Uganda: Investigate use of lethal force during riots

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original


No Lethal Force Necessary in at Least 13 Fatal Shootings

(Kampala) - The Ugandan government should immediately order an independent investigation into the killing of unarmed persons during and after riots in Kampala on September 10 and 11, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today.

A Human Rights Watch investigation found that at least 13 people were shot by government forces in situations where lethal force was unnecessary. The Minister of Internal Affairs reported to parliament that 27 people had died during the riots and that seven were uninvolved in riot activity.

"Shooting in self defense is one thing, but we found that some soldiers shot at bystanders and shot through locked doors," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to put an impartial investigation in motion now."

The riots in Kampala, Uganda's capital, began on September 10, when police blocked a delegation representing the Buganda kingdom from visiting Kayunga district. The cultural king of Buganda, known as the kabaka, was planning to visit Kayunga for National Youth Day two days later. The visit was opposed by leaders of the Banyala ethnic group in Kayunga, who reject the kabaka's authority. The kabaka's supporters took to the streets to protest the police action, and violence began soon afterward.

Sources at Kampala's main hospital, Mulago, indicate that 88 victims of the violence were admitted for treatment over this period, most for gunshot wounds. Victims were taken to other hospitals as well. According to the minister of internal affairs, at least 846 people were arrested for alleged crimes committed during the riots, and the arrests continue. At least 24 of the alleged rioters have been charged with terrorism for destroying government property, and many others have been charged with unlawful assembly and inciting violence.

During and after the unrest, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 50 victims and their family members, witnesses, doctors, and local and senior government officials. On-the-ground research was conducted into the circumstances surrounding the violence in the Kampala neighborhoods of Nateete, Kasubi, Busega, Ndeeba, Bwaise, Bunga, the Salaama Road at Nakinyuguzi zone, and in Mpigi town.

Human Rights Watch investigated several fatal and non-fatal shootings by security forces on September 10 and 11 that raise serious questions about the level of force employed in response to the riots. In a number of cases throughout the city, there is strong evidence that security forces shot individuals who were not threatening them or others.

This challenges statements by some government officials that live ammunition was only fired into the air to clear the streets of protesters.

However, President Yoweri Museveni, addressing parliament on September 10, after the riots broke out, contended that "initially police acted slowly" in response to the unrest. "Looters," he said, "will be shot on sight, as will those who attack civilians."

Human Rights Watch
© Copyright, Human Rights Watch - 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor New York, NY 10118-3299 USA