Uganda: Police strip and parade woman with mental health issues in public

For the first time in Uganda, the Kampala High Court will hear a case concerning the torture of a woman with mental health issues, Aidah Namulindwa, at the hands of police forces. The victim’s claim is being brought by Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities (LAPD) and the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC), and highlights widespread official abuses faced by people with mental health issues in the country. 

Torture victim Aidah Namulindwa in Uganda. © LAPD.

In February 2014, police officers forced their way into Aidah’s farm house in central Uganda and arrested her on suspicion of arson. They took her to the police station and, fully aware of her mental health issues, stripped her naked in a cell as punishment for not cooperating with the arrest. They kept her naked in the cell for a day and then took her onto the street where a crowd of onlookers watched her being manhandled by male officers into a police car. They then drove her 25 kilometres to another police station where she was eventually provided with clothes. She was detained for another day and released without charge.

Aidah remains haunted by the ordeal:

“I was imprisoned for no reason. The police undressed me saying that this is how they deal with ‘stubborn people’. They did this because of my mental health issues. The experience has psychologically scarred me and caused me much grief. Above all, my children get harassed and bullied at school by other children who tell them that their ‘mad mother’ undressed herself in public. I find it difficult to explain the truth to my kids.”

LAPD commented after the claim was submitted:

“The conduct of the police offers amounts to a complete violation of Aidah’s right to freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. It also constitutes gender, and disability based discrimination. Aidah deserves compensation and an apology from the State. The case aims to tackle a culture of impunity in the way that police authorities treat people with mental health issues.”

Ann Campbell, MDAC’s Litigation Director, said:

“This case is the first opportunity for a court in Uganda to hold the police force to account for torture of a person with a psycho-social disability. The police should protect people with disabilities against such shocking forms of abuse, discrimination and prejudice.”

The complaint, which was submitted this week, reflects concerns about the treatment faced by people with mental health issues following an extensive human rights investigation conducted by MDAC and Mental Health Uganda late last year. MDAC calls on the Government of Uganda to fulfil its international legal obligations by taking all necessary measures to protect people with mental health issues against acts of torture, and to hold perpetrators accountable. 


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