Is Uganda's Security Services Respecting the Rule of Law?

Is Uganda's Security Services Respecting the Rule of Law?

In the last couple of years many states have been accused of implementing their security policy without respecting the rule of law. The United States of America for instance, following the 9/11 bombings came up with laws notably “The Patriots Act” that were widely viewed as repugnant and contravenes the rights of American citizens to live freely in their country. Ugandans were not spared either when the state faced with violent riots in especially Kampala enacted “The Public Order Management Act 2013” to deal with the situation. This law is largely viewed as retrogressive and violated the rights of Ugandans to assembly and especially political figures.

The respect of rule of law is only possible in many instances in a situation where there is democratic governance. In order to implement a security policy while respecting the rule of law, there is need to have a democratic and people elected and people centred government. The democratic governance of citizens presents security as the lawful authorities meant to design, implement and evaluate policies to prevent and control violence and crime. When a government is answerable to the people it is more likely to implement its policies including security while respecting the rule of law.

There must be a strong legal framework that guides the operations and management of the security services or forces. With the law clearly spelt out and the role and powers of the security forces well defined, it is hard for a country to get her security forces involved in extra judicial activities. And even when they do, they can be easily identified and brought to order in accordance with the law. In Uganda we have “The Security Organisations Act 1987” which while creating the Internal and External Security Organisations did not clearly spell out their mandate creating some kind of ambiguity which can be exploited by unscrupulous individuals within these organisations to act outside the law.

The country needs democratic oversight of her security forces if it is to implement a security policy while respecting the rule of law. Oversight can be at various levels ranging from internal oversight to judicial, parliamentary and executive oversight. The idea of democratic oversight denotes that the elected office bearers are responsible for oversight and that the security forces respect the rule of law. By doing so the oversight bodies keep the services in line with their legally defined mandate and ensuring their effectiveness.

In a country operating under the rule of law, only legitimate security services provided for by the law should operate. This therefore, means that any security arrangement or force should not be allowed to operate either by implicit state support or by omission. Such other forces not sanctioned by the law are usually unguided with no explicit code of conduct and most times end up working outside the law.

Indeed, there must be presence of security services that are legitimate and effective as a necessary condition for a democratic country to guarantee the safety of its citizens and to promote its public interest.

Investigating the functioning of security services as well as the political leaders supposed to task and directs the services are also an important element. While the services should act professionally and according to clearly spelt out ethical codes, the politicians should be objective in handling security matters. The politicians should avoid sanctioning security operations without clear basis and instead only intended to target political opponents as this would be in contravention of the law. It is therefore, important that security agencies rise above politics.

The special powers of the security forces should be subject to codification and external control. The rule of law as a broad view on democracy implies not only majority rule, but also respect for due processes, civil liberties and Human Rights. In this context, the special powers of security services for example, interference with private property and communication needs to be regulated. Otherwise, these powers can be abused by unscrupulous agents leading to violations of the law. A lot of times security forces break into residences of political opponents of the state and their offices in total disregard of the law. While there may be need to access these premises, it is important that state security agencies use the processes prescribed by the law to carry out their operations.

Eliminating impunity and preventing recurrence of violence. States should condemn impunity of events violating fundamental rights and set limits on behaviour and ensure accountability. States should always control security abuses and insist on state agents working within the law. Offenders or perpetrators of such heinous violations should be punished under the law. Punishing of the offenders will not only eliminate impunity but will compel all other actors to work within the law while carrying out the security provision function.

Professionalization and modernisation of the police and other security forces is also an important step in a bid to provide security while working under the law. The Police Force is a fundamental institution in upholding the rule of law and guaranteeing the security of the population. Given its nationwide coverage and the variety of its functions, it is one of the institutions that most often have relations with the public. A honest Police Force that is professional in its approach, well trained and efficient is essential for gaining the confidence of its citizens.

The country should always seek legal opinion in all stages of implementation of the security policy were applicable. This will not only help guide the security policy legally but will also help those implementing it to work within the law. Besides, the country needs to make use of the criminal justice system to solve matters of insecurity through the law. If rule of law is not used then we leave our entire resourceful Criminal Justice System untapped.