By Dennis Katungi
Delegates from member States within the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region converged in Munyonyo this week to find a way forward on the implementation of some of the already agreed protocols on preventing, suppressing and handling Sexual Gender-based violence in the region.
This was a follow up to the declaration of the Heads of State and Government who sat at Munyonyo on 16th December 2011. The summit had been the fourth special Session on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).
SGBV is so serious a matter - that the ICGLR Training Facility headed by the Regional Director, Mr Nathan Byamukama, convened a sensitization Conference to run from 12th to 14th November 2019. This was specifically for Judicial Officers, Prosecutors, Probation Officers and a few other stakeholders within the member states of Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Republic of South Sudan, Tanzania, Sudan & Zambia.
The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) is an Inter-Governmental organization covering the member states listed above and has over the years championed the prevention and suppression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children.
At the Munyonyo Conference this week, participants expressed concern that SGBV remains pervasive despite the existence of institutional, policy and legal frameworks across the region.
Nonetheless, the delegates were determined to take specific actions towards the prevention, suppression, and punishment of perpetrators. Given that the Heads of State had committed to direct concerned Ministries and Agencies to establish and strengthen special Courts, sessions, and procedures with the aim of fast-tracking SGBV cases, the conference took stock of the journey covered thus far. Country delegates gave a summary of the situation pertaining to each individual country as far as implementing earlier directives and protocols.
Participants discussed issues of gender equality and the management of SGBV cases in their various Criminal Justice systems. They shared good practice, specific kills in handling SGBV cases and resource management for the Special Courts & Sessions. They then moved to draft a model legal framework for accelerated prosecution of SGBV cases across the region. The delegates paid particular attention to ending the impunity with which the crimes were being committed. They discussed improving the role of the criminal justice systems in a holistic approach in order to handle SGBV cases in a gender and victim responsive environment, expeditiously, and in accordance with standards of fair trial.
Listening to Prosecutors' frustrations, it occurred to me that some countries in the region were ahead of others. While it takes on average 14 days to prosecute and conclude an SGBV case in Zambia, in Uganda it was reported as 3 years.
The Director of Public Prosecutions in Uganda, Justice Michael Chibita, who was the Chief guest shared experiences and frustrations on investigative incapacity of agencies responsible for gathering, processing and storing evidence right from scenes of crime to when his department sanctions cases for prosecution. He confessed that it was excruciating for him to have to drop criminal prosecution of rape and defilement cases where circumstances showed a clear cut crime but time lag and lack of evidence or unwillingness of victims to testify meant that some cases could not go to trial.
In DRC Congo, South Sudan as well as the Central Africa Republic where civil wars and population displacement was rife, it was quite clear from their delegates that a lot was yet to be done. In some instances in those countries, justice is administered through UN agencies such as MONUSCO through mobile courts and special sessions. Their delegates showed a willingness and commitment to work with regional partners to change the status quo.
There was clear undertaking by delegates, through respective Gender and Justice Ministries to strengthen regional initiatives that support the suppression of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence. There were also clear commitments to mainstream the gender aspect into national policies.
Justice Lillian Tibatemwa Ekirikubinza, together with Mr Nathan Byamukama, the Regional Director facilitated the Conference attended by Judges, Prosecutors, Probation Officers, and Senior Police Officers. Justice Damalie Lwanga officiated at closure.
Dennis Katungi – Director, Communications & Media Relations, Uganda Media Center.