By Charity M. Ngabirano
A video went viral recently in which thugs moving on motorcycles attacked a man and robbed him of his valuables. Bystanders and other motorcyclists witnessed the events as they unfolded without offering the victim any help.
It is a common sight to see people looking on from the roadsides, casting one look and walking away hurriedly, while others take pictures or record videos when such incidents happen.
Explaining the attacks on Monday, Police spokesperson Fred Enanga, said: “In the various Closed Circuit Television footages captured on camera of robberies along Mawanda Road, Bugolobi and Kololo, there was no deliberate attempt from other members of the public to stop violent robbers and thugs on bodaboda, from injuring and robbing innocent victims.”
It is against this background that he encouraged Ugandans to go ahead and help robbery/attack victims.
Enanga said the law would protect those who fight for the safety of others. “Those with defensive driving skills, use them. Brush against a violent attacker on a bodaboda, not with intent to kill, but to injure, so that they become defenseless.”
He added: “Arrangements are being put in place to offer support to brave and courageous members of the public who counter such criminals and save innocent victims from injury.”
What is the position of the law?
Article 1(1) of the Constitution gives us (people) the power and sovereignty. Article 17 goes ahead to list down the duties of a good citizen and these include the duty to cooperate with lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order.
The Constitution of Uganda also permits any person to arrest an individual who has allegedly committed a crime or is thought to have committed a crime.
What then is the problem?
Helping victims and fighting for them would not be problematic if the Police and courts changed in their ways of operation and provided assurance that people who help out will not be turned in as having had a hand in the robbery/attacks.
People generally fear to be associated with crime and are, therefore, slow to involve themselves in anything that can link them to it and get them arrested.
The Police can take you in for questioning, then turn things around and include you on the charge sheet. Someone could end up being committed and then remanded to prison under false charges. Sometimes it takes a long time before your plea of not guilty is finally heard and acted upon, for your release.
In the most recent case, Alex Twinomughisa, a man who was accused of murder, was released after 22 years in prison, without trial. It is cases such as this that make people walk past victims, watch active robberies from afar and add padlocks on their doors when someone screams out for help.
The courts, lawmakers and Police have a long way to go.
Enanga’s words of assurance, cannot be based on for protection. To make matters worse, Uganda does not have a law protecting witnesses. This means that if you involve yourself in the robbers’ business, you risk being whisked away too.
When does the plea of self-defence apply?
It is a settled legal position that killing of a human being is unlawful unless it is proved to have been caused in self-defence.
Self-defence is available as a defence even in murder or manslaughter charges.
For self-defence, the law states that the degree of self-defence must be reasonable to the extent of an attack or imminent threat to one’s body or life where it is found that the level of self-defence is excessive.
Self-defence would not appropriately remove liability for gruesome acts.
In Enanga’s call for help, he asked those with defensive driving skills to use them, albeit, “not with intent to kill but to injure.”
Now, with the nature of these attacks, from the reports we see in the news, it would be very difficult for a driver to brush against such a robber and not get retaliation from them, which could be a life threatening one.
In this case, the driver would have no option, but to run over his attackers, which is against Enanga’s words since he asked members of the public to just injure, and not kill.
Therefore, law makers should first address the gaps in the legal system for Enanga’s call to be heeded to.
The writer is an advocate
Note: The article is intended to provide information about general statements of law and is not intended to create an advocate-client relationship. Contact a lawyer on specific legal problems