HRW: Ugandan police unit torturing detainees

March 23, 2011 12:00 am

, KAMPALA, Mar 23 – A special unit of the Ugandan police has tortured, extorted and carried out extra-judicial killings of suspects and largely operates "outside the law," the Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The unit, tasked to deal with violent crimes, was established in 2002 and operated under different names before being renamed Rapid Response Unit in 2007.

"Torture by the Rapid Response Unit and its predecessor units appears to be a quite consistent practice," Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher of New York-based group, told AFP.

"It is hard for us to know exactly how many people eventually die from that abuse but in the last year we have six examples at least," Burnett said as the rights watchdog released a report on the actions of the police unit.

Detainees are beaten with metal pipes, pins inserted under their finger nails and jolted with electric shocks, according to victim testimonies in the rights group\’s 59-page report entitled "Violence Instead of Vigilance."

One former detainee recounted: "They handcuffed me and beat me with a Coke bottle. They beat my friend too. They hit him in the ears a lot. As they were talking they would slap me, saying \’tell us where the gun is,\’ hitting me in the ankles, face, ears and elbows."

Among the cases of suspected extra-judicial killings, the report described the alleged beating to death in Kampala of 22-year-old man who had been detained on suspicion of burglary in August 2010.

Three Rapid Response Unit members were eventually arrested for the murder but are yet to face trial.

According to testimonies from two former detainees, members of the unit also worked with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to interrogate suspects in the twin suicide bomb attacks in Kampala which killed at least 76 people watching the World Cup final in July.

In an attempt to combat accusations of abuses by the unit, late last year Uganda\’s police chief appointed a new director to head the unit and a toll free line to report abuses and human rights desk were set up, the report notes.

Ugandan security forces have in the past been accused of abuses, including torture and illegal detentions. In 2009, Human Rights Watch documented abuse by an anti-terrorism unit in the country.

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