How can democratic, accountable policing be achieved in Uganda? Currently, the interests of the government are prioritised above the protection of Uganda’s people. The police are heavily militarised and responsible for widespread human rights violations. This report from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative looks at the concepts of democratic and accountable policing and at reforms needed in Uganda. These must begin with a legislative framework based around the principles of accountability, setting out standards of appropriate behaviour and mechanisms for redress.
Uganda’s post-independence political climate supported a militaristic culture, with governments relying more on the army than the police to deal with crime. Neither the government, invariably headed by an army man, nor the public developed confidence in the police. As a result, Uganda’s police force is marked by misconduct and illegal behaviour.
Major findings demonstrate that Uganda does not have a democratic, accountable police service:
- The police abuse their power: The public experience of the police is characterised by torture, brutality, corruption, partiality and failure to follow proper procedures for arrest and detention.
- The Government has no faith in the police: Uganda’s president appoints the two most senior ranks of the police and has the power to remove them. Starved of funds, the police are under-staffed and under-resourced.
- Successive army appointees have held senior police posts: Joint operations, auxiliary forces and army involvement in police work have contributed to militarisation. This has undermined and brutalised the police, eroded their jurisdiction and furthered a culture of impunity.
- Internal and external accountability mechanisms are weak and ineffective: The public does not trust the police to handle complaints fairly and provide redress and justice.
- During elections, the police are unable to extricate themselves from bias and are marginalised by the dominance of the army: Police related laws that conflict with the Constitution are being used by the government to suppress opposition and retain power.
Six areas need urgent reform in Uganda:
- The police need to be insulated from illegitimate political interference. Best practice recommends boards that act as a buffer between the police and the government, and mechanisms to ensure independence of management.
- Democracy must be protected. The police should no longer arrest or detain people on political grounds. Policing during elections must focus on maintaining law and order and giving space for democratic voting.
- The police must be separated from the army. They should be resourced and trained to work independently. The law has to reflect a clear distinction between police and military operations. Joint operations must stop.
- The police must be held accountable. This requires an overhaul of internal accountability and two new external accountability institutions; one to monitor performance and one to exercise oversight over conduct.
- Police law must be updated. This should incorporate references to international and domestic rights, the state’s obligation to maintain an effective police service and transparent, merit-based procedures. Inconsistencies between the law and the Constitution must be removed.
- Police living and working conditions must be improved. Police officers can only perform in their jobs where supported by the terms and conditions of their service. They are entitled to decent pay, housing, medical treatment and retirement benefits.