Discrimination and financial barriers stop victims of sexual violence accessing justice in Uganda says Amnesty
Amnesty International has urged the Ugandan authorities to provide support for women seeking justice for sexual and domestic violence in its new report released today.
The report entitled I Can’t Afford Justice’ – Violence against women in Uganda(pdf) documents the economic and social barriers to justice, including the costs of criminal investigations and discrimination by government officials.
Amnesty’s report shows that violence in Uganda against women and girls remains widespread. It is estimated that two out of every three Ugandan households have experienced domestic violence, with women being four times more likely than men to be targeted for both physical and sexual violence.
The report also highlights that almost one in four women aged 15-49 (24 per cent) reported that their first sexual intercourse was forced against their will, according to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey – and more than half of these (54 per cent) first suffered sexual violence below the age of 18 with much of this violence and exploitation happening in schools.
Violence is compounded by discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, sexual orientation, social status, class and age. These multiple forms of discrimination further restrict women’s choices putting them at greater risk of violence making it still harder for them to access justice.
Survivors of violence are often left facing inadequate responses by police; Amnesty explained having to pay for the cost of police transportation to arrest the accused, forensic examination fees and other expenses related to the investigation.
Amnesty’s Senior Director Widney Brown said:
“Women in Uganda have been left with no faith in the justice system.
“The failure of the government to protect and support victims of sexual violence undermines the quest for justice. Lack of government resources and political will mean that perpetrators rarely face justice.”
The report includes several personal accounts highlighting how the police, prosecution service and the courts are under-funded and understaffed. These in turn become obstacles to women accessing justice as the criminal justice system lacks the resources to provide these services to victims.
One woman told Amnesty International:
“When I went to the police station they asked me for money for fuel which I did not have. My husband beat me again but I gave up going to the police because they always ask for money which I don’t have.”
In Uganda, there is no state-run shelter for victims of gender based violence. Women are also turned away from charity-run shelters for lack of space, and legal aid institutions are overwhelmed with cases of gender-based violence.
Meanwhile, attitudes among many government officials in Uganda are pressuring many women to accept mediation and stay in a violent relationship in spite of the danger. As a result, many women are stripped of their rights to be free from violence and to equal protection of the law.
The report also reveals how few systems are in place to protect survivors. Counsellors at a women’s shelter told Amnesty International how a 13-year-old girl who reported years of sexual violence by her father is now facing intimidation from her relatives and fears for her safety. Her case worker believes she is not safe where she is now living.
While the report stresses the need for the Ugandan government to adequately resource the criminal justice system to ensure that perpetrators of violence against women can be brought to justice, it also reveals that the government has not taken some basic measures to make the system work for women.
Many women Amnesty delegates spoke to said they were subjected to humiliating lines of questioning about their private lives and prior sexual conduct by inadequately-trained police and defence lawyers.
The government of Uganda is also falling short of its international obligation to ensure women’s access to justice. As a result, perpetrators escape prosecution and punishment for their crimes.
Widney Brown said:
“The Ugandan government needs to take a hard look at its laws, policies and practices and close the vast chasm between its rhetoric of respect for women’s rights and its abject failure to protect and fulfil those same rights.”
Amnesty is urging the Uganda government to take immediate action to provide survivors of violence against women with legal support and related health, safety and shelter needs.
It should also take steps to prevent violence against women by addressing its root causes by transforming discriminatory attitudes and remove the obstacles impeding women’s access to justice.
- Download the report (pdf)