Uganda Police Told off for Mistreating Sex Workers

Published: October 11, 2011

The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has told off the Uganda Police force for “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of sex workers in Uganda.

In a landmark ruling dated September 16, 2011, the commission advised the Inspector General of the Uganda Police Force, Kale Kayihura, to investigate some officers of the force for mistreating Uganda’s sex workers and take disciplinary action against guilty police officers.

The case against the police was brought to the commission by Daisy Nakato, an activist for sex worker rights, last year. Nakato, who is also the deputy Executive Director of Women’s Organisations Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA), a sex workers group.

Nakato said she was tortured by a police officer while carrying out outreach visits to sex workers in Kampala. Her case involved a police officer, Yahaya Nyombi, attached to Kabalagala Police Station, who slapped and threatened to shoot Nakato while she was doing her outreach work to understand challenges sex workers go through.

According to the ruling signed by commission chief, Medi Kaggwa, Nyombi was also found to have struck Nakato in the shoulder using a gun butt.

Nakato and other sex worker activists welcomed the ruling.

Macklean Kyomya, the WONETHA Director said the ruling against the police was a victory for human rights of sex workers in Uganda. She said WONETHA advocated for legalization of adult sex work, while condemning the coercion of minors into the industry, as well as trafficking of persons.

WONETHA’s goals include the decriminalization of sex work in Uganda, fostering a clear understanding of the distinction between forced and voluntary sex work, and empowering sex workers to prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The organization – with nearly 1,000 members – represents male and female as well as gay and straight sex workers.

Prostitution is illegal in Uganda however prostitutes operate freely in Kampala city centre. Often sex workers have complained of police rape, torture and physical assault, but the police have often maintained that sex work is criminal in Uganda and offered no assistance.

Sex workers are often rounded up in police operations and produced in court charged with being, “idle and disorderly” because police can not successfully prosecute them and produce evidence of intention to sell sex.

In July 2010 Agaba Maguru, a commissioner with the UHRC said in an interview published by IRIN, “Sex work is still illegal in Uganda, but sex workers are people just like the rest, deserving of their human rights. There is a hypocrisy about the way they are treated. No one wants to acknowledge them during the day, but everyone is a sex worker’s friend under the cover of darkness.”

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