Uganda Elections 2006: Besigye's Letter from Luzira
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First published: December 20, 2005
Opposition leader Rtd Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye has written replying President Yoweri Museveni's last week speech on his (Besigye's) arrest and trial. Museveni said the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leader created the problems resulting in his arrest for himself and that the Government can only have principled and not opportunistic resolution of the situation. In a letter dated Friday December 17, 2005, Besigye wrote from Luzira Prison where he has been remanded ans sent a copy to Ultimate Media.
"President Yoweri Museveni's statement that appeared in The Sunday Vision of December 11, 2005 is characteristic of his dishonesty. There are many provokingly untrue and shamelessly misrepresented points. However, I will only address three of them:
1. That the NRM (read Museveni) has been firm in dealing with wrongdoers: It is an indisputable fact that under the Museveni regime, 'wrongdoers' are not treated equally as demanded by the Constitution. In Uganda, there are three criminal Justice systems:
Numerous commissions of inquiry have compiled evidence and recommended prosecution of senior military, public and political leaders. The Museveni loyalists, far from being arrested and prosecuted, have been promoted and praised for 'liberating' our country!
On the other hand, crimes have been invented for members of the political opposition, who are promptly arrested, tortured and detained for long periods before the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) 'loses interest' in the cases. Some people have been in prison for more than five years, without trial. My wife, Winnie Byanyima, was arrested three times, and the charges were either dropped or dismissed by Court. This is Museveni's "firmness with wrongdoers".
2. Principled reconciliation: In Museveni's world, "principled reconciliation" can only happen when the "wrongdoer first admits his/her mistake". Obviously, he cannot understand that reconciliation is not about managing "wrongdoing", but rather about managing opposed or conflicting situations towards an amicable solution. That is why reconciliation is usually managed by mediators or facilitators, who help the conflicting parties to appreciate each other's position and to move towards a harmonious solution. Naturally, in the process of reconciliation, wrongdoing on either side may be found and accordingly managed; without losing the primary goal of creating a harmonious understanding known as 'reconciliation'.
For that matter, the DPP, the Courts of Law and the Military Court Martial cannot be the appropriate agents for reconciliation. I advise President Museveni to seriously consider the statement by religious leaders of UJCC (Uganda Joint Christian Council) published in The Daily Monitor of December 14, 2005 and the offer they make.
3. The cases of Kizza Besigye: When I came back to Uganda to face the so-called criminal charges against me, I did not ask or expect to be treated preferentially by the justice system or by anyone in authority in respect of the charges that have been preferred against me.
I only ask, and EXPECT to be treated fairly and in accordance with the law and its due process. As a matter of fact, I rejected 'preferential treatment', which came in the form of an offer by President Museveni, to remove me from prison "immediately" and put me under "house arrest" at my residence.
This was partly because I thought it was irregular and inevitably shrouded with many uncertainties. I also rejected Museveni's preferential treatment that if I should sign amnesty papers, I would immediately be discharged of all my cases, including rape! The Government of Uganda knows that I have a significant team of lawyers who would be aware of the Amnesty Law. Why then, would it be the Government, the law enforcer, pressurising me to apply for amnesty? Does President Museveni consider this a legitimate role of political leaders in handling criminal matters?
My concern and the concern of many people and organisations that have made public expressions are the following:
1. Timing and management of my cases
2. Trial by Military Court Martial Through our lawyers, we opposed trial by the Military Court Martial because:
- It is headed by the Commander-in-Chief, who is the President.
- All the Court Martial members, including the prosecutor, are senior UPDF officers, appointed by the President and operating under his continuing and direct command. He deploys them, promotes them etc.
- It is to him that an aggrieved soldier appeals in case of delays of their trial, etc. There is therefore no way this court can be impartial to a person seeking to replace the President. Certainly, I would never willingly subject myself to the jurisdiction of the UPDF Court Martial and expect justice through it. On the other hand, I would be prepared to battle any number of charges in a civilian court.
"The offense of terrorism and any other offences punishable by more than 10 years' imprisonment under this Act are triable only by the High Court and bail in respect of those offences may be granted only by the High Court".
It is for those reasons that we have petitioned the Constitutional Court and High Court for appropriate action.
President Museveni claims that the use of the Military Court Martial to try civilians has helped deal with crime since civil courts were overstretched. This assertion is an insult to Ugandans. Some people have been waiting in prison for over four years for their cases to be disposed of by the General Court Martial since 1999. From the information I have received while in prison, people who were arrested by Wembley and VCCU (Violent Crime Crack Unit) operations since 2002 are 560 people, of whom 448 have not yet been tried:
The 440 people pending GCM trial, whose names and details I have compiled have been in prison for one to four years, yet Section 190 of the UPDF Act provides that a person triable under military law who has been detained in custody for 90 days before commencement of her/his trial shall be freed all the 440 illegally detained men have families; most with very young children.
These families have fallen into destitution as a result of the GCM, to which the President of Uganda is happy to divert cases from civil courts. Such is President Museveni's sense of justice!
President Museveni is wrong. As a prisoner of conscience, I neither seek nor expect preferential treatment from him or from anybody else. I will willingly fight the political battle both politically and in the Civil Courts of Law, and I am confident that the truth will set me free, but I will never subject myself to his idea of "preferential treatment" or his dubious and impartial GCM.
I may be imprisoned but the political issues I have raised and my resolve to fight for freedom will never be imprisoned. Let's all work to keep hope alive.
For God and my country.
No UR 898/05
Luzira Maximum Upper Prison
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First published: December 20, 2005
Dr. Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe (born April 22, 1956, Rukungiri, Uganda) is a former colonel in the Ugandan army, president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party and was a challenger in Uganda's 2001 presidential elections. He is also a challenger in the 2006 elections.