Seven top to middle commanders of security forces in Uganda could soon find themselves on America’s list of Specially Delegated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN). This list has individuals targeted under various U.S. sanctions programs.
The seven commanders include Lt. Gen. Peter Elwelu, the Commander of Land Forces, Maj. Gen. James Birungi, the Commander of the Special Forces Command, Maj. Gen. Don William Nabasa, the former Commander of the Special Forces Command, Maj. Gen. Abel Kandiho, the Chief of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Steven Sabiiti Muzeyi, the Deputy Inspector of General of Police, Frank Mwesigwa, a Commissioner of Police, and Col. Chris Serunjogi Ddamulira, the Director of Crime Intelligence.
The seven face American sanctions following a request forwarded to the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, by the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Eliot Engel which cited their alleged involvement in human rights abuses past and present.
Engel’s letter has attracted public attention just days after The Independent wrote a story titled: “Where is Ochola, Sabiiti as police unleash terror? They can hide but cannot escape, say human rights watchers” (The Independent Dec.04)
The story reported how Human rights lawyers and activists want the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to take interest in the recent acts of violence by agents of security forces, especially the police.
Isaac Semakadde, a human rights lawyer and activist, told The Independent that special attention should focus on the Inspector General of Police (IGP), John Martins Okoth Ochola and his deputy (DIGP) Maj. Gen. Steven Sabiiti Muzeyi. DIGP Sabiiti is now a U.S. marked man, Ochola is not – yet. But for how long?
The Independent’s story also included the U.S’s condemnation of recent election violence.
“The United States deplores the violence that has claimed multiple lives today, and we extend our sympathy to the victims’ families and loved ones,” said a Nov.19 statement from the new American ambassador to Uganda, Natalie Brown.
It added: “A full and independent investigation should be launched into the events of 18th and 19th of November, to ensure justice for victims and to avoid impunity for the perpetrators who must be held accountable for their actions”
Some of the commanders have not been directly linked to human rights abuse but international law puts command responsibility on the shoulders of superior commanders. Acts of violence and abuse of human rights by junior officers are blamed on the senior commander who is responsible for guiding foot soldiers. Some of the commanders are not to command the abuses from the background.
Congressman Engel’s letter is significant because it follows on the heels of another written in December 2018 to Pompeo by four congressmen; Robert Menendez, Christopher Coons, Edward Markey, and Cory Booker. This letter did not mention names. But it mentioned almost the same incidents of alleged human rights violations as those cited by Engel.
They cite the November 2016 attack by Ugandan security forces on the palace of the Rwenzururu king Wesley Mumbere in Kasese in which over 100 civilians were allegedly massacred and the September 2017 attack on parliament by Special Forces during the debate over whether to remove presidential age limits from the constitution, which now allows President Museveni to rule indefinitely. They mention MP Betty Nambooze who suffered serious spinal injuries. They also mention the July 2018 social media tax and say it was designed to discourage anti-government mobilisation on the part of youths and dissidents, and the arrest and torture in 2018 of Robert Kyagulanyi and 32 other opposition politicians following a by-election in Arua.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has responded to Engels letter.
“The United States is a longstanding partner of Uganda. We expect our partners to live up to their obligations to hold free and fair elections. We are paying close attention to the actions of individuals who seek to impede the ongoing democratic process”, Pompeo tweeted.
That is the same off-hand manner of Pompeo’s boss, out-going U.S. President Donald Trump. But analysts say the incoming administration of Joe Biden could herald a resetting of USA-Africa policy.
Engel’s letter also mentions MP Francis Zaake brutalisation for distributing supplies to needy citizens during the coronavirus lockdown. The recent protests, in which up to 54 people were killed by Ugandan security forces following protests in Kampala, is also listed by Engel.
“These violent incidents reflect a highly disturbing trajectory for the country, thus ensuring that the environment for general elections in January 2021 has been fundamentally tilted in favour of an incumbent who has been in power since 1986,” Engel writes.
Based on this, Engel asks the Treasury Department and the State Department to utilise the authority of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Global Magnitsky Act) to designate individuals who may be responsible for violence in Uganda in recent years. This means the listed seven commanders are a small sample of those who could be listed.
In September 2019, the U.S government sanctioned former Uganda Police chief Gen.Kale Kayihura under the same Global Magnitsky Act. He was also accused of serious human rights abuses and corruption.
At the time, on September 23, 2019, The Independent ran the story under the headline; “America pins ex-IGP Kayihura on torture: Who is next on sanctions list?”
“We are targeting Uganda’s former Police Inspector General Kale Kayihura for using corruption and bribery to strengthen his political position, as units under his command committed serious human rights abuses,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “The U.S. government is committed to leveraging our human rights and corruption authorities to target, disrupt, and counter those who engage in abuse and corruption around the world.”