History Judges Kanungu Massacre

WHEN over 500 people were burnt to death two years ago, it was at first thought to be mass suicide, but it turned out to be a well-planned murder. Following the incident, Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) set up a team to investigate the causes and the human right implications of the Kanungu tragedy. Its report, titled The Kanungu Massacre: The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God Indicted, reveals how the cult leaders violated the human rights of the followers.

The report says all human rights, especially the freedom to speak; freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; the right to property; right to health; right to marriage and children, were violated.

UHRC is mandated to publish periodic reports of its findings on the state of human rights and freedoms in the country. Apart from Police inquiry, this is the first investigation by a statutory institution. Government set up a Commission of Inquiry which is yet to begin working. It is also the first public document on the Kanungu cult.

The Movement for the Restoration of Ten Commandment of God, led by psychopaths pretending to deliver their followers to heaven, could have instead sent them to hell. Even before their death, the report indicates that the followers lived in constant torment.

The report documents 20 ways the cult recruited and retained followers. Laced with threats of the apocalypse, the cult leaders manipulated the predominantly peasant followers into submission. No questions but obedience and patience in anticipation of the end of the world were expected of them.

Cults thrive on spiritual hunger, offering hope to the desperate, but in the end take lives. From the report, the Movement for the Restoration of Ten Commandments had all the characteristics of a cult. It was manipulative, excluded followers from their communities and managed strict secrecy about its activities. Like any cult, it operated as a transit point from the world to heaven.

The report catalogues several cases of human rights abuse: Children were separated from parents and communication between them harshly restricted. Children who cried in the night were taken out and left in the cold until they "stopped crying".

Contrary to the inherent rights, cult leaders discouraged the followers from possessing property. Several of the followers sold their belongings, including land and found sanctuary in the cult's compound.

Scanty accommodation and poor sanitation did not bother them since, in their anticipation of meeting their creator; temporary discomfort on earth was merely a brief moment.

The report cites the ban on sex among married couples as well as on, speech and contact with communities neighbouring the cult camps as cases of human rights abuse. The whole conception and structure of the cult was erected on principles that denied members their rights as Ugandan citizens and human beings.

And discrimination was common; while the followers were denied basic rights, the cult leaders enjoyed theirs in full.