Cablegate: Uganda: Additional Information On 2002 Gulu Prison Incident
DE RUEHKM #1399/01 3510709
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 170709Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY KAMPALA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0014
INFO RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA
Thursday, 17 December 2009, 07:09
C O N F I D E N T I A L KAMPALA 001399
EO 12958 DECL: 2019/12/17
TAGS PHUM, PGOV, UG
SUBJECT: UGANDA: ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON 2002 GULU PRISON INCIDENT
REF: STATE 112641
CLASSIFIED BY: Aaron Sampson, Pol/Econ Chief, State, Pol/Econ; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
1. (C) Summary: The following information responds to reftel questions regarding the 2002 death of Peter Oloya at Gulu Central Prison. In 2003, the Ugandan High Court described Mr. Oloya’s death as “a blatant case of extra judicial killing.” Relying on the testimony of one eyewitness, and the Ugandan government’s failure to produce any eyewitnesses or signed affidavits to the contrary, the High Court concluded Oloya was shot on the orders of Lt. Col. Otema. Our efforts to investigate the 2002 killing produced no additional information. End Summary.
2. (C) Who was in command of the UPDF forces that went to Gulu prison?
- Lt. Col. Charles Anway Otema was in charge of UPDF forces that went to Gulu prison and accompanied these forces to the prison.
3. (C) What was the relationship of the commanding officer of the forces entering the prison in the chain of command to then-Lt. Col. Otema?
- Lt. Col. Charles Anway Otema was the commanding officer of the forces that entered the prison, and entered the prison along with forces under his command.
4. (C) What were the orders of the detachment that went to Gulu Prison? Were these given by then-Lt. Col. Otema? Did these specifically address safeguarding prisoners?
- On November 3, 2009, Gulu District Chairman Walter Ochora told PolOff that he, Lt. Col. Otema, and President Museveni discussed an intercepted message on September 16, 2002, revealing plans by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to liberate prisoners from Gulu central prison. Ochora said President Museveni ordered Lt. Col. Otema to go to the prison, secure the prisoners, and bring them back to the military barracks. Ochora said the Director General of Prisons authorized Lt. Col. Otema’s unit entrance to the prison. We have no further information on the content of the orders given to Lt. Col. Otema.
5. (C) What measures as commander did then-Lt. Col. Otema take after the incident? Did he order an investigation?
- The UPDF has not provided information about the nature or extent of any internal UPDF investigation. Member of Parliament (MP) David Penytoo Ocheng, who was incarcerated with Oloya in Gulu prison at the time of the incident, told PolOff that he rode from the prison in the back of the military truck carrying Oloya’s body. Ocheng recalls Lt. Col Otema saying, “Is he dead? Is he dead? If he is dead just bury him.” Ocheng said Oloya was clearly dead, with gunshot exit wounds in the front of his chest. Upon arrival at the military barracks, Lt. Col. Otema approached the back of the truck, asked again if Oloya was dead, and ordered the soldiers to carry Oloya to the military barracks hospital. Ocheng said that three days later some soldiers at the military barracks told him they had buried a decapitated civilian matching Oloya’s description with a chest bullet wound.
6. (C) If there was an investigation, who conducted the investigation?
- The UPDF provided no information regarding any internal UPDF investigations of Oloya’s killing.
- On February 14, 2003, the Ugandan High Court heard an application seeking compensation for the 21 Gulu prisoners, including Oloya,
for violation of human rights. The hearing determined whether the claimants were deprived of basic rights, and did not indentify any parties or individuals responsible for depriving the claimants of these rights.
- In regard to the shooting death of Oloya, the Uganda’s Attorney General did not dispute that Oloya was fatally shot by UPDF personnel, but claimed that Oloya was “shot dead accidentally as he attacked one of the soldiers and attempted to disarm him.” Stephan Otim, a fellow prisoner and eyewitness, testified that “as the late Peter Oloya was moving towards the prison gate, Lt. Col. Oteng Awany ordered the soldiers to shoot him...the soldiers then shot Peter Oloya in the back and his body was loaded into a lorry”.
