Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has just signed a long-anticipated piece of legislation into law. The new legislation, aimed to deal with ‘human sacrifice’, was originally introduced as a private member’s Bill but won widespread support in parliament. Among other tough provisions, the new law prescribes life imprisonment for anyone found to unlawfully possess human body parts as well as ‘instruments associated with human sacrifice’. As the law becomes part of the state’s options for dealing with cases like this, a recent decision of Uganda’s court of appeal, involving just such a matter, brings home the horror it involves.
A recent news story, showing Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni holding a Bill he had just signed into law, will have astonished many of its readers. The headline said that the Bill signed by Museveni was a law on ‘human sacrifice’, and that with the new legislation it would be possible to send someone to prison for life if they had been involved in killing people ‘for rituals’.
The reality of this story is, however, a lot worse than even this terror: the most popular victims for such ‘ritual sacrifices’ are children, apparently because they are easier to abduct and because they are seen as ‘pure’ and thus of higher ritual value.
According to other accounts of the background to the new law, the exact number of such killings is not known, and though it is especially prevalent in Uganda, it also occurs in other countries in the region.
Typically, such ‘sacrifices’ occur in response to someone’s desire to get richer, or be sure of a better job, and the numbers might spike just before an election, with some candidates believing that such a sacrifice will ensure a seat.
One major difficulty with stamping it out or prosecuting such cases successfully – the reason the new law is needed – is that the shadowy people in the background who pay for or order such killings are difficult to find and prosecute, and where they are found they may well be convicted of a lesser charge and be given a short term in prison.
At the end of July, Uganda’s court of appeal handed down a new decision: Tomusange v Uganda. It exactly illustrates the horror of ritual human sacrifice, all the more so because one of the two victims in this case was Lasto Tomusange’s young son, Angello. The other victim was also particularly vulnerable – a migrant worker from Rwanda named Kato. Nothing more is known about him. Not even his surname.
Originally there were three accused, all brothers, but one was acquitted. Through the court’s decision it emerges that Tomusange had a relationship with a woman from which a boy, Angello, was born. The couple separated when the child was just a month old. A year later, the mother handed him back to the father.
One day the second brother went to Angello’s home and asked Tomusange, the father, if he could take the child ‘to town’. That was the last the boy was seen alive. The following day the boy’s stepmother reported to the police that the boy was missing and the uncle was arrested soon afterwards because he was the last person known to have been with the boy. Questioned by police he said he had taken the child, but had brought him back and left him at a neighbour’s home. His claims were found untrue, but there was no word about the boy.
Five days later a woman was tilling her plot some distance away when she found the dead body of a child. The body had been beheaded and dismembered. She immediately reported her find and the body was taken for a post mortem. After Angello’s family heard of the find on TV, they went to the mortuary and identified the child.
At that point, Angello’s uncle gave a full confession to the police, implicating himself and his two brothers including Angello’s father.
Sometime later, after two of the brothers had been convicted by the high court for both murders, the court of appeal, which by then had already heard the appeal of the brothers in the murder of Kato, commented, ‘(Angello’s) murder was committed by the same appellants within the same time-frame as the murder of a farmhand and the two bodies were found in close proximity to each other … and therefore appear to have been part of the same transaction.’
A number of incriminating items were found in the home of the boy’s father including a wooden-handled knife with blood on it that was later shown to be that of the boy.
Convicted of Angello’s murder, the two brothers were sentenced to 47 years and nine months, and to 37 years and eight months respectively (the uncle getting the lesser time because he had cooperated with the police and pleaded guilty).
Re-examining the evidence led during the trial, the appeal court said the uncle had confessed that he and his brothers ‘conjured spirits’.
‘They claimed that the spirits asked for the sacrifice of two human beings, a man of about 20 years with no wife, and a child.’
After the boy was taken from his home the two men travelled with him to another area and then looked around for a deserted place. They hid behind a bush with the child, and his father then killed him, removed the body parts to be used ritually and folded these in a white cloth that he put in a waterproof packet.
The uncle later tried to retract his original incriminating statement, but neither the trial court nor the court of appeal was impressed by the reasons he gave for backtracking.
Having dismissed the appeal against conviction, the court turned to sentence. The trial court had had some strong words for the father and uncle about their terrible crime. The killings of Kato and the boy had been carried out ‘in the name of looking for riches’.
The father should have protected his child but instead he ‘heartlessly cut him like slaughtering an animal and carried off his blood in white pieces of cloth for the rituals.’
He showed no remorse even when the child’s mother broke down in the face of evidence.
‘While I appreciate that the convict has a family, he demonstrated that he can be a danger to his very own that he is supposed to care for and love. … (H)is family would be safer without him.’
Quoting sentences passed in earlier ritual murders, the high court had decided on the sentence the judge thought was correct, even though the father was a first-time offender, saying a strong message had to be sent to would-be perpetrators ‘of an inhuman act of child sacrifice which has become rampant in the county.’
While the father’s sentence was unaltered by the appeal court, the judges reduced the uncle’s sentence for killing Angello by five years. The two are however also serving sentences of 42 and 30 years for killing Kato; as with Angello, their motive for this murder was to carry out a ritual ‘sacrifice’ with the aim of ensuring ‘riches and having happiness in this world.’
- ‘A Matter of Justice’, Legalbriefs, 3 August 2021