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Archive for April, 2012

Last week on Friday 20, the Uganda media broadcasted a video clip where the Police officers were seen squeezing the breast of the opposition woman politician Ingrid Turinawe. Ingrid is the leader of the women’s league for Forum for Democratic Change(FDC)  which is one of the strongest opposition political party in the country. The police squeezed Ingrid’s breast  while arresting her  on her way to a rally in one of the city surburbs. This cruel and brutal act has been condemned by human rights activists and the general public

As a woman, I couldn’t image the pain Ingrid experienced  in the hands of the police. Why did the police target her breast? This is  pure sexual violence perpetrated by the state which is supposed to protect its citizens. If the police can behave like this in broad day light and before the cameras, what happens in isolated places? Isn’t worse that this?

This action by police also shows that the country has no respect for women which is very sad as they are mothers of all nations. One of the reactions from the Uganda Women’s Movement was to organise a topless protest only wearing the bras at  the  central police station to express their anger and action against the police officers who abused Ingrid. Unfortunately they were also arrested though later released. The women were also criticised by the public for exposing their breasts and condemned for being immoral.

In the same spirit, the chairperson of Uganda  Women parliamentary association Betty Among   and on behalf  of the Uganda Women’s Movement presented a statement in parliament condemning in the strongest terms the police act and demanding an apology from the Uganda Police and government  in general on behalf.

To the surprise of many of us from  the women movement  who attended the parliamentary session, members of parliament from the ruling party, National Resistance Movement(NRM) who stood up to talk condemned the police  act with reservations  and blamed Ingrid for resisting the arrest and added that she deserved it.

There was also another controversy on who actually effected the arrest as police claimed that it was done by the female police officer while the cameras clearly showed that it was done by the male officer. The Uganda constitution says that female offenders are supposed to be arrested by the female police officers

When the Prime minister honourable Amama Mbabazi  stood up to speak he stated that he watched the clip and  apologised.  He also said that action had been taken and the Police Officer who was involved has been suspended.

And when he was tasked to give the details, he could not explain,  the Prime Minister however insisted that he did not have the name of the officer but said he would bring the details to the house when police investigations have been concluded.

The speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga asked the state minister for internal affairs to table the findings from the police investigation before 18th May when the Parliamentary session ends.

Since the  presidential elections in 2011, Ugandans have experienced  increased police brutality  especially targeting opposition leaders.

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Hellen is a simple, calm and soft-spoken woman with a big heart for helping women and children. She has done what is in her reach to support them  and make their lives better and more meaningful. I met Helen Alyek during a meeting for Women Taskforce Members for  a gender responsive Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) for North and North Eastern Uganda in Kampala in April, 2012 organised by Isis-WICCE.  Hellen is  from Lira district and she is a retired Superintendent of  Uganda Police Force where she served  for over 25years and established the Child and Family Protection Unit. Hellen is also the founder and the Director of Lira Rural Women and Children Development Initiative Shelter (LIRWOCDI).

During her  career in the Ugandan Police Force Hellen   worked in various sections  such as  Traffic, Police 99 Patrol, Interpol Narcotics Drugs, Criminal Investigations,  Juvenile Court  (as a court prosecutor), and later as an Administrator at the Police  Headquarter  in Kampala.

As a court prosecutor in the Juvenile courts, Hellen used to receive many complaints from young offenders between the ages of 12-14 years that they were mistreated and harassed by the adult suspects in the cells.

In order to offer protection to the children suspects, Hellen  risked herself and  kept  the children   in her house in the police barracks, feed them and  bought clothes for them. Unfortunately, the young criminals did not spare her, they would steal her property and run away and she never gave up.

It was the frustrations from the young offenders that Hellen an hatched the idea of establishing special   units for children at police stations where they can be protected. She shared the  idea with the  then Inspector General of Police and the then  Chief Advisor  for Police from Scotland Yard who also supported her idea.

In 1995 Helen started the new unit, called the Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU) in the Uganda Police Force.  The unit started handling cases of violence against women and children in the police barracks and nearby community and there were many cases to handle

The Unit also raised community awareness about the rights of women and children, and taught crime prevention tips to children in nearby schools.  With time the CFPU became so popular so the need for expansion.

Hellen approached UNICEF for support to the unit and she got funding for  training of the first 120  police women and men.  These officers were trained in human rights, counseling, investigation, the protection of women and children, as well as interview techniques for young survivors and suspects.

After the training, they were posted to police stations all over Uganda to handle cases of violence against women/children and were made aware of the importance of separating young offenders from the adult suspects while in custody. UNICEF further supported the unit with a motor vehicle to oversee the work of police officers within the CFPU countrywide, 20 bicycles and 120 motorcycles for officers to use in the field.

With the support of UNICEF and other donors, separate rooms for young offenders  within five police stations were constructed in  Masaka Police Station in Southern Uganda, Gulu in Northern Uganda, Kumi in Eastern Uganda and the Central Police Station in Central Kampala, which  were registering the highest crime rates committed by children.

As a result of this initiative in the Uganda Police, Hellen received the International Scholarship Award in 1997 by the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) in Dallas, Texas as the first Woman Police Officer in Africa to be recognized. In that same year she was also awarded a Certificate of Recognition by the Inspector  General of the Uganda Police Force as Police Woman of the Year.

