KAMPALA, Tuesday, 5th March 2019 –A report launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) commends government for instituting structures and institutions to guarantee rule of law, access to justice and security needs of refugees and host communities in Uganda. The report however observes that there are some gaps which affect the performance, integrity and capacity of the justice, law and order sector institutions.
Titled, “Report on Rule of Law, Access to Justice, and Security Needs of Refugees and Host Communities in Arua and Isingiro Districts,” the report was launched on Tuesday March 5th, 2019 by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. Kahinda Otafiire at Sheraton Hotel in Kampala. It was commissioned by UNDP and UNHCR in partnership with the Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET.)
The purpose of the study was to guide all duty bearers and stakeholders in bridging the gaps in service delivery by designing evidence-based interventions that are responsive to people’s needs. The research was done in a participatory manner, through surveys and focus group discussions with both refugees and host communities, as well as interviews.
The report says that government has taken special steps to respond to the access to justice and security needs of refugees and host communities. These include; an increased deployment of Police and military/UPDF personnel, the use of mobile courts and the conducting of legal awareness sessions in refugee settlements.
The gaps identified in the report include; shortage of facilities and human resources. For instance, Isingiro district has 1 police officer for every 2,780 people, far below the recommended international ratio of 1:450.
Isingiro also has one state attorney and one prosecutor. “These officers are overstretched. Sometimes they are required to appear in the different courts- High Court and magistrates, at the same time which is not feasible,” reads the report in part.
In both Arua and Isingiro, the report found deficit in the number of police women which affects the quality of services provided to women such as victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence. “Many refugee women were not comfortable taking their cases to policemen,” reads the report. As such, Police have faced challenges in investigating and prosecuting cases related to SGBV, as well addressing the needs of victims.
The report also found that refugee suspects have challenges getting bail because they cannot prove having a fixed place of abode, which is a pre-requisite for bail in most cases. Access to justice by refugees is also hampered by language barrier since most refugees do not understand local languages and require translation services within the police and courts systems.
Minister, UN officials speak
Speaking during the launch, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Hon. Kahinda Otafiire welcomed the report saying that it will inform government interventions, “to address the challenges of rule of law, security and access to justice in refugee settlements and host communities.”
Ms. Almaz Gebru, the Acting UNDP Resident Representative said, “The influx of refugees in Uganda today has put a lot of pressure on existing infrastructure and this is particularly true for public service delivery, which involves access to justice, rule of law and security. UNDP and UNHCR have undertaken this joint Needs Assessment to firstly inform us of the challenges but also to look to future strategic interventions that can be put in place to support both refugees and host communities.”
On his part, Mr. Joël Boutroue, the Representative UNHCR said, “We have realized through this joint Assessment with UNDP, that access to justice is complicated for both host and refugee communities because courts are very far away. This joint Assessment therefore is a call to other partners to support us in improving access to justice for both communities.”
The Executive Director LASPNET, Ms. Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa said the report highlights gaps and makes compelling recommendations of how to address them, “I hope the findings and recommendations will inform JLOS and other agencies planning for refugees and host communities for better security, rule of law and access to justice for this vulnerable segment of society.”
Refugee situation in Uganda
Since the outbreak of the conflict in South Sudan, Uganda became the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa with an estimated 1.2 million refugees and asylum seekers by January 2019. The bulk of these – 794,387 – are from South Sudan. Over 80% of new refugees in Uganda are women and children who are exposed to protection risks such as abuse, neglect, violence and gender-based violence.