According to the 1995 Constitution of Uganda, the following rights are guaranteed: to life (Article 22), to liberty (Article 23), and to freedom from torture and inhuman treatment and to dignity (Article 24).Chap. 4, 1995 Constitution of Uganda.The right to life is drafted in very broad terms:
No person shall be deprived of life intentionally except in execution of a sentence passed in a fair trial by a court of competent jurisdiction in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Uganda and the conviction and sentence have been confirmed by the highest appellate court.Art. 22, 1995 Constitution of Uganda.
This would seem to suggest that any police "shooting to kill" would be unlawful.
Under Article 44, there shall be no derogation from the enjoyment of the following rights and freedoms:-
freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, freedom from slavery, servitude, right to fair hearing, right to an order of habeas corpus.
Surprisingly, though, this list does not include the right to life.
Under the Constitution, every person shall have the freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition.
By virtue of Article 50 of the Constitution (Enforcement of rights and freedoms by courts):
Any person who claims that a fundamental or other right or freedom guaranteed under this Constitution has been infringed or threatened, is entitled to apply to a competent court for redress which may include compensation.
The Uganda Police Force and Uganda Prisons Service are formally recognised in Uganda's Constitution,Arts. 211 and 215, respectively, 1995 Constitution of Uganda.but the use of force by these law enforcement agencies is regulated in distinct laws.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||No|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||Not party|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||State Party|
1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights
|1998 Protocol to the African Charter on the African Court||State Party|
|Article 34(6) declaration regarding individual petitions||No|
|Malabo Protocol on the African Court of Justice and Human Rights||Not party|
Police Use of Force
The 1950 Criminal Procedure Code addresses the use of force in effecting an arrest. This colonial-era legislation is still in force.
In making an arrest the police officer or other person making it shall actually touch or confine the body of the person to be arrested, unless there be a submission to the custody by word or action.
If a person forcibly resists the endeavour to arrest him or her, or attempts to evade the arrest, the police officer or other person making the arrest may use all means necessary to effect the arrest.
Nothing in this section shall be deemed to justify the use of greater force than was reasonable in the particular circumstances in which it was employed or was necessary for the apprehension of the offender.S. 2, 1950 Criminal Procedure Code.
The 1994 Police Act also regulates, in part, use of force by the Uganda Police Force. There is no general obligation to use only necessary and proportionate force.
A specific provision governs the use of firearms:
A police officer may use a firearm against—
- a person charged with or convicted of a felony who escapes from lawful custody;
- a person who, through force, rescues another person from lawful custody;
- a person who, through force, prevents the lawful arrest of himself or herself or of any other person.S. 28(1), 1994 Police Act.
This is an extremely permissive authority that goes far beyond the confines of international law.
A further provision governs the use of force in the dispersal of an "unlawful" assembly as determined by national law. Section 36 provides that:
If upon the expiration of a reasonable time after a senior police officer has ordered an assembly to disperse ... the assembly has continued in being, any police officer, or any other person acting in aid of the police officer, may do all things necessary for dispersing the persons so continuing assembled, or for apprehending them or any of them, and, if any person makes resistance, may use all such force as is reasonably necessary for overcoming that resistance, and shall not be liable in any criminal or civil proceedings for having by the use of that force caused harm or death to any person.
This also does not comply with international law.
Use of Force in Custodial Settings
The 1950 Prisons Act governs use of force in custodial settings. Section 11 (Use of force, weapons and firearms by prison officers) stipulates that:
(1) A prison officer may use such force against a prisoner as is reasonably necessary in order to make the prisoner obey lawful orders he or she refuses to obey or in order to maintain discipline in a prison.
(2) A prison officer may use weapons against any prisoner escaping or attempting to escape; except that—
(a) resort shall not be had to the use of any weapon unless the prison officer has reasonable ground to believe that he or she cannot otherwise prevent the escape; and
(b) a firearm shall not be used against a prisoner unless the prison officer has first given a warning to the prisoner that he or she is about to fire upon him or her and the warning goes unheeded.
More generally with respect to use of weapons against detainees, Section 3 entitles a prison officer to use weapons
against any prisoner—
(a) engaged in any combined breaking out or in any attempt to force or break open the outside door or gate or enclosure wall of the prison, and may continue to use the weapons so long as the combined breaking out is actually being prosecuted;
(b) using violence to any prison officer or other person if the prison officer has reasonable ground to believe that the prison officer or other person is in danger of life or limb, or that other grievous harm is likely to be caused to him or her; or
(c) engaged with others in riotous or threatening behaviour and refuses to desist when called upon.
According to subsection 4, and notwithstanding subsections (2) and (3) cited above, "no prison officer shall use any weapon against a prisoner in the presence of his or her superior officer except under the orders of the superior officer."
Finally, it is clarified in subsection 5, the use of any weapon under Section 11
shall, as far as possible, be to disable and not to kill.
According to the African Police Oversight Forum, internal accountability mechanisms of the Uganda Police Force include a code of conduct for police officials, police disciplinary courts, a police complaints system, and a human rights and complaints desk that receives complaints of police abuse and attempts to resolve these complaints, although very rarely through prosecution of offending parties. The Uganda Human Rights Commission is a constitutional body responsible for investigating complaints and initiating investigations on human rights violations.African Police Oversight Forum, An Audit of Police Oversight in Africa, 2008, p. 72.
The official website of the Uganda Police Force states that:
A person is entitled, without prejudice to any other legal means of redress available to him or her, to make a written complaint as to – (a) any instance of ... oppression or intimidation by a police officer.Complaint/s against a Police Officer (Police Form 105), at: http://www.upf.go.ug/complaints/.
In December 2020, following the mass shooting by police of unarmed demonstrators, a human rights defender called publicly for the establishment of an effective, independent police oversight body.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its last Concluding Observations on Uganda in 2004, the Human Rights Committee noted that measures had been taken to prevent the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, but it remained "concerned about situations in which they have allegedly extrajudicially executed civilians". The Committee called on Uganda to
ensure that law enforcement officials are prosecuted for any disproportionate use of firearms against civilians. Additionally, it should continue its efforts to train police agents, members of the military and prison officers to scrupulously respect applicable international standards.Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Uganda, UN doc., CCPR/CO/80/UGA, 4 May 2004, §16.
There are, to date, no relevant judgments from the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights concerning use of force by a Ugandan law enforcement agency.
Omar Awadh Omar et al. Attorney General (2014)
In this case, the Constitutional Court rejected allegations by two of the petitioners that they were forced, by beatings inflicted by Ugandan Police officers and military personnel, to publicly confess their participation in the July 2010 Kampala bombings. A number of allegations of ill treatment were passed on to the High Court for adjudication.
Byarugaba v. UgandaByarugaba v. Uganda  1 EA 234 (CAK).
In this case, a police inspector was convicted of unlawfully wounding two men who had been arrested but not charged with any offence. He shot them on the basis that they were attempting to escape from lawful custody even though they were unarmed and handcuffed. The court held that he could have easily re-arrested them without the use of such force and he was thus convicted.