Shortly after it came to power the government of Yoweri Museveni set up a “Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights.” It was empowered to look into the period between 9 October 1962 (the date of Uganda’s independence) and 25 January 1986 (when the National Resistance Army marched into Kampala), investigating the “causes and circumstances surrounding the mass murders and all acts or omissions resulting into the arbitrary deprivation of human life.” Commissioners were meant to take evidence about a huge range of issues: arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, torture, the “displacement of people,” and the “subjection to discriminatory treatment by virtue of race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, creed, or sex.” The commission was chaired by Arthur Oder, justice of the Supreme Court; the six members included a lawyer, a medical doctor, and a professor of history.
Justice Oder initially hoped that he would be given powers proportionate to the task before him: he asked government to extradite Idi Amin and Milton Obote, both of whom were living in exile, on charges of violating human rights. Nothing came of this request, but Oder and his colleagues were full of confidence about their work. It was important to create a historical record, Oder argued.
Ugandans should not think that the incidents which concern them happened so long ago that it is useless to raise [them] now. They may say “What is the use of digging up the past”? Ugandans should not let by gone be by gone. … I would like people to be positive and to come forward and talk about their human rights because that is the only way to prevent the possible violation of human rights again.
Thousands of earnest people filled in questionnaires regarding their recollection of specific events. The commission held hearings in virtually every region of the country, and 608 people gave oral evidence. For some time a report on the commission’s work was broadcast—in a 40-minute segment—on Sunday evenings on Uganda television. The written record of the testimony fills eighteen large volumes. It is full of specific, graphic, and oftentimes horrifying descriptions of violence done against Uganda’s people by agents of the governments of Idi Amin and Milton Obote.
The report was released in 1994. It attracted almost no attention, and today it is hard to find copies in Uganda. For a great many people there were no consequences for their bloody deeds.
Here are scans of the Oder Commission’s report and evidence. Scans were made in the first part of the year 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by undergraduate research assistant Sabrina Nash working with Dr. Peterson. Each volume has been scanned in its entirety, and Optical Character Recognition was performed on each volume, meaning that a user of Adobe Acrobat can search the volumes by keyword.
There are several missing volumes. In the coming months and years we hope to identify these missing volumes and complete the scanning of this vitally important document.
The Oder Commission report is a public document. Ugandans and other interested persons are welcome to download, read, and otherwise use these materials, as they are an important record of a traumatic history.