview of the grounds for detention in Uganda, also revealed that the majority, 63%, were not aware of their right to apply for police bond.
The three-year project (2020-2023) also sought to understand the correlation between the social-economic status of persons in detention and the trends and patterns of detention including the reasons for arrest.
“Similarly, in prisons, the findings indicate that only 253 of the 613 inmates interviewed (42%) had spent less than 6 months on remand. The rest had spent over 6 months with the biggest majority, (22%) having spent between 6 months to one year on remand. Unlike at police, majority of inmates, 64%, knew about their right to apply for bail. However, owing to their limited level of education, and for most, their level of income, many were unable to hire the services of a private The situation is even more complex for refugees in prison with no known relatives in the country to visit them or aware that they are in detention,” data shows.
However, the study indicates that only 31 of the inmates interviewed were able to hire the services of a private lawyer, with the biggest majority not having access. Further still, among the 613 inmates interviewed, the three greatest legal needs highlighted were having their cases cause listed (145), followed by legal aid (129) and a speedy trial (93).
Torture in detention, both at police and in prisons, was highlighted as the major challenge encountered in detention. At police, majority of suspects, 59, said they had either witnessed or experienced at least one incident of torture during their detention.
Data indicates that the percentage of those who had experienced or witnessed acts of torture within prisons was even higher at 71%.
“The main perpetrators were said to be fellow inmates “katikiros’ who accounted for 77% of the incidences and prison warders at 33%. Other challenges encountered in prisons was over congestion, and United communication with family and friends.”
ASF Uganda country director, Ms. Irene Winnie Anying attributed the challenges to deviations from legal standards, including standards of arrest and treatment of pretrial detainees.
“The purpose was to establish the number of pretrial detainees, the grounds for their detention, their time in detention and most importantly, their legal needs, which helped to inform the design of legal aid services under the project,” she said during the launch of the study at Sheraton Hotel on Thursday.
“So, I hope together that we can find lasting solutions to the challenges that the report highlights but also that we can build lasting partnerships to address them. I think the representatives in this room are very well placed and we are all in a position to join our hands together and work on these challenges so that we improve our justice system,” she urged.
Dr. Katja Kerschbaumer, Governance Advisor at Austrian Development Cooperation in Uganda revealed that Uganda lacks data when it comes to pretrial detention, not just at the police level, but also at the prisons level.
“For example, when we speak about the police, you cannot tell me how many people right now have overstayed beyond 48 hours in the cells. We don’t have that data.”
She says that indeed a suspect once arrested should not spend more than 48 hours in police custody without being either released on police bond or be produced before a court of law from where a person can either be released on bail or remanded to prisons.
“The 48 Hour Rule is not being adhered to and when you speak to the police, they have many valid, and not so valid reasons for why this happens. For example, the investigations have not yet been finished.”
Dr. Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, Chief Executive Officer, Legal Aid Service Providers Network noted that “I want us to know that access to justice is a fundamental right and without providing the frameworks that enable access to justice, you cannot talk about protecting rights and promoting rights.”
Officiating at the event, Mariam Wangadya, Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission blamed the socio-economic factors, particularly lack of or inadequate education, unemployment and underemployment being partly responsible for violations of the rights of persons under pretrial detention in general and the right to a fair trial in particular simply because they have no steady source of income.
She admitted that the knowledge about the right to bail and police bond has not translated into access to justice for those in police detention and on remand, noting that, “this is because without services of a lawyer or legal aid, suspects oftentimes are not aware of the process on how to apply for police bond. While for those on remand, lack of legal representation means that they cannot fulfil all necessary formalities and pursue cause listing their cases even for a bail hearing thereby overstaying in detention.”
Madam Wangadya also noted that overstay in detention sometimes compels innocent pre-trial detainees to make false confessions especially through plea bargaining so as to get much-needed relief.
She is optimistic that when the Legal Aid Bill passes, some of these challenges will reduce.
To the Uganda Police Force:
- Appoint more human rights officers countrywide and strengthen their capacity to monitor and promote adherence to the 48-hour rule and other human rights standards.
- Ensure continued capacity building of both Human Rights Officers and other police officers to keep up with the current procedural and human rights standards relating to investigation andn crime prevention,
- Adopt zero tolerance towards torture within the police Force by investigating and charging implicated police officers in torture perpetration to curb impunity within the Force Establishment of an independent police oversight body that is independent of police to ensure that errant police officers are held accountable.
- Enforce sanctions for police officers who violate standard of arrest and detention as provided for in the Luanda Guidelines. In particular, Uganda police force should emphasise investigation before arrest.
To the Uganda Prisons Service:
- Ensure the effective functioning of identifying and facilitating capacity building opportunities.
- Initiate investigations into alleged torture occurrences within prisons to curb impunity and ensure implementation of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, (PPTA) 2012. 3. Provide guidelines on S.15 of the Human Rights Enforcement Act on un conditional release of prisoners who are unreasonably being detained in prison.
Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture in line with international standards to ensure effective implementation of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, 2012 2 Implement the alternative to imprisonment for petty offenders like police bond, bail, community service in order to reduce on the number of pre-trial detainees
To the Judiciary Rules Committee:
- Review and explore amending the Judicature Act, Cap.13, to expand the jurisdiction of Registrars to take plea for capital offences so as to reduce backlog and long periods of pre- trial detention.
- Consider widening the jurisdiction of the Magistrates to determine a prima facie case before committal to the High Court to avoid frivolous prosecutions
- Consider developing special guidelines to address situations of refugees who lack sureties
To the Judiciary:
Strike with nullity each and every trial marked by violations of the accused’s non derogable rights,
Expedite the tabling and enactment of the National Legal Aid Bill to extend legal representation to both capital and non-capital offenders and ensure representation starts from time of arrest to disposal of case to counter abuse.
To Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development:
Allocate more budgetary resources to the Uganda Police Force, Uganda Prisons service, Office of the directorate of public prosecution and Judiciary to strengthen their capacity to execute their mandates effectively. 2. Allocate more budgetary resources to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) to recruit more prosecutors to match the recent efforts that have widened the pool of judicial officers
To Development Partners:
- Revive the Paralegal Advisory Services to scale up legal aid provision across the country.
- Lobby Government to appoint more judicial officers and prosecutors.
To Uganda Human Rights Commission:
- To intensify visits to places of detention to assess conditions of persons in detention and make necessary recommendations
- To train members of the human rights committees in prisons to boost their capacity to respond to human rights abuses especially empower them to submit names of inmates that have overstayed on remand and/or due for release on mandatory bail.