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RFK Human Rights Submits Communication to UN Human Rights Committee for Ugandan Novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has submitted a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee for the case of exiled Ugandan award-winning novelist, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. Rukirabashaija is a renowned novelist who was thrice arbitrarily arrested, detained, and tortured by Ugandan state security forces for his writings criticizing President Yoweri Museveni, his son, and other Ugandan government officials. He has published two books, The Greedy Barbarian, a novel that explores high-level corruption in a fictional country, and Banana Republic: Where Writing is Treasonous, an account of his first and second arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture at the hands of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) officers. A third book, The Savage Avenger, is expected to be released in December 2022 and narrates the harrowing torture Rukirabashaija experienced during his third detention.

In April 2020, Rukirabashaija was violently arrested and detained by CMI officers who then interrogated him about his writing and tortured him. One officer told him he deserved to die for writing about the president. His second arrest was in September 2020, where he was again interrogated and tortured despite still recovering from his previous detention. His last arrest was in December 2021, where, yet again, he faced violent interrogations and torture including severe beatings, waterboarding, and sleep deprivation. Today, Rukirabashaija is still dealing with the physical and mental health impacts from his repeated torture. The author and his family are now living in exile in Germany.

The complaint alleges Uganda violated Rukirabashaija’s right to freedom of expression by highlighting the connection between the torture he experienced and his expressive activities as an author. It states that the arrests, detention, and torture were intended to have both a punitive and deterrent impact on Rukirabashaija and his writing. It further adds that this impact goes beyond Rukirabashaija to have a chilling effect on writers, journalists, and civic space throughout the country.

This comes shortly after increased public awareness regarding human rights violations committed by Ugandan security forces and high-level officials. Specifically, during the Ugandan Attorney General’s speech to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, five Ugandan women interrupted his speech and gave a list of 1,277 missing or tortured Ugandans to the chairperson of the Committee. The women were taken away by security and later released without charges.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights strongly denounces the Ugandan government’s use of torture and their repression of freedom of expression. We call on the government to implement safeguards to prevent abuse and torture by state law enforcement against detainees in compliance with international law and to respect freedom of expression and opinion.