Court orders govt to pay Lira family Shs 280m over police killing of suspect

Security shot and killed Remizio Okello during arrest

The High court in Kampala has ordered government to pay a family Shs 280 million after army and police officers killed their relative and illegally detained nine others.

Justice Boniface Wamala ruled that there was irrefutable evidence to show that the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) soldiers together with the police murdered Remizio Okello in the process of arresting him together with nine of his relatives.

In a civil suit filed last year, Patrick Obong, a nephew to the 10, ran to court seeking orders that the security’s action of killing Okello without following the law, violated his right to life. Obong also asked the court to issue a declaration that the government’s act of detaining Simple Apio, Jacinto Ongwec, Peter Ogwang, Arach Joseph, Florence Akello, New Innocent, Lilly Opio, Silva Oyuku and Day Ajok incommunicado for a period exceeding 48 hours violated their fundamental human rights.

Obong also asked court to declare that the government’s refusal to hand over the body of Okello to his relatives for a decent burial in conformity with his Luo customs at his ancestral grounds violated his right to a decent burial. He asked the court to order that the government exhumes and hands over the body or the remains of Okello to his relatives for a decent burial at his ancestral grounds.

He also asked the court to award him Shs 85 million as compensation to each of the nine victims for the violation of their rights, Shs 75 million as punitive and exemplary damages to each of the nine in order to deter government agents from committing similar highhanded, arbitrary and unconstitutional.

They also requested Shs 200 million as general damages for mental anguish, agony, misery, and inconvenience and that the money should attract a 25 per cent interest until its paid. According to court papers, on April 24, 2021, the nine were brutally arrested from their home at Wigweng village, Awio parish, Iceme sub-county in Oyam district by soldiers from Lira garrison and police officers from Oyam central police station (CPS). 

In the course of the arrest, the officers shot dead Okello and thereafter took away his body to an unknown place. That when they were arrested, the nine were not informed of the reasons for their arrest and consequent detention and were not granted prompt access to a lawyer or next of kin until when they were taken to court 10 days and charged with aggravated robbery.

According to Obong’s affidavit, the nine were subjected to torture, severe mental anguish, and pain during their arrest and detention. The Attorney General who was the respondent in the matter on behalf of the government, opposed the application through an affidavit sworn in by Dinah Kyasiimire, an assistant commissioner of police in the directorate of human rights and legal services. 

In her affidavit, Kyasiimire stated that the application was wrongly before the court because similar matters had already been adjudicated and determined. She also said that the nine who had been arrested had been guaranteed a fair trial having been indicted, committed, and are awaiting their day in court. In his ruling, justice Wamala found that indeed there was evidence that the rights of the nine were abused.  

“Confining a victim incommunicado, in a secret detention place or another form of detention, constitutes torture of a mental or psychological nature under item 2(c) of the second schedule to the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012…This constituted torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as against the victims,” Wamala held.   

He also ruled that the shooting and killing of Okello was not in dispute because the court was informed that the officers implicated in the shooting are currently undergoing trial on murder, obstruction of lawful execution of duty, and conspiracy to commit a felony charge. 

The officers implicated include UPDF soldiers led by RO 08695 Lt Col Nelson Ayebare and RA 155856 CPL Sulait Basajjabalaba and RA 255934 pursuant to the disposal of MC No. 136 of 2021, the respondent was ordered to release the body to the deceased’s relatives but the same has not been done and there seems to be no effort made towards that direction,” Wamala’s ruling reads in part. 

The judge also noted that he finds it inconceivable that the government had taken so long without handing over the body of Okello to relatives for a decent and dignified send-off.   

“The fact that they have not made any explanation to the court implies that it is a deliberate act of breach of the victims’ rights. It follows therefore that the right of the deceased to life under article 22(1) of the constitution was violated and so is the right of the applicant and subject persons to conduct a decent burial for their relative in accordance with their right to practice one’s culture and customs under article 37 of the constitution,” the judge said.

Having found the government culpable, Wamala ordered that each of the nine victims be compensated Shs 20 million, then Shs 100 million for exemplary damages.  

“While coming to a decision on a sum that constitutes fair and reasonable compensation in this regard, I  take cognizance of the fact that damages for death, pain, and suffering present serious difficulty in assessment with precision. I am equally aware that comparing the magnitude of pain and suffering in concrete terms with comparable past cases is quite difficult to put in terms of monetary awards. Nevertheless, in the present circumstances, I am faced with a  claim made on behalf of various victims who were arrested while mourning the death of their relative that was killed by the respondent’s agents and/or servants; and a further fact that the body has not been handed over to the relatives for over a long period of time for a decent burial and in accordance with their culture and customs,” Wamala said. 

The judge also ordered that the government meets the costs of the case and that all the money should attract a 10 per cent interest from when the judgment was issued until full payment is made. The judge also ordered that the body of Okello be exhumed and handed over to his relatives so that he can receive a proper burial.     

Source: The Observer

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