In recent years, Uganda has taken significant strides towards addressing the pervasive issue of sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) within its borders.
Recognizing the urgent need to protect vulnerable populations and promote gender equality, the Ugandan judicial system has conducted dedicated sessions focused on prosecuting SGBV cases.
These judicial sessions play a vital role in upholding justice, providing support to survivors, and fostering a safer society. I will explore the efforts made by Uganda’s judiciary in combating SGBV and the impact of these specialized sessions.
The Prevalence of SGBV in Uganda
Sexual gender-based violence remains a pressing concern in Uganda, affecting individuals across diverse social, economic, and age groups. Victims of SGBV often endure physical, sexual, and psychological trauma, facing long-lasting consequences. Factors such as gender inequality, cultural norms, poverty, and a lack of awareness contribute to the persistence of this issue. Recognizing the gravity of the problem, the Ugandan government, civil society organizations, and judicial bodies have intensified their efforts to combat SGBV.
The Rise of Specialized Judicial Sessions
Specialized judicial sessions have been established in Uganda to expedite the resolution of SGBV cases and ensure fair and efficient justice delivery. These sessions are dedicated to hearing cases related to sexual offenses, domestic violence, and other forms of SGBV. The establishment of these specialized courts aims to create a supportive environment for survivors, increase conviction rates, and prevent secondary victimization.
During a high level Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) stakeholders meeting at the Judiciary headquarters in Kampala chaired by Principal Judge, Hon. Justice Dr. Yorokamu Bamwine, on Friday October 19, 2018. Courts had planned to hold 13 special sessions in different parts of the country, targeting to clear at least 1,000 cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in 40 days. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is to fund the special criminal sessions between November and December 15 this year, starting with a joint training session, which is planned for October 29, 2018.
Selected courts include the High Court Criminal Division in Kampala; High Court Circuits of Moroto, Soroti, Masaka, Mukono, Gulu, Bushenyi and Mbale; and the Chief Magistrates Courts of Nabweru, Iganga, Lira, Kapchorwa and Sironko.
Currently, at least 700 cases are set to be disposed of in the third phase of special sessions to dispose of SGBV cases. This was revealed during a meeting chaired by the Principal Judge, Hon. Justice DrFlavian Zeija, with officials from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)and the Justice, Law and Order Sector Secretariat.
Objectives of Judicial Sessions inter alia include;
- Improved Access to Justice: The specialized sessions prioritize the rights of survivors and provide them with increased access to justice. By streamlining legal procedures, reducing delays, and enhancing the quality of investigations and prosecutions, these sessions help survivors navigate the legal process effectively.
- Increased Awareness and Sensitization: The judicial sessions raise public awareness about SGBV, its consequences, and the importance of gender equality. Through the handling of high-profile cases and media coverage, these sessions bring the issue to the forefront, encouraging societal discourse and challenging harmful cultural norms.
- Supportive Environment for Survivors: Survivors of SGBV often face intimidation, stigma, and fear of reprisals when seeking justice. The specialized courts create a safe space for survivors to share their experiences, ensuring their voices are heard, and their rights protected. This approach helps survivors regain their confidence and aids in their healing process.
- Strengthening Legal Frameworks: Judicial sessions provide an opportunity to evaluate existing legal frameworks and identify gaps in the legislation pertaining to SGBV. Through the interpretation and application of laws, judges can contribute to the development of a robust legal framework that better addresses the needs of survivors and reflects societal changes.
Impact and Challenges
The introduction of specialized judicial sessions has yielded several positive outcomes. Firstly, the conviction rates for SGBV cases have improved, fostering a sense of accountability among perpetrators and survivors. Secondly, survivors are more willing to report incidents, knowing that they will be treated with empathy and receive support throughout the legal process. Lastly, the increased focus on SGBV has led to greater community engagement, encouraging individuals to take an active stance against violence.
However, challenges persist. Limited resources, including the availability of trained personnel and forensic support, pose obstacles to the effective functioning of these sessions. Furthermore, cultural norms and societal attitudes often perpetuate victim-blaming and discourage survivors from coming forward. Addressing these challenges necessitates collaborative efforts between the judiciary, government, civil society, and the community at large.
The specialized judicial sessions on Sexual Gender-Based Violence in Uganda represent a crucial step towards combating this pervasive issue. These sessions provide survivors with a platform to seek justice, challenge societal norms, and foster a culture of accountability. Through increased awareness, sensitization, and legal reforms, Uganda is moving closer to eradicating SGBV and creating a society where all individuals can live free from violence and discrimination. It is essential that stakeholders continue to collaborate, allocate resources, and support survivors to ensure the success and sustainability of these judicial sessions in the long run.