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Posts Tagged ‘Access to Justice’

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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