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Center Intern Update: Courtney Marasigan

The following is a personal summer intern update from Courtney Marasigan, who is interning with the Department of Public Prosecutions in Uganda (the equivalent of our Attorney General/Department of Justice).

Last Monday, instructions to write a report on torture awaited me at the headquarters of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Having come to Uganda for the purpose of pursuing a legal internship in human rights, my heart leapt for joy at this opportunity.

The Ugandan legislature enacted the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, or Anti-Torture Law, in 2012. Since the law’s enactment, over 1,000 civil complaints of torture have been made, yet only 1 case of torture (Uganda v. Tumuhiirwe) has been tried criminally. However, the charge for Torture in this case was even downgraded to a charge for Assault Occasioning Bodily Harm based on a technicality. In other words, there have not been any criminal cases of torture tried in Uganda since the Act’s inception. A “Public Dialogue on the Implementation of the Anti-Torture Law” conference was scheduled for 24 June 2015 to examine the gaps in implementing the Act. 

Justice Mike Chibita, who is responsible for instituting criminal proceedings in all Ugandan courts as the Director of the DPP, tasked my fellow interns and me with collaboratively writing a multi-faceted report. The report included researching the history of torture in Uganda and the legal basis for the Act, surveying anti-torture laws in other countries, analyzing the pitfalls of the Act as well as the Tumuhiirwecase, and offering suggestions to improve the Act’s implementation.

The report bolstered Justice Chibita’s presentation as one of the conference’s keynote speakers. Among the attendants were representatives from several human rights organizations such as the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Centre of Uganda, the United Nations Convention against Torture, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

One of my major takeaways from this project was getting to research the status of eradicating torture in other countries around the world. It was very interesting to learn that an anti-torture bill failed to pass in India because torture methods used by law enforcement are viewed as effective in the eyes of the public. On the other hand, the United Kingdom is thriving in establishing a National Preventive Mechanism as promoted by the United Nations.  The UK currently has 18 independent organizations that inspect places of detention where torture is most likely to occur. Having these independent bodies is imperative to combating ill-treatment since most acts of torture are committed by law enforcement agencies. Without this check on the system, many cases of torture would be swept under the rug.

I also found much excitement in examining where the Tumuhiirwe case went wrong. First, one co-worker and I went on an investigation that took us to probing the memory of the lead state prosecutor of the case. Then, my co-workers and I took turns advocating for opposing sides in order to better understand the nuances of why the torture charge was dropped. Ultimately, the facts of the case neither lined up with the spirit of the law nor met the elements of torture under the Act.

Last but not least, it was a great privilege for my co-workers and me to attend the conference. Our research came full circle when it was presented by Justice Chibita and then responded to by representatives from the various organizations. The dialogue between the attendants was very spirited and thought provoking due to the presence of so many pioneers in the field of curbing torture in Uganda. 

Overall, it was an invaluable experience that taught us firsthand the importance of broadening one’s perspective to learn from the systems and ideals of other countries—especially in the realm of human rights.

Read about our other Center interns >