Massive Unregulated Force Threatens Election Security
Human rights groups working in Uganda and other countries have asked the Ugandan government to urgently suspend the new militia force commonly known as Crime Preventers calling it a massive unregulated force that threatens to undermine the security and integrity of next month’s elections.
Amnesty International, Chapter Four Uganda, and Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) issued a statement in which they condemned the Police for supporting the creation of the Crime Preventers Programme outside the laws of the country.
“Crime preventers are a volunteer force of civilians recruited and managed by police to report on and prevent crime in cooperation with the police and communities.
“In practice, crime preventers are strongly affiliated with the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Its members have acted in partisan ways and carried out brutal assaults and extortion with no accountability,” the organizations said.
The CSOs argue that suspending crime preventers is critical for preventing violence during the electoral period and showing the country’s commitment to non-partisan policing and respect for human rights especially in view of the upcoming elections.
The ambiguous role of crime preventers has already resulted into violent clashes between them and and communities in areas such as Adjumani, The Sunrise has learnt.
The human rights defenders argue that the force is not backed by concrete legal information nor is its command structure and exact numbers clear.
“There is no legal statute establishing the program. Although the government has said that a bill will soon be brought to parliament, there is insufficient time before the elections for parliament to adequately debate such a law and for the government to implement it appropriately,” the groups said.
Official statements gathered by the CSOs indicate that the program is vast and that recruitment rapidly increased in the months leading up to the official start of the presidential campaign period in November 2015.
“Officials have said that police aim to have at least 30 crime preventers per village, which would total more than 1 million people throughout the country. President Yoweri Museveni and other senior government officials were photographed in 2015 at several graduation ceremonies for people who completed a training program, and they are quoted as saying that hundreds of thousands of people have been trained,” say the CSOs
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say that they separately interviewed 20 crime preventers and more than 120 people familiar with or affected by their operations from May to December 2015, in eight towns across Uganda.
“There is clear evidence that the crime preventer program is linked to the ruling political party and that the crime preventers’ actions are frequently both unlawful and partisan, aimed at intimidating or reducing support for the political opposition,” the organizations said.
During several training sessions and “passouts,” or graduations, recruits have been shown wearing Yellow T-shirts, the colour of the ruling National Resistance Movement.
They add that a copy of a crime preventer training manual from one region states: “Every good thing you are seeing around is as a result of good NRM governance.”
The Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura says that crime preventers recruits are trained in self-defense, ideology, patriotism, and crime prevention techniques.
One crime preventer training manual seen by Human Rights Watch states they should report to police “any crime which is about to be committed or has been committed within their area [by] picking information…in public places, burials, weddings, bars or anywhere you can get rumors.” It urges crime preventers to “do your work secretly,” and “don’t advertise yourself as a crime preventer because even the one you are investigating can turn against you.”
Kayihura allegedly told Amnesty International, “[Crime preventers] are my CCTV [closed circuit television].”
The CSOs report that Crime preventers have intimidated members of the political opposition and their supporters. One person interviewed alleged that crime preventers had gone door-to-door in one village, cataloguing the political affiliations of villagers to intimidate them and discourage them from voting for the political opposition.
Another crime preventer – a supporter of an opposition political party – told Human Rights Watch that commanders discriminated against him and attempted to expel him from training due to his political party affiliation.
HRW revealed that one crime preventer from Fort Portal whom they interviewed expressed concern over discrimination and partisanship: “The commander told me that I should fight hard and fight the other parties. He said that we’re living in the ruling NRM era so other parties don’t need to surface.”
The CSO fear that Crime preventers are also vulnerable to being used – either paid or duped – to support or oppose particular political candidates. Crime preventers from Gulu told HRW that one member of parliament instructed them to wear T-shirts with an X crossing out “JPAM,” the initials of John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, one of the presidential candidates, and to demonstrate against him. One crime preventer in Fort Portal said that a candidate paid his colleagues, armed with sticks, to beat up and disperse his opponent’s supporters.
The CSOs also accuse crime preventers of committing violence and other crimes such as extortions.
When contacted by The Sunrise to comment about the report, The Uganda Police Public Relations Officer Fred Enanga said he was away in Rukungiri and had not seen a copy the CSOs report but promised to provide a response which had not come by press time.