Human Rights lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo, says that the behavior of the victims is just is reflecting a multifaceted experience characterized by intimidation, fear and loss of trust in the instruments of accountability in the state and outside the state.
As several victims
of election violence who went missing in the build-up and aftermath of 2021
General Elections resurface, many of them have remained tight lipped on what
they went through at the hands of their abductors. This has drawn concern from human
rights defenders, the general population and politicians alike, saying it
frustrates efforts to push for justice for the victims.
In Buwama town council in Mpigi district, nine people were allegedly picked up
off the streets or their homes allegedly by armed men in numberless white
minivans in January 2021. They suffered in Kibukuta swamp near Jalia
City along Kampala-Masaka in March where they dropped off by the captors.
However, the abductees including the Buwama Town Council
Chairperson-elect Abdul-Rashid Nkinga has shied away from speaking about what
happened to them in captivity.“I don’t have anything to say. We came
back and we are alive,” it’s the common phrase from most from the abductees.
of them only praise their captors for feeding them well when they were locked
up in unknown places against their will. Besides the silence of the
victims, there is also fear in the area where these people live with many
residents shying away from publically commenting on politics or the issues of
“No one will talk to you over that matter in the area. No one wants to end up
being abducted. At least our people have been returned that is good enough for
us,” an old man told URN at Buwama town council headquarters recently. Also, 18
abductees in Kyotera who returned last month were unwilling to share their
ordeal when approached by our reporter.
“Abductions have taught us to shut up. When dealing with
politics, especially supporting opposition candidates, it’s important to keep
quiet,” some residents said during an interview with URN. Joel Ssenyonyi,
the National Unity Platform spokesperson, says that this is a psychological
tactic deployed by the ruling government to maintain its grip on their
adversaries and leave no trace of the injustices and human rights
“The first sets of abductees were returned and lived to narrate their
terrifying ordeal of what they went through at the hands of their tormentors
whom they claim are security operatives. The abductees were narrating
disgusting stories of inhumane things that had happened. The state must have
felt ashamed and decided to change tactics,” said Ssenyonyi.
Ssenyonyi, whatever is done to the victims such as coercion, intimidation and
instilling fear is not only to silence the abductees but their communities as
well. “This is intended to put a veil on the violations thus blocking citizens and the
international community from learning about the abuses. Already with the
few recorded cases, the government has been put on the spot with some individuals
facing sanctions from the international community,” said Ssenyonyi.
Human Rights lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo, says that the behaviour
of the victims is just is reflecting a multifaceted experience characterized by
intimidation, fear and loss of trust in the instruments of accountability in
the state and outside the state.
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Opiyo is worried that the new approach is intended to deny the country a
detailed account of the victims and therefore make it hard for concerned
players and human right defenders to take on the perpetrators. He, however,
notes that although many people are being intimidated by their tormentor and succumb
to the threats, they believe that as day follows night whatever happened will
come to the light soon.
Brig-Gen Flavia Byekwaso, the UPDF spokesperson, which is
being accused of some of the violation distance the military from the said mode
of operation, saying that the force doesn’t gag people as it respects freedom
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There have been queries on why the police are not following
up cases of the abductees if at all the state was never involved. “When most of the victims went missing, their
relatives reported. what has happened to those cases? Of course, these
different security agencies are playing syndicate,” said Ssenyonyi.
But Police Spokesperson, Fred Enanga says that when the abductees
return, police try to pursue their case but can’t do much because most of them
are still traumatized. “Police cannot proceed with the case without
the input of the victims. Such people must be handled with care. We can handle
their cases when they are ready to open up and discuss what happened to them
during the time of their disappearance,” said Enanga.
Dr. Paul Nyende, a senior lecturer of psychology at Makerere University agrees
with Enanga’s argument noting that it is natural for abduction victims to
remain silent because they don’t want to remember their ordeal.
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Referring to the Stockholm syndrome where victims praise or side with their
captives, Nyende notes that quite often the victims are indoctrinated and might
need psychosocial support from experts.
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Dr. Robert Ojamba, a political scientist from Kyambogo University, says that
instigation of fear and intimidation to suppress rivalries is not a new tactic
in Uganda as similar scenes were witnessed from the colonial government to the President
Iddi Amin and Milton Obote's regimes.
He, however, says that whoever is behind the current wave of
torture has gone an extra mile since in the past such acts were never directed at
regular civilians. According to him, the tactic appears to be working given the
ever-developing fear and mistrust for each other in the public.