The justice system in Uganda is failing women and girls who have faced sexual violence, and is allowing perpetrators to walk free as it ignores, denies, and tacitly condones violence against women.
Violence against women is endemic in Uganda. The 21-year conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and government forces, which ended in 2006, was characterized by sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls. Though the hostilities have ended, the situation remains grim for many women and girls.
Violence including rape, child sexual abuse and physical assault, remains prevalent and is perpetrated by government forces, law enforcement officers, local council leaders, family members.
Many women and girls are afraid to report rape and other forms of violence, not only because of hostility and stigma from their community, but also due to state inaction in ensuring the investigation and punishment of alleged perpetrators through the justice system. They often opt to remain silent.
Those who do report cases of sexual violence find themselves up against obstacles to justice:
Often there are no police officers to report cases to, while there are few police stations. Police presence is nearly non-existent in some areas. Police officers are often reluctant to investigate cases involving soldiers or those of violence within the family, since the law does not recognize marital rape as a criminal offence.
Costs associated with police processes can deter survivors from pursuing a case. Victims are often asked to pay for costs associated with their case such as medical expenses, providing lunch for police during their investigation, or to feed the suspect while he is detained.
Courts are barely adequate and have overwhelming caseloads, meaning that very few cases are successfully concluded.
The Government of Uganda must act now to address failures in the justice system that are preventing women and girls from accessing justice and to make delivery of justice for survivors of sexual violence a priority.