AMUDAT COMMUNITY EMBRACES THE LEGAL AID OPEN DAY AS PART OF THE OUTREACH ACTIVITIES GEARED TOWARDS FIGHTING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS IN KARAMOJA REGION

30 September 2021 -
Written by Laspnet
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On 31st August 2021, the Legal Aid Service Providers’ Network (LASPNET) conducted yet another Legal Aid Open Day in Amudat district situated in Karamoja region. The main open day gathering was stationed at the district headquarters while other outreaches activities were spread out at various Sub counties of Roloo, Karita, A & B and Amudat.

The Guest of Honor H/W Sayekwo Emmy Geoffrey 3rd seated from left with other key guests at the open day held at Amudat district Local Government ground

The one-day event under the themeElimination of Violence Against Women and Girls and promotion of Access to Justice for all,” was supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) under the “Spotlight Initiative Project.” The project which focuses on the elimination of violence against women and girls through provision of legal aid and empowering communities to lobby for legal and policy reforms geared at eradicating GBV in Uganda has been implemented by LASPNET since 2018.

The event attracted a total of 248 participants (198 Male and 50 Female) who included clients that received legal aid as well as key invited guests. The function was moderated by Mr. Badru Walusansa – Director of Programmes at LASPNET and presided over by His Worship Sayekwo Emmy Geoffrey, the Chief Magistrate of Moroto - Nakapiripiriti districts. Also in attendance were district officials such as Mr. Lobot Joseph Nangole, the District LC5 Chairman, Mr. Masokoyi Wasswa, the Chief Administrative Officer, DPC Mwesigye James, Dr. Loyce Nangiro, Representative of the DHO, Dr Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, CEO LASPNET as well as Legal Aid Service Providers and Media. The development partners were represented by Ms. Annet Mpabulungi Wakabi, the Team Leader Rule of Law and Constitutional Democracy at UNDP.

Due to COVID-19 SOPs in place as per the directive of His Excellency the President of Uganda, the Legal Aid Open day was limited in physical attendance by the masses but broadcasted live on Kalya FM Radio from Kenya rift valley region which covers bordering districts of Uganda including Amudat and Nakapiripiriti with over 114,740 listeners in Amudat district only.

This approach provided the opportunity to the rest of public in Uganda and neighboring Kenya to listen in to the proceedings and call in to ask questions that were answered relevantly by the guests in attendance.  To ensure a wider reach, Lawyers from LASPs in North – Eastern region such as LAP- ULS, FIDA Uganda and SODANN were mobilized and dispatched in various Sub counties to provide on spot legal advice and counseling to communities.

In her introductory remarks, the CEO of LASPNET, Dr. Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa appreciated the district leadership for the warm reception and authorizing LASPNET to conduct the Legal Aid Open day amidst the COVID-19 situation. She commended UNDP for supporting legal aid outreaches which are intended to strengthen Access to Justice for most poor and vulnerable.  In a special way, she recognized the Chief Guest for his priceless time and acceptance to officiate the event.

While emphasizing the importance of the legal aid open day she averred that the crux of the legal aid open day was to provide legal aid and create awareness on Access to Justice and SGBV in Amudat as one of the Spotlight districts with high prevalence of SGBV.

“Amudat, is reported to be among the districts with the highest incidents of GBV with limited presence of justice centres as well as Legal Aid Service Providers…it has a high prevalence of FGM, child marriage exacerbated by the limited availability of essential services for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) essential services, among others” she observed.

Speaking on behalf of UNDP, Ms. Annet Mpabulungi, the Team Leader Rule of Law and Constitutional Democracy appreciated LASPNET for the great work done. She recognized government efforts towards eliminating violence against women and girls in Uganda working under the coordination of Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

She added that through European Union – United Nations (EU-UN) Spotlight Initiative, focus is being placed on fostering legislative and political framework aimed at responding to GBV; strengthening the institutions at the national level and sub-national level such as legal aid open days as well as ensuring that there is effective gender mainstreaming in planning, budgeting and provision of legal aid.

She noted that, while a lot of interventions have been implemented, there is still a high prevalence of violence against women and children in the country. “There is still a big gap in the provision of legal aid services and access to such services by survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). Presence of legal aid institutions at lower local government levels is still low…. there is limited awareness of legal aid services (with only one (1) out of 10 (10%) Ugandans aware of any institution that provides legal aid services),” she said.

On that note, she argued that legal aid institutions in the country are still unevenly distributed hence the need to conduct more legal aid outreaches. Ms. Mpabulungi concluded by mentioning that the legal aid open day in Amudat is a strong gap measure to provide the people of Amudat district with information on the existing laws and procedures of accessing legal aid services especially when faced with legal problems such as GBV.

While presenting the district status on GBV, the District Gender Officer, Ms. Harriet Okwi noted that a girl child is not heard in the community of Amudat because due to the underlying patriarchal culture and norms. She informed the gathering that by the end of 2020, a total of GBV stood at 150 reported cases adding that Defilement stood at 49 while rape at 11 cases.  She also noted that since January – August 2021, a total of 114 cases were reported of which 33- defilement and 12 were rape cases whereas rest were general GBV related cases. On that note, she requested participants and the whole district to join hands to fight against GBV among women and children by reporting the perpetrators and sensitizing the public about GBV.

