Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials in Uganda have criticized the German Embassy in Kampala for what they see as interfering with its internal affairs of the host country.
The criticism arises from a letter the German ambassador Germany Matthias Schauer wrote directly to court in support of the now-fled Novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s request to be given his passport which was surrendered as one of the conditions for being granted bail.
Kakwenza who fled the country on Wednesday has been battling charges of offensive communication and was given bail by Buganda Road Chief Magistrates Court presided over by Dr Douglas Singiza about two weeks ago. Kakwenza has since tweeted ridiculing the magistrate who refused the request and disregarded the ambassador’s letter, saying the magistrate can now put the passport in the dock and try it.
Ambassador Schauer‘s letter to the Chief Magistrate confirming that Kakwenza has got an invitation from the Pen Center of German to attend an event at which he was to be officially admitted to the organization as an honorary Member stated:
“I would like to inform you that this embassy would receive and support Mr Rukirabashaija’s visa application at any given time, provided that he meets all legal and personal preconditions. This refers also to being in possession of a valid passport, which as I understand is currently deposited at court as a condition of bail. Please accept my sincere consideration and kindest regards.”
Now in a February 7th 2022 Protest Note that Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has written to the Germany Embassy, the government says Germany’s letter is a clear interference in the Internal Affairs of Uganda and an affront to the independence of the Judiciary.
“The Ministry with deep concern informs that the above mentioned communication was in breach of article 41.1 and 41.2 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The Communication was not conducted through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its content in respect to the conduct of an ongoing case, is a clear interference in the internal Affairs of Uganda and an affront to the independence of the Judiciary”, reads the diplomatic protest note, which continues: “The Ministry reiterates that the Government of Uganda values its relations with the Federal Republic of Germany and remains desirous and committed to strengthening them deeper; however, our partnership must adhere to time-honored principles of mutual respect, non-interference and sovereignty.”
However, on its part, the Embassy through the Secretary to Ambassador Hans v. Schroeder says that their letter contained no request and it served to pass on factual information to the court.
“It would not be acceptable for a foreign mission to try and interfere with ongoing judicial proceedings. Therefore, it should refrain from any activity that might create such an impression. For this reason, the Embassy will not comment on the ongoing trial against Mr. Kakwenza Rukirabashaija”, wrote Hans in an email to Uganda Radio Network.
But foreign ministry officials who said they cannot speak in their individual capacity and would only speak as the ministry on this matter told URN that what Germany did was out of order.
One of them argued that first of all an Embassy cannot investigate crime, get someone out of prison, prevent local authorities from deporting you, interfere in criminal or civil proceedings, offer you treatment in prison, give you money publicly or even privately. To the source, those are among the things an embassy can’t even do to their own staff, and therefore doing it for local nationals is going overboard.
“The request is veiled under tons of diplomatic dialect which if paraphrased in lay man’s language might sound like “We don’t give a shit about your criminal justice system, return the passport to our person of interest or else we shall close the tap of freebies that we give you, ” the fuming official told Uganda Radio Network.
He added: “If this embassy was of a country of equal status, the letter would cause a diplomatic row, but since Germany is powerful and the origin of the technology used in the processing of our security documents including National IDs, so the state of Uganda has no choice but to bend their ego.”
According to Dr Solomon Asiimwe Muchwa a Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Security Studies at both Uganda Martyrs University and Nkumba University says that what Germany did in this case is out of order.
Asiimwe says that even if Germany was just making a request, diplomatically they should have written to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which should have faced the judicial system.
“They are interfering with the legal system of the country because it is very strange for another government to go ahead and request the Judiciary to give someone a passport. Maybe if they had a concern to do with the human rights of an individual, they should have written a protest note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but when the Judicial system is doing its work, even the government of Uganda is not allowed to order or request the court to do that” said Asiimwe.
To Asiimwe, Germany could be using this because of their position in the European Union which funds several government projects in the country.
Another expert interprets that the communication in the letter was not a personal position but the Ambassador instead is indirectly representing a bigger broader body of ambassadors in the country and it is either up to the Uganda Authorities to take it seriously or ignore it and prepare for the repercussions.
The source indicates that Kakwenza has made the government of Uganda messed up with all the local and international attention and media directed at him affecting government’s credibility and it can attract serious sanctions to Uganda.
“It was improperly handled by the local actors,” the source said. “When the local actors failed, Kakwenza outwitted them. The take by the Germany Diplomats is an opinion on their own look of the things but inherently it is for the European Union. Remember they say, if one of them speaks, it’s their general position. So it is the Ugandan Court versus the European Union.”
“At the end, Kakwenza will be an international hero over the torture marks on his body. Germany’s intention is to get Kakwenza and expose this regime and whichever way, the government failed to handle it. They might invoke several conventions that Uganda is a signatory which is not good for the country.”
A security expert is however concerned at the government’s falling for an old trick similar to what Dr Kizza Besigye played on it in 2001 when he fled the country. He says the Ambassador’s letter to court diverted the State’s attention thinking Kawenza was bent on making noise about the passport, the same way Besigye fooled security by insisting on attending a conference in Munyonyo appearing bent on embarrassing President Museveni before foreign guests, when in reality he was planning to leave Uganda through the same route that Kakwenza has now used.
But Francis Harimwomugasho the Secretary General of Uganda Law Society disagrees with the rest saying that such a letter by the Ambassador can’t be treated as interference. According to him, an Ambassador can’t sign his name on a document that would bring disrepute to a first world country if Kakwenza never returned home.
Kakwenza on Wednesday fled the country via Rwandan Border to Europe for his own safety and to get treatment for his torture wounds that were inflicted on him when he was arrested on December 28th 2021 and kept in State custody for two weeks without being produced in court.
Prior to his fleeing, Kakwenza through his lawyers Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates, Cymbell Advocates, Nalukoola Kakeeto Advocates and Solicitors filed a fresh application for stay of proceedings at Buganda Road Court and have the file sent to the High Court to investigate torture. It had earlier on Monday been dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence.
It is yet to be fixed for hearing. But his lawyers say they are also considering to file a constitutional petition related to the torture he faced such that it can be declared as illegal and have the trial quashed.