Brig. Otema named in “extra-judicial killing”

By Dennis Otim

13th Dec 2010

Brig. Charles Otema

The UPDF’s Brig. Charles Otema Awany has been named again as a suspect in the ‘extra-judicial killing’ of Mr. Peter Oloya, an opposition activist who was shot dead under mysterious circumstances in Gulu Central Prison.

The revelations are contained in the diplomatic cables published on the WikiLeaks website.  The cables say that in 2003, the High Court of Uganda “…described Mr. Oloya’s death as “a blatant case of extra judicial killing”.

The cables add that 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 [that] Oloya was shot on the orders of [the then] Lt. Col. Otema. Our efforts to investigate the 2002 killing produced no additional information”, the diplomatic cable said.

The Background to Oloya’s Extra-Judicial Killing:

On November 3rd 2009, Gulu District Chairman Walter Ochora told Police officers that he, Lt. Col. Otema, and President Museveni discussed an intercepted message on September 16th 2002 which revealed plans by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to liberate prisoners from Gulu Central Prison.

Ochora said President Museveni, as Commander-in-Chief of the UPDF, 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 to enter the prison.

The UPDF has not provided information about the nature or extent of any internal UPDF investigation into Oloya’s killing.  However, MP David Penytoo Ocheng, who was incarcerated with Oloya in Gulu prison at the time of the incident, told Police officers 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 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.

On February 14th 2003, the 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 but did not identify any parties or individuals responsible for depriving the claimants of these rights.

With regard to Oloya’s killing, the Attorney General did not dispute that Oloya was fatally shot by a UPDF personnel but claimed that Oloya was “…shot dead accidentally as he attacked one of the soldiers and attempted to disarm him”.

However, Mr. Stephen Otim, a fellow prisoner and eyewitness, testified that “…as the late Peter Oloya was moving towards the prison gate, Lt. Col. Otema 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 of events 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 High Court also 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 High Court therefore 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”.

The High 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.  END. Please log into every Monday to read our top stories and anytime mid-week for our news updates.

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