Noting how difficult it is to secure information, the Gender Officer had this to say, “It’s not easy to get a secret from a Pokoti but with dialogue and a good relationship now we have laid down the tools manned by social workers in the villages to access information from the public.”

Finally, she appealed to local leaders to always provide support whenever approached for information and effective remedies. Additionally, she stressed that the district was more determined to work towards GBV reduction.

In his opening remarks, the LC 5 Chairman of Amudat district, Mr. Lobot Joseph Nangole, welcomed LASPNET and appreciated the organization for considering Amudat among North Eastern districts for the Legal Aid Open day. He updated the gathering the efforts of the District Council so far in empowering women. “Through our efforts we have tried to see that a woman is empowered right from LC 1 level, for instance our LC1 is a woman, the district speaker, the Vice Chairperson, Secretary for production, secretary for social services, secretary for finances and administration are all women apart from works and technical services who is only a man on the executive” he proudly noted.

However, he noted with concern that there are existing cultural practices which continue to undermine efforts of promoting girls and women’s rights such as FGM (still done in hiding) as well as child marriages due to prevalence of poverty that put Amudat at 79% and hence victimizing a girl child as solution in form of exchange for cows. Other factors cited include the lack of LC1 – LC2 courts to accelerate Access to Justice and the worrying illiteracy rate at 6%.

 “We are going to put in place an education ordinance that mandates all the children of school going age to be given the support to attend UPE and proceed to higher level of learning” he concluded.

H/W Sayekwo Emmy Geoffrey who also doubled as the Chief Guest, passionately appreciated LASPNET, stakeholders and participants present for gracing the open day. In a special way, he applauded UNDP for the financial support in ensuring that access to justice for victims and survivors of GBV is enhanced across the country.

“This activity has enabled extension of legal aid services to the grassroot communities within the different sub counties of Karita, Amudat Sub- County, Karita Town Council, and Looro Sub Counties. This in itself will not only benefit the survivors and victims of GBV but will provide legal awareness and dissemination of information on Gender Based Violence to the public as a whole on how to report cases of GBV, where to report and what steps should be undertaken in cases of GBV” he said.

Prior divulging into his official speech, the Chief Magistrate begun by announcing that following this open day launch, as Judiciary he has resolved and committed to expeditiously handle GBV cases before him in both Moroto and Nakapiripiriti by bringing nearer the court to people of Amudat. He therefore noted that in consultation with the district leadership who designated physical court premises, he will be conducting a Bi-weekly court session and this will help to reduce on case backlog in the district. This initiative by the Chief Magistrate was received with thunderous applause from the participants in attendance.

While speaking to the subject matter of the day, His Worship Geoffrey revealed how in predominantly rural Amudat District, Gender-Based Violence has manifested especially in form of harmful cultural practices of FGM, early and forced marriages, domestic violence. Further, according to the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development, Amudat ranks among the districts with a cute SGBV cases in Northern Uganda at 0.59% (348 GBV cases per year). This is because sexual and physical abuse of women and girls remains culturally acceptable by community members, increased levels of poverty, and limited-service providers within the region as well as limited information on SGBV.

To enlighten the congregation about the efforts of government,  he outlined several frameworks that are in place to address the issues of GBV which among others include the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995 as amended; Domestic Violence Act 2010 and the 2011 Domestic Violence Regulations, Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2009, the Equal Opportunities Commission Act 2007, Penal Code Act (Cap 120), Employment (Sexual Harassment) Regulations of 2012, the Children (Amendment) Act, 2016, the International Criminal Court Act, 2010, and the prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2010; Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2010 among others.

Noting that the law is not sufficient, His Worship had this to sayWhile the above laws provide legal protection and criminalization of GBV, survivors continue to face obstacles in accessing justice at every stage from community levels (village councils Courts); police station and courts of law. This is mainly because of lack of knowledge, language barriers, long distances, limited skills and facilitation among service providers, poor interpretation of the law barriers like corruptions among others he expressed.

His worship also spoke emphatically to the issue of corruption, and cautioned government officials who abuse their offices through bribery and those who misuse their offices to exploit women by demanding sexual favors from them.  He called upon the public to report corruption and to desist from participating in giving bribes. To LASPNET, he requested the Network to track the recommendations of the legal aid open day to inform other policy interventions and future actions. In his concluding remarks he urged the public to break the silence and say no to Gender based Violence.

After official opening and inspection of stalls, the function was opened to call-ins through Kalya outside broadcast. The callers mainly appreciated LASPNET and UNDP for the opportunity of a Legal Aid Open Day in their community as well as sought clarification on how to handle GBV matters. Others sought to know about the procedural aspects of GBV cases which have stayed long in court.  One participant asked whether defilement was the same as rape and if police or LCs have the mandate to handle such cases.  The responses to the queries were made by the LASPs lawyers. In particular, emphasis was put on preserving evidence especially in sexual related matters, protecting and preventing GBV especially among girls, witness attending court to ensure cases are prosecuted among others.

In general, the Legal Aid Open day in Amudat was successful and well attended by both the key dignitaries and general public who utilized the day to seek legal information.  The people of Amudat are open minded, willing to learn and adapt. Any more intervention and outreach will go a long way to further the case of fighting GBV.