Refugees ask: Is Uganda delivering Congolese refugees to Kabila?

Published: 31 Jul 2012
By: Exiled from Congo

There is growing desolation and fear among Congolese refugees following the kidnapping of a well-known Congolese refugee, Mr. Avochi Nyipir Utwikende. His kidnapping enforces a feeling of insecurity among Congolese refugees who have long feared Ugandan security and their suspected collaboration with their Congolese counterparts. It is also seen as confirmation of rumors that there are secret Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government agents operating on Ugandan territory. In fact, since 2001, a number of Congolese in Uganda have witnessed the kidnapping of members of their community and their transfer to the DRC against their will in violation of international law.

According to numerous sources, including the Millénaire newspaper and BeniLubero online, Mr. Utwikende was arrested on 6 July in central Kampala by Ugandan security forces and delivered to Congolese security. He is reportedly currently hanging between life and death in a prison in Kinshasa, following torture and mistreatment to which he has been subjected since his transfer to Kinshasa. He stands accused of being in contact with the M23 rebel movement, currently active in North Kivu, and supporting them.

His arrest seems to be part of a wider pattern of arrests of Congolese in Uganda. For instance in May 2011, a certain Congolese refugee, Richard Beiza Bamuhiga, who was a former officer in the Congolese police forces and intelligence officer in Lubanga’s Union des Patriotes Congolaises (UPC), was arrested at his home in the Bunga area of Kampala, allegedly by Ugandan and Congolese intelligence agents. According to the Millénaire newspaper, he was tortured and subjected to mistreatment and remains unaccounted for to this day. His kidnapping occurred one day after he gave an interview with the same newspaper, in which he accused President Kabila of having supported and ordered an attack on Bogoro (eastern DRC) in which civilians were massacred. The attack is currently the subject of the ongoing trial against Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui at the International Criminal Court.

These arrests are creating considerable concern among Congolese refugees because they seem to suggest that Ugandan intelligence services are working in collaboration with their Congolese counterparts, even against people that the Ugandan authorities have recognised as refugees.

Political opponents who are hostile to the power in Kinshasa are feeling particularly vulnerable. If Mr. Utwikende is vulnerable, who might be next?

Mr. Utwikende was formerly a career intelligence in the DRC, serving since the Mobutu regime before working with the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD). He is also recognised for having been an important figure in the rebellion in Ituri where he directed the intelligence service. He came to Uganda and obtained refugee status in 2002 and he is a man who knows a lot of secrets about Ugandan-Congolese relations.

The Congolese online journal Beni Lubero alleges that the case unfolded in this way:

1) Utwikende was kidnapped in Kampala in broad daylight and in the business area of the Nakivubo area of Kampala on Friday, July 6, 2012 at about 14:30 local time.

2) The operation of this kidnapping was carried out by a mixed commando of Congolese and Ugandan members of the military security.

3) In order to ensure that Utwikende was neutralized he was dosed with valium rendering him unconscious. He was tied up and spent four days without the bindings being removed or loosened.

4) The night of the same day, the 6-7 July, the Ugandan partners in the operation escorted the victims with the Congolese torturers, despite the fact that Utwikende was never criticized for anything during the whole time of his six-year exile in Kampala.

5) On 7 July, the victim arrived in Bunia in total secrecy. Mr. Utwikende was guarded by the Chief of Staff in charge of operations in Ituri for about 48 hours before being taken to Kisangani. No one was given information about these developments, not even his wife and children who are all resident in Bunia town. It seems likely that this secrecy was motivated by the mistreatment to which he has been subjected.

6) On 9 July 2012, the victim arrived in Kisangani in the same inhuman conditions.

7) On 11 July, Mr. Utwikende was taken to Kinshasa.

8) On 12 July, he was handed over to the National Security Agency (known by its French acronym, ANR). Since that time he has been subjected to torture and severe physical punishments.

9) Since this weekend, the 21 July, the presidency intimated the order to the ANR that Mr. Utwikende was not to receive any visitors. This order raises concerns that the torture and mistreatment that has been reported thus far may be be continuing.

That is why we, Congolese activists, are asking that human rights activists and humanitarians to take action to ensure that Mr. Utwikende is not subjected to further torture or other human rights violations.

Programmes: Justice and Accountability
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Democratic Republic of Congo
Type: IRRI Blog