Uganda laws allow survivors of torture to prosecute the perpetrators of torture. If you ask the organization ACTV, which treats survivors of torture on a daily basis, despite progress, there is still a long way to go to improve conditions for survivors.
Since 1993, ACTV – the African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims – has been advocating for the prevention of torture in Uganda, and helping thousands of torture survivors to recover from the gruesome effects of torture.
But for ACTV, being an organization fighting torture is not always easy.
»We are often asked: how do you deal with torture in a country like Uganda? And I do not know if there is one right answer. But our strategy is based on evidence and dialogue. This means that we always have facts in place when we try to enter into dialogue with politicians and other state actors«, says Alex Kigoye, who is a Program Manager at ACTV.
Last year 2021, Alex Kigoye and other ACTV staff were carried out an awareness campaign on the importance of effective documentation of torture during the general elections.
And the trend was clear:
»We recorded at least 69 cases of torture and ill treatment related to elections between December 2020 and March, 2021. There is a clear trend that torture increases with the election period«, said Alex Kigoye.
It was not only the number of torture cases that increased during the election period. There were also cases of arbitrary arrests, police brutality, illegal detention, kidnaping and intimidation of political supporters.
For Alex Kigoye and ACTV, there were limitations to document the cases of torture and ill treatment; fear among survivors that they will be arrested and re-tortured if they shared their stories, and the COVID19 pandemic restrictions in the country.
»We knew it was important to document the cases. It is important to show politicians and other actors what the consequences of torture are for society, families and the individual human being subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment«, says Alex Kigoye.
Violence against torture survivors
Alex Kigoye notes ACTV’s basic concern about being shut down by the government. As many other human rights organizations are being shut down.
»We can never know for sure when we are working against torture. We get worried about not being able to provide the help that torture survivors need. And it is clear that the government does not always see us as their best friends when we document torture«, said Alex Kigoye.
To illustrate the reality of the fight against torture in Uganda, Alex Kigoye tells a story about a man who was tortured in a police cell.
»The man sought help from us. He wanted to raise a case against his torturers. One day on his way from the courtroom, he was beaten and harassed by policemen who had tortured him. Such episodes create much fear in our clients«, says Alex Kigoye.
It happens that some clients at ACTV are subjected to harassment when they start treatment for their trauma after torture and violence, says Alex Kigoye and explains that ACTV provides holistic rehabilitation services to about 1000 survivors each year. Of whom Thirty percent of them are refugees from the neighboring countries.
»We need better protection for torture survivors«, said Alex Kigoye.
A meaningful job
Despite the challenges in Uganda for ACTV, the will and courage of Alex Kigoye and the other 46 staff of ACTV are still high, providing holistic rehabilitation services that include; medical treatment, mental health services, social support, and legal aid on daily basis. There is a dedicated team of professional; Medical Doctors, Lawyers, Nurses, Physiotherapists, Psychologists, Social Workers who work to ensure recovery of survivors.
»Every day we fight to make life easier for torture survivors. They are a vulnerable group of people who are fragile and without hope. We try to restart life for them by creating a lot of hope«, says Alex Kigoye and he continues:
»It is also what drives us. So that survivors can start dreaming again after going through unpleasant experiences of torture«.
DIGNITY and ACTV have had a collaboration since 2018, where DIGNITY has, among other things, supported ACTV’s efforts to provide psychological assistance to torture survivors in rural areas in Uganda and strengthened ACTV’s professionalism within documentation of torture.