The High Court has awarded Hajara Nakitto sh50 million for the loss of her 15-year-old son during the November 2020 city riots. In a ruling delivered on Friday, Civil Division Judge Musa Ssekaana declared the death as unlawful and an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, holding the government accountable for its actions.
The decision stems from a successful petition filed by Nakitto against the then Attorney General. She argued that her son, Amos Ssegawa, was shot dead on November 19, 2020, when the police and army used live bullets to quell protests that followed the arrest of then-presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu during a campaign rally in Luuka district.
Reports indicated that up to 54 lives were lost during the two-day protests that began on November 18. In response to the protests, President Yoweri Museveni pledged to compensate the families of those killed during the riots if it was proven they were not involved in the unrest. Museveni stated that among those killed, 32 were rioters and 22 were innocent victims.
Nakitto, a resident of Kinoni town council in Lwengo district, told the court that her son, then a senior two student at Lubiri High School, was shot by soldiers in Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) uniforms. She explained that they targeted him at Cornerstone Plaza in Kampala as he tried to escape the chaos in the city. Nakitto, who was with her son, described how soldiers in a green military police vehicle from Mengo started shooting indiscriminately. Within minutes, her son was fatally wounded.
After reporting the case to the police, they advised her to conduct a postmortem to determine the cause of death. The family exhumed the body, and Dr. Moses Byaruhanga, a police pathologist conducted the examination at Shillings 60,000. The postmortem revealed that Ssegawa had succumbed to neurogenic shock resulting from head trauma. Nakitto stated that she sought compensation from the police but received no response, leading her to approach the courts.
She emphasized how her son’s death had shattered her life, causing her to lose her job due to her ongoing pursuit of justice. Additionally, her daughter, Jovia Nagawa, faced emotional trauma and the financial burden of lost income, affecting her education. Nakitto requested the court to compensate her for her loss of life and the damages caused. In response, the Attorney General argued that the petition should be dismissed, as Nakitto had not provided evidence implicating the government.
The court heard that there was no evidence identifying any soldier or police officer responsible for the fatal stray bullet. In his ruling, Justice Ssekaana rejected the government’s arguments, stating that Nakitto’s son died due to a stray bullet, possibly fired by either the soldiers or police attempting to quell the riots in Kampala.
“The country was in a state of confusion as a result of riots in different parts of the country and yet it was a campaign period of the 2021 elections. It would not be possible for the applicant or her deceased son to identify who fired a stray bullet that ended his life. This court could not place such a heavy burden to prove the shooting was either by a soldier or policeman,” said Ssekaana.
The court awarded Nakitto Shillings 50 million but declined to grant punitive damages, citing a lack of justification and the challenging circumstances during the riots when law enforcement was attempting to maintain order in the city.