Rights groups on Friday accused the Ugandan government of inaction over the deadly assault by security forces on a tribal king’s palace six months ago, renewing their call for an independent probe.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) Africa Director, Maria Burnett told reporters in Kampala that although the government had dedicated significant resources to investigating alleged crimes by civilians during the incident in November 2016, there was still no probe into killings by the security forces.
During three days of clashes, Ugandan security forces attacked an administrative building belonging to the local tribal king and then laid siege to the royal palace compound in the south-western town of Kasese.
HRW say they have documented the deaths of 155 people in the days of fierce fighting.
“It is a massive event that happened in Kasese, the largest number of people who have been killed in a single event in Uganda since the height of the LRA war,” said Burnett, referring to the near 30-year insurgency that devastated northern Uganda until 2006.
“The victims of November’s violence have a right to justice and they have a right under Ugandan and international law to demand accountability,” he added.
In March the Ugandan government revised up their previous estimate of the number killed in Kasese to 103, but witnesses have said that they fear the true number to be far higher.
– ‘Unwilling to investigate’ –
Nicholas Opiyo, director of Chapter 4 — one of almost 40 Ugandan human rights organisations who joined the call for an investigation — said that as well as an independent investigation the ongoing abuses of civilians must stop.
“I was a front-row witness to the events in Kasese,” said Mr Opiyo.
“There was absolutely no attempt to avoid civilian deaths. Families who have been denied information about the deaths of their loved ones deserve justice.”
The government has accused Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere of stoking a secessionist rebellion and stormed his palace on November 27, a day after his palace guards attacked local officers, according to police.
Calling the killings “revenge” for the deaths of “a few security agents in the region” in the weeks leading up the attack on the palace, Opiyo called for intimidation of human rights workers to stop.
“Two of our researchers have been arrested on two occasions simply because they were recording statements of victims,” he said.
“Six months down the road Ugandan authorities’ unwillingness to investigate is very clear and I think that we’re at the point where we need to ask for international support,” he added.
On Thursday the Ugandan government’s own human rights commission presented its annual report to the press.
The 250-page report neglects to mention the Kasese killings with officials claiming that they are waiting for permission from President Museveni, who has ruled the East African nation for 31 years, to release a separate report on the events in Kasese.