By Obed K Katureebe
I watched with consternation as our Members of parliament crying foul after being denied accessing safe houses manned by security organs. Indeed many of those MPs were posturing before cameras to score political capital. I note though that there is a minority which has an objective or logical navigation albeit fragile but nevertheless better than prejudiced emotions. This write-up seeks to separate logic from emotions.
What is a safe-house? The definition varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction indeed, Wikepedia it defines it as follows;
- a) A safe house (also known as safe-house) is, in a generic sense, a secret place for sanctuary or suitable to hide persons from the law, hostile actors or actions, or from retribution, threats or perceived danger. b) in the jargon of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, a secure location, suitable for hiding witnesses, agents or other persons perceived as being in danger. c) a place where people may go to avoid prosecution of their activities by authorities. Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad has been described as a “safe house”. d) a place where undercover operatives may conduct clandestine observations or meet other operatives surreptitiously. e) a home of a trusted person, family or organization where victims of war and/or persecution may take refuge, receive protection and/or live in secret.
So from the above definition one can derive 3 major component or aides; 1) a safe-house does not have to be a house, it can be an open area or a vehicle or a boat floating on lake victoria (location or place) 2) secret… it must be kept secret and known to only those who must know. 3) it is used for both noble and bad purposes, .
I shall not dwell on the definition since virtually any location, place, object can be baptized a safe-house. The pertinent issue is the secrecy of such a location and the use of it, of which the two are being balanced against the imperious human rights law. The flowing argument is premised on the credulous assumption that a safe-house being utilized by the State Intelligence Services is a prohibited place for the purposes of s4 of the Official Secrets Act.
If we agree that the safe-house(s) is a prohibited place and in use for intelligence and or security operations, possibly with munitions stored therein then how come he is being cajoled to reveal the location (s) of the same?? How is that not asking him to breach the Oath of Secrecy? Even without the Oath, would he not be in direct contravention of section 2 and 4 of the Official Secrets Act. I think government should now consider legislation that etchers permanently the prohibition of any institution, courts or otherwise from wanting to access state secrets.
In most European jurisdictions they talk about 911 attacks as a shinning reason why we must over estimate the security needs and discount the value of liberty but here in Uganda, there is a longer history of good reason predating the 911. Whereas 911 was a one day event, we have had decades of conflicts till recently and as such we have even more reason to put national security ahead of any liberties.
Torture is wrong and it must be condemned at all levels of governance; however it is implausible that the safe-houses sole purpose of their existence is to torture Ugandans. Since we know that a safe-house can be anything or any place, torture can still continue. The anti-dote to torture is to trust the Security Services to bring those who torture to book and to sensitise their operatives about the dangers of torture.
There is no doubt our law needs to be developed in regards to state secrets privilege and indeed those who are threatening to sue, this is an invaluable opportunity either to concretize the ‘state secret privilege’ or simply remove it from any judicial consideration. A law that explicitly prevents anyone or body (including courts) from acquiring and using information (directly or indirectly) classified as a State Secret. There is a whole array of cases to borrow arguments from, most significantly the Abu Omar Italian American rendition case.
My point is that letting these legislators into a safe-house will be the beginning of ‘legal familiarization’ by persons and systems that sleep and operate in freedom and security but have no idea and don’t care how it is provided. Yes there are reports of human rights abuses taking place at the safe-houses, it absurd but are these isolated incidents serious enough for the government to reveal a ‘state secret’, I say No. ‘State security is a fundamental and insuppressible public aspect and prevails over any other‘