Military personnel guarding various security installations have blocked legislators from accessing and inspecting ‘safe houses’, a generic term for alleged torture chambers run by the Internal Security Organisation (ISO).
The MPs on the Committee on Human Rights were denied access to safe houses in Kyengera, Nalukolongo and Nakasero.
In the morning of Tuesday, September 10, 2019, MPs on the Committee set off to carry out an oversight visit to various safe houses, after failing to generate consensus with Security Minister Gen Elly Tumwine, who is opposed to the visits.
Last week, MPs told the Deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, that while Parliament instructed their team to visit the said safe houses to establish alleged human rights violations happening there, Gen Tumwine said they would not visit the facilities.
It is on account of this that Oulanyah instructed the team to continue with the planned visits.
The first facility visited is located in Kyengera, a suburb west of Kampala.
A one Vincent Kalibbala, who did not disclose his military rank to the Committee, spoke through a gate lock, asking MPs to seek clearance from the Director General of ISO, Col Frank Kaka Bagyenda.
MPs angrily reacted to the proposal.
“We agreed on this issue [of visiting the facilities] that was brought on the Floor of Parliament. It is very absurd and very unfortunate that at the time of reaching here, he [Kalibbala] is telling us we cannot visit without the permission of the Director General of ISO,” said Chairperson Janepher Egunyu.
MP Latif Ssebagala (IND, Kawempe North) condemned alleged acts of torture by security forces.
“We cannot stand here as a Committee and let this practice to continue; many of the people tortured are eventually released without charge after their arrest and torture,” said MP Ssebagala who spoke to journalists at the gate of the facility.
In Nalukolongo, a Kampala suburb, a road side facility suspected to be a safe house also turned out to be a misadventure for MPs, who were denied access by unnamed security officials clad in military fatigues.
A Local Defense Unit personnel who spoke to MPs referred them to the Director General of ISO as well, saying they are under strict instructions not to allow anyone in.
The day ended at a facility said to be housing the External Security Organisation (ESO) in Nakasero, an upscale Kampala area.
A military officer named Kitara approached the MPs to inquire into their specifics, and would make back and forth retreats to “communicate to my boss.”
Kitara said only Chairperson Egunyu would be allowed in, a move strongly resisted by MPs Robert Kyagulanyi (IND, Kyaddondo East) and Sebaggala.
He returned with a verdict to MPs, saying they would, after all, not access the facility.
Kitara said MPs should instead speak to Minister Tumwine.
Last week, MPs asked Gen Tumwine to cause the presence of Col Bagyenda, who he supervises, before the Human Rights Committee, a proposal he rejected.
Equally summoned by the Committee is the Commandant of the elite Special Forces Command, Maj Gen James Birungi, who Gen Tumwine said could not appear as well.
Gen Tumwine has in the recent past distanced security agencies from torture allegations, saying the claims are politically motivated.