Monthly Archives: February 2013

Guilty until proven innocent

Uganda, Masaka Main Prison.

Uganda, Masaka Main Prison.

Africa Uganda criminal justice prisons photos
“Justice delayed is justice denied”, the officer in charge of one of Uganda’s prisons said to me. In most of the nine Ugandan prisons I have visited so far, prisoners on remand far outnumber convicts. Just one example: in Masaka Main Prison, the numbers are 218 convicts and 584 on remand. Petty criminals are not supposed to spend more that 60 days before being taken to court. For capital offenses, the maximum period is six months. In practice, many suspects spend far more time behind bars. According to Angelo Izama, writing for The Ugandan Reader, 54 percent of all Ugandan prison inmates are on remand.  This amounts to mass detentions without trial. In one case one prisoner had spent 6 years in custody on remand. The inordinately long remand periods are a decisive factor in inclining prisoners to plead guilty.

Uganda has a high incarceration rate compared to the other countries in the region: it is presently at 96 people per 100,000 (to compare: prison rates in the US are the world’s highest, at 716 people per 100,000; the Netherlands are at 82. Source: Prison Studies). And Uganda’s prison population is growing fast while holding capacity has not increased to any extend. The present congestion rate of 238% is expected to get worse: for a space planned for a single inmate, more than two share. Izama: “The crowded unhygienic conditions mean that aside from being punished without due process- the punishment is harsh and often results into the death of prisoners from disease [mortality rates from illness tend to be higher in prisons than outside].”

Uganda’s Chief Justice Odoki says he has too few judges to hear cases. The backlog is compounded by the fact that police investigations take long to conclude, which delays prosecution. Others point at corruption as a cause for the delays and say files disappear, judges are absent or defence lawyers are allegedly sick. Also, the police may ask for transport to go to investigate and judges may want money to hear a case.

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Jinja, at the source of the Nile

Uganda, 2013. Jiinja Main Street.

Friday Feb. 22, I spent most of the day photographing in Jinja Main Prison, a max security prison. Jinja is Uganda’s second city, founded by the British in 1907, near the source of the Nile. The prison was designed to house 336 inmates, but presently, there are some 900 staying there, many for twenty years.

The prison authorities, especially the deputy Officer in Charge, Godfred Kumakech, who recognized me from an earlier prison visit in 2010, were very cooperative and gave me access without restrictions.

I cannot share the prison photos with you yet, due to an agreement with GEO Germany and Geo International, who will publish the entire project once it is finished. I can, however, publish a photo from the outside here, plus one from Jinja’s Main Street.

2-22-13_Uganda Jinja Main Prison_0013_Web

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Photographing in Ugandan prison


2-18-13_Uganda Nakasangola Prison1_0215 Web

Photographer, fly on the wall? Me, Jan Banning, while photographing in Uganda’s newest prison, in Nakasangola, built in 2007. Photo (c) Kim Verkade (my intern). And the resulting (unedited!) photo. Once again: fly on the wall?

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Law and Order in Uganda, Part 2: Luzira Women’s Prison and the Death Sentence

2-15-13_Uganda Luzira Women Prison_0112 Web

I’m back to photograph for my Law and Order project. On Friday February 15, I had my first day of photography at the Luzira Women’s Prison in Uganda, Africa. I was here already in 2010 as I began the first chapter of the project. Again, in only a matter of a few days, the permission papers were signed and ready, thanks to the JLOS people in Kampala. If only it was that easy in other countries.

This prison is very different from those I visited with my assistant (Jennifer King) in the United States, in Georgia recently; this one here is almost homey, in an African way.

Death Sentence

After three years, I met again with Susan Kigula, probably Uganda’s best-known prisoner, who was convicted of the murder of her husband on July 9, 2000. A vital piece of testimony came from her five year old stepson; he said he had witnessed Susan, together with her house maid, Nansamba Patience, cutting his father’s throat with a brand new panga, a machete she had brought home the previous evening and hid under the bed.

In September 2002, Susan was sentenced to death by hanging, which is the standard method of execution in Uganda. At that time, the death sentence was mandatory, meaning that upon conviction for the offense of murder, death was the only sentence possible. After this conviction, Kigula became the leading figure in the landmark case “Susan Kigula and 416 Others vs Attorney General” (all on death row) in an attempt to have capital punishment declared unconstitutional and abolished.

No abolition of the death penalty

On the 21st of January 2009, the Supreme Court of Uganda passed the judgment concerning the imposition of the death penalty in Uganda. Susan and the others lost: the court refused to outlaw the death penalty. In addition, it ruled that no sufficient evidence was brought to show that being hanged caused more pain and suffering to the person being executed than any other manner of execution.

Life sentence

However, the 418 also won in part. The judges made several rulings. With the first, they ruled that the death sentence should not be mandatory because that prevented courts from taking into consideration all specific circumstances of the defendant and of the crime. The sentencing would now be in the hands of the trial judge. Secondly, they ruled that the condemned person should not be kept on death row indefinitely and that a person should either be executed within three years or his sentence commuted to life. The Ugandan Supreme Court also said that that the convicts on death row could go back to the High Court and mitigate over the sentence. Since these rulings in 2009, a small number of prisoners have been released and approximately 180 death sentences have been commuted to life sentences. In November 2011, in what Ugandan media describe as an emotional High Court session, Susan Kigula’s sentence was reduced to 20 years imprisonment. According to Uganda Radio Network, “dramatic scenes after court session ensued when Kigula knelt down before Nakuya and her stepson and pleaded but the old woman openly told her that her offence was too grave to be forgiven. Nakuya demanded to know why Kigula with the help of her housemaid killed their (her. JB) son.”

The charismatic Susan (now 33) told me, however, that she expected to leave prison in three years. She has started to study while in prison. After finishing high school she is now supposedly the only female prisoner in Uganda studying at the university level; she is studying law with a main focus on human rights.

The others

The Uganda people are now waiting for the authorities to speedily re-sentence all remaining persons in the same position as Susan Kigula, and to develop consistent sentencing guidelines for this purpose.

Part of the remaining cases are still awaiting new hearings that should lead to individualized sentences. However, there seem to be inconsistencies within the courts’ re-sentencing and there is an absence of clear sentencing guidelines, which should include requiring the medical and social history of the convicted. Another inconsistency is that some judges take time already served into consideration when re-sentencing while others do not.


Out of 54 countries in Africa, 16 have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 22 are abolitionist in practice. In 2010, Amnesty International recorded executions in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and death sentences imposed in 24, including Uganda. The last execution in Uganda was carried out in March 2003.


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“Comfort Woman” Ellen van der Ploeg passed away

Ellen van der Ploeg

While in Kampala, Uganda, I received the news that Ellen van der Ploeg (b. January 14, 1923, in The Hague, NL) has passed away on February 6, 2013 (in Oss, NL). She was one of the very few of the 200-400 Dutch Comfort Women who broke the taboo and publicly discussed her experiences during WWII: in 1944, she was forced to serve as a prostitute in a Japanese military brothel for three months.

During its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through World War II, the Japanese military officially commissioned the acquisition of an estimated 200,000 young girls (sometimes only 10 or 11 years old) for sexual slavery. Amnesty International described it as “one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century.”

The Japanese Government has always refused to disclose the full extent of this sexual slavery system, and several prime ministers have officially denied government involvement.

Ellen, you were a brave and fascinating woman! Hormat!

For more on the comfort women, see here or here, or read, in Dutch, here. For a fragment from Frank van Osch’s documentary movie about comfort women, click here.

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