“I am proud to say that the unit that I started with one table and two chairs is now wide spread in all police stations in Uganda, with officers skilled in handling cases of violence against women and children”. Hellen added

The birth of Lira Rural Women and Children Development Initiative Shelter (LIRWOCDI)

When Hellen was doing her supervisory role in the police force, she visited several IDP camps in Northen Uganda where she met over 50 female survivors of sexual abuse who shared with her their   moving, sad stories. The stories touched her heart and inspired her  to find a solution.  Hellen also saw many orphans in the camps who had lost their parents due to armed conflict or HIV and AIDS and they had nowhere to call home. Due to sexual abuse and exploitation of female orphans, aged 12–15 years, many became young mothers and she felt that the best way to protect these women and children was to build a shelter where survivors of abuse could take refugee and nurse their injuries.

“By the time I retired from the Uganda Police Force in 2003, I had already established a shelter  and registered it  with the Lira Non Governmental Organization (NGO) Board  and the Local Lira Government.  I also contacted the International Association of Women Police for support to construct a permanent building for the Shelter with a perimeter wall. In the same year, the shelter received fifty female survivors of abuse. This is the first ever shelter of its kind in Lira District – Northern Uganda. Hellen recalls.

Since 2003 more than four thousand women and child survivors of abuse have passed through this Shelter. With support of UN Women and Children’s Fund the shelter also has been able to repair 40 serious cases of Fistula and the youngest survivor was four years who was raped by a neighbor. The shelter also provided medical treatment to over 60 young mothers who were sexually abused.

The majority of women and girls who are received at the shelter for protection are female survivors of: domestic violence, sexual abuse, force marriage, child labor, orphans, rescued children from traffickers, potential victims (girl child) of Female Genital Mutilation ( FGM) and  Fistula

As part of raising awareness on Sexual and Gender Based Violence in the community and the duty bearers, Hellen spear headed the first ever Town Hall meeting in Lira town where district officials and community members    discussed issues of SGBV. The main objective of the meeting was to make the district officials aware of injustice women survivors of abuse face when they are not able to pay the Police Surgeon’s fee and to devise means of  protecting women and children from violence and abuse.

Despite the achievements, the shelter still faces some challenges as it mainly run on donations from well wishers. According to Hellen, the most pressing needs of the shelter are school fees  for orphans to go to school, feeding and clothing, medical care, skills training for young mothers, and a vehicle to ease the movement among others.

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ImageThe month of March is internationally known as the women’s month, a month that is supposed to be a time for reflection and celebrating what has been achieved in advancing women’s rights worldwide. To the surprise of the women in Uganda, March 2012 has been a month of mourning.

Women of Uganda have seen the betrayal of the state that is supposed to protect their rights. Two cases have been in the spotlight.

In 1997, Sharma Kooky, a Uganda of Indian decent tortured and brutally killed his wife by electrocuting her. After the murder Kooky hasted to cremate the body to hide evidence but was stopped by authorities. Women activists also rose up in arms and ensured that justice was done at the time – in 2000. The High Court convicted Kooky of the murder and was sentenced to death. Twelve years down the road, the Uganda Women Movement is shocked at Kooky receiving Presidential pardon on humanitarian grounds and he is now a free man. According to the Constitution of Uganda under article 121 through the advisory committee on the prerogative of mercy, the president is mandated to exercise his rights to release prisoners. Unfortunately the decision of the State cannot be questioned!

ImageMiria Matembe, former minister of Ethic and Integrity and renounced women rights activist  said that  the women of Uganda were pained by the marginalization of the justice system. She recalled the efforts of  the  women activists in 1997 that led to the sentencing of Kooky and how all that has been trashed by the president.

In the same month, women were also shocked by the sentence given to Turkish man, Emmin Baro  who subjected 50 Ugandan young girls to oral sex and recorded them on videos. He was initially charged with child pornography and given a light sentence in form of 6 million shillings fine

But the women movement were vocal on  Baro’s sentence as they were on Kooky’s presidential pardon. They also expressed fear that such acts would escalate violence against women and children in the country.

“If the state can’t protect the vulnerable and marginalized groups, who will do that. This is a clear manifestation of failure of the state to protect women and children from sexual and gender based violence,” said one of the women activists during the press conference.

The women expressed their disappointment with the magistrate for the linient sentence given to Emmin Baro  and are embarrassed that it was done by a female magistrate. The magistrate did not act as  a human being, she acted like a machine. Matembe noted.

The Chief Magistrate at Nakawa court has now referred the case to the high Court after protests.

The defilement Act of Uganda clearly states that any sexual activity with children amounts to defilement, which is a capital offence and is punishable by death. These two scenarios are a slap in the face of justice.

The women are also questioning the government commitment to prevent and stop sexual and gender based violence. In December 2011, during the International Conference on Great lakes region, the government signed a declaration to fully domesticate and implement the protocol on prevention and suppression of sexual violence against women and children in the Great lakes region.

The women are now calling for though investigation and prosecution of Emmin Baro for each child abused. They are also calling for psychosocial and trauma counseling for the abused children, operationalisation of the domestic violence acts of 2010, enactment of sexual offences bill. They are also demanding for transparency of the presidential pardon of Kooky and investigation of the entire justice and law system.

The women’s movement is also considering the avenues of seeking audience with the respective judicial officers including the chief justice to ensure that justice is delivered.

Meanwhile, a day of mourning for Josh Renu who was murdered by her husband Kooky with impunity will be communicated.

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