Women petition Speaker on POMA
On 30th October 2015, the Speaker of Parliament Hon Rebecca Kadaga made time out of her busy schedule, given the ongoing campaigns, to meet with women activists on the implementation of the Public Order Management Act, 2013 (POMA). The activists led by former legislator and Ethics Minister, Hon. Miria Matembe, under the umbrella of the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), personally delivered the petition to Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and argued that the Act in its current state threatened the participation of women in national politics. They hope for a review of the Act.
The act which gives the Inspector General of Police and other authorized officers discretionary powers to regulate the conduct of all public meetings which intend to discuss issues of public interest has seen the dawn of many deplorable acts being committed by the police. During the debate on the Bill, before it was passed, members of the public, civil societies, governments and other stakeholders decried the contentious clauses in the act stating that they infringed on individual liberties, marred peaceful demonstration, free speech and would curb the activities of opposition political parties, among others, yet they are all enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda. Nevertheless, it was passed by Parliament and signed into law by the President.
As envisaged, the police have not shied away from implementing the law in the most brutal ways imaginable. The pinch of their methods of apprehension of intended targets is felt by both women and men alike. Haven’t we all lost count of the numbers of times the current flag bearer of the FDC party has been whisked off in police patrol cars under the pretext of the POMA law? Not that Mr. Besigye’s plight is a lesser cause but did anyone not see the manner in which the Secretary General of FDC, in charge of environment, Ms. Farida Naigaga was apprehended on 10th October?
With the brutality exerted that day, can anyone dispute the claims of “senior citizen”, Honorable Miria Matembe who passionately argued that as a consequence, members of the women’s movement especially those from the opposition have withdrawn because of the nature of the political environment in Uganda, as they cannot exercise their right to association and the right to belong? Look at Ingrid Turinawe, Nabila Ssempala, Zainab Naigaga, all of whom have suffered under the long arm of the POMA law; Does their political affiliation make them more susceptible to the kind of treatment they get from the police? This takes us back to the conversation of affirmative action also enshrined in the Constitution. Should we resign ourselves to the fact subsequent laws in Uganda will always disregard the supreme law of the land?
Okay, even in the event that these people were holding an unlawful assembly, the relevant laws that prescribe the procedure of arrest are the Constitution, the Magistrate Court Act (MCA) Cap 16, the Criminal Procedure Code Act (CPCA) Cap 116, and the Police Act Cap 303 and ought to have been adhered to. The laws must be applied together with POMA and the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012. Section 2 of the CPCA lays down the procedure to be followed in carrying out an arrest. A police officer is authorized to actually touch the body of the person to be arrested and even use force, however, the amount of force must commensurate the situation. Also Section 23(2) and Section 72 (3) of the MCA, state that a female person shall only be searched by a woman. The search may be extended to stripping a body of a suspect by a female officer and must be done with decency (Sec. 8 of CPCA). Section 27(9) of the Police Act also requires that searches be carried out in a humane manner. Unnecessary damage or destruction should be avoided. So how many laws were breached during the arrest of Naigaga?
During the special sitting of Parliament on October 14th, MP Cecilia Ogwal in her heartfelt speech, asked the Human Rights commission to investigate and prosecute the officers involved in the unfortunate event that took place on the 10th of October and the women activists during their petition presentation reiterated this and called for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate cases of abuse and brutality by security forces. I too think the commission should evoke rule 24 of the Disciplinary Conduct of Police Officers, which states that a police officer is guilty of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority if he or she, without a good or sufficient cause, makes unlawful or unnecessary arrest because they need to be held liable for their actions.
All hope should not be lost yet I must say, as the Speaker voiced her support for the cause, as she is quoted to have said; “As Parliament we are equally concerned. The role of the Police is to facilitate public gatherings. It can’t be a government policy to unleash brutality on its people. We agreed as a country to return to multiparty politics and this system calls for tolerance. I will speak to the Inspector General of Police over the management of public gatherings,” She confirmed debate on the report she asked the Ministry of Internal Affairs to table during the special sitting on 14th on the actions of the Police.
This will be done when MPs return from the recess, I only hope they will be in high spirits because believe it or not, elections take a heavy toll on them. I also hope this matter is not swept under the rag or becomes a mere case of rubber stamping by Parliament that we are used to.
 Daily Monitor Newspaper, “The women who were stripped, their story”
 Parliament of Uganda Website, “Review Public Order Management Act,” women activists demand