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Archive for October, 2016

You cannot talk about access to justice for the victims of sexual violence if you do not understand the context in which this crime takes place’. Lady Justice, Prof. Tibatemwa Ekirikubinza, Supreme Court of the Republic of Uganda.

http://www.decalsplanet.com/item-11772-law-of-justice-women-balance.htmlSexual violence is defined as any sexual act that is perpetrated against someone’s will. It can be committed by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim and can occur in any setting.  It is deeply rooted in historical and structural inequalities that exist between men and women, and the different forms of gender-based discrimination that women are subjected to.

Survivors of sexual violence face significant barriers to accessing justice despite the existence of legal frameworks at international, regional and national levels that guarantees the right to access to justice.

In addition, because of the nature of the crime and poor cooperation and coordination between the different actors involved, access for survivors of sexual violence has remained a nightmare. ‘For decades, if not centuries, there has been a near-total absence of justice for survivors of rape and sexual violence says William Hague, the Former UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

In an effort to combat SGBV, as well as facilitating access to justice for the survivors of SGBV in the Great Lakes region, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) established a Regional Training Facility (RTF) on the Prevention and Suppression of sexual violence as mandated by Article 6(9) of the ICGLR protocol on Prevention and Suppression of sexual violence against women and children of 2006 ; and the ICGLR Pact on Security, Stability and Development  which obliges  Member States to prevent, criminalize and punish  all acts of sexual violence both  in times of peace and war, and in accordance with the national and international Law.

At a recent meeting, organized by the Training Facility, Judicial, Medical, Police officers, civil society and journalists in Uganda came together to dialogue and find ways of improving access to justice for survivors of sexual violence.

From the discussion, it was clear that there was general lack of knowledge and skills on how to collect and preserve of evidence by the police and the medical personnel. The Judges expressed disappointment on the kind of evidence that is normally presented in court which is sometimes irrelevant. ‘The court acts on the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt and someone just presents a nicker in court and says this is my daughter’ remarked Justice David Batema. The investigators do not know how to collect substantive evidence. They should also know that every case has different ingredients, he added. He further highlighted the Police Form 3A which is used to collect evidence from the victim is an open check.

Likewise, Dr. Onen, A Consultant Pathologist lamented over the lack of a structure responsible for collecting and storing forensic evidence at the Ministry of Health. In the same way, the Judges re-echoed fact that if properly managed, medical-legal evidence can be used to pursue the case in circumstances where the victim/ witness loses interest. ‘If medical legal evidence has been properly built, even if money has exchanged hands, criminal justice system should be pursued’, said Hon. Lady Justice Susan Okalany.

The Judges also pointed out the issue of the language that is used by the medical officers while presenting evidence in court. When you are testifying, endeavor to use the language that the Judge understands, one of the judges commented.

Since sexual violence crimes are crimes committed against the state, there is also a challenge of balancing the duo status of the victim who is also a witness. Further still, the way in which the victims are handled in courts is sometimes so embarrassing and traumatizing as highlighted by one of the Prosecutors from the government Directorate of Public Prosecution ‘I have been in these court session and the questions posed to these ladies are so embarrassing’.

By not allowing the victims to testify in court chambers, the Judges were pointed out to be insensitive to the privacy and security of survivors. “Imagine a woman being asked by the Judge to re-count a rape ordeal in a court room five years later, this is secondary trauma that is subjected to her, said Lady Justice Susan Okalany .  Therefore, the Judicial officers need to be trained on how to handle sexual violence cases so that women and girls can appreciate courts as places of justice and not torture.

Lastly, the Judges pointed out lack of uniformity in sentencing sexual violence crimes. Although the courts have the Sentencing Guidelines, there are not specific and this gives the Judges power to decide on the final sentence which sometimes can be biased.

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vawOn 3rd November 2016, Uganda’s human rights situation will be reviewed for the second time by the United Nations Human Rights Council under the Universal Peer Review (UPR) mechanism. The UPR mechanism was established in 2006 has since reviewed the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. It reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. According to the UPR Info statistics, a total of

The review takes place after every four years and Uganda was last reviewed in 2011. A total of 182 recommendations were made by 51 states, 80 recommendations contained specific actions and 28 recommendations addressed women’s rights.  Some of the recommendations that Uganda accepted that addressed women’s rights were ensure the implementation of laws protecting women from violence including sexual violence, investigate cases of gender based violence and bring perpetrators to justice, provide legal and medical support to survivors.

 Some of the steps  taken by the government

Uganda has put in place the necessary legal and policy framework to support efforts to prevent SGBV. It boasts of a specific policy on sexual and gender based violence along with a Reproductive Health Policy. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MoGLSD) in partnership with developed the National Action Plan for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325, 1820 and the Goma Declaration with a specific focus on ensuring the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse.

In line with the ICGLR declaration on ending SGBV, the Government of Uganda launched the Zero Tolerance to Violence against Women campaign in 2012. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development has also made some progress by coordinating a SGBV Working Group that includes the participation of civil society actors engaged in various interventions to address SGBV. In addition, the ministry  launched a National Gender-Based Violence Database (NGBVD) to  collect, store and generate reports on Gender Based Violence in real time

Last but not least, the Uganda Police has incorporated a component on SGBV into their Training Curriculum and have gone ahead to establish an SGBV department in the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. To facilitate easy access to justice for SGBV survivors, the general Police Form 3, which was inadequate for recording complaints of sexual violence was revised because it was  found to be lacking in facilitating a comprehensive examination of victims of crimes. The forms were ambiguous especially for medical personnel who were tasked with completing them. This ambiguity affected prosecutions in court due to the numerous interpretations the form elicited thus creating reasonable doubt in the mind of the judicial officer. Further still, every victim of a sexual crime/assault was previously required to undergo medical examination by a medical officer who in most cases is a police surgeon. There are very few police surgeons on the ground and mainly based in urban areas. Accessing justice then became difficult for those in rural areas or those who had difficulty accessing a medical officer, for financial and other reasons.

 The Missing Links

 Despite the above efforts, the results are still minimal and violence against women has been on the increase. According to the Uganda Police crime report, 2014, violence against women was among the top crimes. Defilement continues to lead in Sex Related Crimes. In 2014 and a total of 12,077cases were recorded compared to 9,598cases in 2013, thus giving an increase of 25.8% while 1,099cases of rape were recorded compared to 1,042 cases in 2013, an increase by 5.4%. A total of 3,006 cases of Domestic Violence were registered and 314 deaths as a result of domestic violence.

According to the National Gender Based Violence Database, North and Eastern Uganda have the highest rates  at 45% and 43% respectively compared to central region at 6%. This so becasue the two regions are just recovering from the effects of the LRA  insurgency  which lasted for over  a period of 20 years.

Despite the above statistics, justice for the survivors of SGBV is still fear from being realized. For instance, the government has not set up special courts to handle SGBV cases and efforts to sensitize judges and magistrates are still minimal. It is also estimated that only 2 in 10 women report violence or seek help and even when cases are reported; and  conviction rates for perpetrators stand at only 6.6% of prosecuted cases.

Way Forward

Violence against women is deeply rooted in the unequal power relations between men and women and is triggered by the discriminatory social and cultural practices in the society.  Therefore, intervention to avert it have to be holistic and multidimensional.

As the government of Uganda prepares to undergo the second cycle of the UPR, more efforts are needed beyond adoption of laws and policies. The government of Uganda should allocate more resources and live up to its commitment of protecting women and girls from violence.

 

 

 

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