- The High Court said it was “inclined to believe” the version articulated by Oloya’s fellow prisoners. The court specifically cited Otim’s eyewitness affidavit, and the Ugandan government’s failure to produce any affidavits from Lt. Col. Otema or other eyewitness in response. The Court described the Attorney General’s claim of an accidental shooting as “pure fiction”, and found it “inconceivable that a prisoner namely the late Peter Oloya could have attacked and then attempted to disarm one of the soldiers...it is unimaginable that a poor unarmed prisoner would attack a soldier amidst many other heavily armed soldiers.” The Court ruled that “Peter Oloya was intentionally deprived of his right to life when he was shot in cold blood at the orders of Lt. Col Otema Awany. His killing was not in execution of a sentence passed in a fair
trial by a court of competent jurisdiction in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Uganda where such sentence had been confirmed with the highest appellate court. This was a blatant case of extra judicial killing by which the right to life of the late Peter Oloya as protected by Article 22(1) of the Constitution was violated.” The Court found it “surprising” that Lt. Col. Otema “swore no affidavit in reply leading to an irresistible inference that the averments that Peter Oloya was deliberately shot in cold blood at the orders of Lt. Col. Otema Awany are true.” The government appealed this ruling in 2006 but the Attorney General failed to appear and the appeal was subsequently dismissed.
7. (C) Was it an official investigation?
- The UPDF did not provide evidence of any internal UPDF investigation. The High Court case was an official legal hearing into human rights violations. The hearing was not a criminal trial, nor did it lead to criminal charges against Lt. Col. Otema or any other party.
8. (C) Will the GOU release the investigation results or a summary to us (with the understanding that the USG will respect confidentiality?
- We have already emailed scanned copy of the 2003 High Court ruling to the Uganda Desk Officer.
9. (C) Why did the UPDF decline to release Peter Oloya’s body?
- The UPDF provided no information on why it failed to comply with the court order to release the Oloya’s body.
- Ochora told PolOff that he and Gulu District Chairman Norbert Mao recently discussed this case with President Museveni (the 2003 High Court ruling notes a petition by Mao for the release of Oloya’s body). Ochora said the President saw no reason not to return Oloya’s body to relatives and that the Paramount Chief (the Acholi King) should be informed to handle the rituals involved in moving the body.
- MP David Penytoo Ocheng said that three days after he and other prisoners were transferred to the military barracks in 2002,
soldiers on burial detail for UPDF soldiers killed by the LRA told him they had also buried a decapitated civilian matching Oloya’s description. The soldiers told Ocheng that the body bore a large exit wound on the front of the chest.
10. (C) If possible, can the Embassy interview one or more eyewitnesses (preferably from different points of view, e.g. prison official, prisoner, soldier) from the Gulu prison incident?
- Post has been unable to identify any eyewitnesses. Ochora was not an eyewitness and was not at the prison at the time the incident occurred. Penytoo said he was in an adjacent prison yard when shots were fired. Nor are we convinced that locating eyewitnesses seven years after the incident would provide any greater clarity as political and personal sentiments continue to color descriptions of the incident. The 2003 High Court ruling contains a sworn affidavit by one eyewitness, Stephen Otim. Neither the Ugandan government nor the UPDF produced sworn statements by other eyewitnesses challenging Otim’s version of events.
11. (C) We would appreciate post’s opinion with regard to the credibility of NGO accounts vs. government accounts of this incident. We also would appreciate post’s opinion on whether Otema was involved in the incident or not.
- There is no dispute that Lt. Col. Otema was present the night Peter Oloya was shot. The question is whether Oloya was deliberately shot, and if so was this at Lt. Col. Otema’s orders, or was Oloya shot accidently while trying to wrestle a weapon from one of Lt. Col. Otema’s men. We do not feel that we are in a position to go beyond the findings of the High Court in concluding what actually happened the night of Oloya’s death. LANIER