Makerere University is in the spotlight after a group of students reportedly lynched a former colleague they had mistaken for a thief.
David Ojok Otim, a recent graduate of Computer Science, was beaten to death by students at the university’s Nkrumah Hall on Sunday night. According to Mr Eric Makafu, a resident of the hall, Ojok had gone to collect Shs500,000 a student owed him. Students branded him a thief and descended on him after he failed to show his identification.
This incident is a tragic reminder of the cruel culture of mob action in Uganda. Nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands; it is the reason we have the institutions of police and judiciary.
The media highlights reports of mob action on a daily basis and the culture is spreading in our society. We must fight this barbaric and criminal behaviour, especially because it threatens the core principle of natural justice where people are presumed innocent until proven guilty by competent courts of law.
It is worrying that increasingly, public lynching, setting people alight, and brutal beatings go on across the country unabated. The people being killed are usually accused of theft, murder, witchcraft, etc. In some cases, innocent people become victims of mob action because they are not given the opportunity to defend themselves.
Worse still, courts rarely prosecute the perpetrators of mob action as those involved quickly blend in into crowds once law enforcement personnel arrive on the scene.
In June 2014, a Human Rights Commission study stated that lack of trust in Uganda’s judicial system and a backlog of cases in courts were fueling the rise in violent mob action. Mob action, as the Uganda Human Rights Commission has stated, is a serious violation of human rights. Commissioner Katebalirwe Irumba put it aptly: “It is against our Constitution and against the laws of this country, especially as it denies the [victims] the opportunity to be taken [through] the due process of law and to be heard.”
To stop this vice, it is critical to restore confidence in the justice system.
Chief Justice Bart Katureebe in a March 12 interview with Daily Monitor appealed to Ugandans to support him in efforts to rid the judiciary of vices that lead to loss of faith in the justice system. The government should heed Katureebe’s plea to support the judiciary.
Justice is a key function of the State and it should be served to all citizens fairly. That way, we will save lives from mob action.