High Court awards Shs 50m to woman who lost son during 2020 riots

High Court awards Shs 50m to woman who lost son during 2020 riots
Hajara Nakitto

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The High Court has granted Hajara Nakitto a sum of Shs 50 million in compensation for the tragic loss of her 15-year-old son during the city riots of November 2020.

The decision, delivered by Civil Division Judge Musa Ssekaana on Friday 22, September 2023, declared the young boy’s death as unlawful and a violation of the fundamental right to life. The judgment also held the government accountable for its actions in this matter.

This significant verdict stems from a successful petition brought forth by Nakitto against the then Attorney General. Nakitto’s argument revolved around the unfortunate incident on November 19, 2020, when her son, Amos Ssegawa, lost his life during riots.

It occurred during the protests that erupted following the arrest of then-presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu alias Bobi Wine during a campaign rally in Luuka district. The police and army used live ammunition to suppress these demonstrations, resulting in numerous casualties.

Ugandan presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine is led into a vehicle by riot policemen in Luuka district, eastern Uganda November 18, 2020. COURTESY PHOTO/REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa

Official government reports at the time indicated that as many as 54 lives were lost during the two-day protests that commenced on November 18. Responding to the unrest, President Yoweri Museveni had pledged to compensate the families of those killed during the riots, provided they were not involved in the disturbances. He specified that among the casualties, 32 were individuals participating in the riots, while 22 were innocent bystanders.

Bobi Wine arrested in Luuka
Bobi Wine was picked up by a team of police officers led by Frank Mwesigwa, the Zonal Commander overseeing elections in Busoga and Bukedi regions while addressing a mini-rally at Luuka district headquarters.

Nakitto, who hails from Kinoni town council in Lwengo district, presented her case in court, alleging that her son, a senior two student at Lubiri High School in Kampala, fell victim to soldiers in Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) uniforms.

She recounted November 19, 2020 how her son was shot near Cornerstone Plaza in Kampala as they tried to escape the chaos and riots in the city. Nakitto vividly described the moment when soldiers in a green military police vehicle from Mengo began firing indiscriminately, resulting in her son’s tragic demise.

Ugandan presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine in a police vehicle following his arrest in Luuka district, eastern Uganda November 18, 2020.

Following the incident, Nakitto reported it to the police, who advised her to conduct a postmortem examination to ascertain the cause of her son’s death. The family exhumed the body, and Dr. Moses Byaruhanga, a police pathologist, conducted the examination, charging Shs 60,000 for the service. The postmortem revealed that Ssegawa had succumbed to neurogenic shock resulting from head trauma.

Nakitto sought compensation from the police but received no response, prompting her to seek legal recourse. She emphasized in court how the loss of her son had shattered her life, leading to the loss of her job due to her relentless pursuit of justice. Additionally, her daughter, Jovia Nagawa, experienced emotional trauma and faced the financial burden of lost income, impacting her education.

Read Also: How ‘operational mistakes’ led to death of 49 people during Bobi Wine protests

Nakitto petitioned the court for compensation, citing her profound loss and the associated damages. In response, the Attorney General argued for the dismissal of the petition, asserting that Nakitto had not provided concrete evidence implicating the government.

During the court proceedings, it became evident that there was no conclusive evidence identifying any specific soldier or police officer responsible for the stray bullet that claimed the young boy’s life. In his final ruling, Judge Ssekaana rejected the government’s arguments, asserting that Nakitto’s son had tragically lost his life due to a stray bullet, possibly fired by either the soldiers or police while attempting to quell the riots in Kampala.

Judge Ssekaana ultimately awarded Nakitto a sum of Shs 50 million as compensation. However, he declined to grant punitive damages, citing the challenging circumstances during the riots when law enforcement was working to restore order in the city as justification for this decision.