In Nkokonjeru zone B in Kyengera, a suburb of Kampala, is a black-gated posh house with a leafy compound. Its imposing perimeter wall is spiked with razor wire.
Inside, a green marquee and a few jalopies lay scattered here and there. There is nothing conspicuous about this tiled-roofed house save for the fact that Parliament’s human rights committee has received information that it is one of the many safe houses being run by security agencies.
In common parlance, a safe house is a term denoting an ungazetted place of detention, where alleged torture or coercion is used to extract a confession from those detained.
Yesterday, a group of lawmakers sitting on the human rights committee hit a brick wall when they tried to get impromptu access to the facility and two others in Nakasero and Nalukolongo.
The committee, led by Jennifer Nantume Egunyu, is investigating allegations of horrendous torture in safe houses in different parts of the country.
“I am Kalibbala Vincent, who is in charge of this place. You go to Nakasero and get permission from the big man,” a security operative, speaking through a ‘keyhole’ with his face hardly visible told Egunyu when she revealed the purpose of the visit.
When pressed further by MPs Robert Kyagulanyi, Latiff Ssebagaala and Raphael Magyezi to say who the ‘big man’ was, Kalibala said he was the director general of Internal Security Organisation.
“This is sad. If no torture is done here, no detainees here, why do you deny MPs access?” Magyezi asked.
The sudden appearance of two buses carrying lawmakers, parliamentary staff, Police officers and journalists descending on this quiet neighbourhood drew a crowd.
However, the security personnel inside the compound did not budge. When journalists tried to crane their necks to get a better glimpse of the compound, they heard guns getting cocked, forcing them to duck.
Residents told journalists that the house belongs to Rogers, an accountant working with Uganda Police. The same scenario played out at Nalukolongo an hour later. At 12:10 pm, MPs faced another closed gate this time of a derelict looking storeyed building. Behind the gate, two UPDF soldiers and one Mukasa, a Local Defence Unit (LDU) member stood.
Despite being under the supervision of UPDF soldiers, the confident Mukasa stepped up and engaged lawmakers.
“We are only three people here as you can see. No one is being detained,” Mukasa said, before telling MPs to seek permission from the Police if they wanted to access the premises.
However, Joseph Kabito, an area resident, told MPs that the building was once a bar before it was sealed off.
“We were told that a Chinese investor had bought the building. The next thing we saw were military personnel taking over the building,” Kabito said.
On Hannington Road in Nakasero, the person in charge of the place accepted to meet Egunyu. However, with Egunyu insisting on entering with other lawmakers, the group was directed to seek permission from security minister Gen. Elly Tumwine.
Following complaints of torture in safe houses, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga directed the House’s human rights committee to carry out investigations, including making physical visits to ungazetted places of detention.
However, Tumwine recently told lawmakers they will not be given access to safe houses whose role he said did not involve torture. ISO director general Bagyenda Kaka is expected to meet MPs over safe houses today.