Page last updated at 12:22 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 13:22 UK

Uganda unit 'tortured detainees'

A Ugandan man runs away from police in Kampala in November 2007 during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the capital
The unit draws its personnel from the police and other intelligence groups

An anti-terrorism unit in Uganda is responsible for the unlawful detention of suspects and torture, US-based Human Rights Watch says in a report.

Based on interviews with 25 alleged victims, the group says that suspects had been held for up to 11 months without access to families or lawyers.

It said they were severely beaten and some died as a result of torture.

An army spokesman told AFP news agency that torture was not condoned and the allegations would be investigated.

"Institutionally, we do not condone or practice torture. We are actually at the forefront of advancing human rights," Maj Felix Kulaiyigye said.

'Pattern of arrests'

HRW said one of the illegal detention centres was in the upmarket Kampala suburb of Kololo, which is dotted with the luxury mansions and ambassadors' residences.

They had been beaten both with fists but with the butts of guns, with shoes, batons, with chairs
Maria Burnett
Human Rights Watch

Another was based at the military intelligence headquarters in Kitante, another suburb of the capital.

HRW said it had documented 106 cases of illegal detention by the Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force (Jatt).

Many of the arrests had occurred in the months leading up to Uganda's hosting of the November 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, HRW said.

The group's researcher, Maria Burnett, said victims had given detailed accounts of their treatment.

"There seems to be a pattern of arrests, in which the arresting officer does not identify himself," she told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"People are arrested and put into unmarked cars. The detention there can be anywhere from one week to many months, in some cases upwards of 11 months."

'Red chilli paste'

She said many of those who were interviewed had been very badly treated.

A Ugandan man beaten during protests in Kampala in November 2007 during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the capital
The 2007 Commonwealth summit was a focus of opposition protests

"They had been beaten both with fists but with the butts of guns, with shoes, batons, with chairs.

"In one particularly brutal episode detainees had kamurali - the red chilli pepper that had been turned into a paste - rubbed into their eyes and nose and mouth during the interrogation."

She said there were a few instances in which HRW believed people died as a result of the torture.

And according to eyewitnesses, in 2007 Jatt agents shot and killed a former detainee at his home after his release.

Some detainees described being shocked with electricity.

We are tired of such malicious, baseless reports
Judith Nabakooba
Police spokesperson

Another said he had lost a leg because of infection in a wound caused by a severe beating.

Formed in 1999, Jatt draws its personnel from the police and intelligence organisations.

Earlier, police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said the claims were untrue.

"We are tired of such malicious, baseless reports," she told AP news agency.

"They want to make such reports to account for the money they get from their donors."

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