Last week, IJM Uganda achieved a conviction in a case of sexual violence against a child that they had been told would be "hopeless" to win.
When the team first started working on this case they were told by a senior official that the evidence was not going to be strong enough to secure a conviction. The IJM team was convinced of the strength of the case, and worked alongside police and community leaders to collect additional evidence, follow up on files, and provide care and support to the survivor and her family.
Even with all the work done to build a strong case, the team began to fear that they would never win for a different reason. Since IJM launched a pilot project to fight sexual violence against children in Western Uganda in September 2017, none of the cases of sexual violence against children that IJM had supported in Kamwenge district had proceeded to trial.
One of the most significant roadblocks to concluding cases from Kamwenge district in court was that the district was so remote that it had no High Court. To hear cases from these rural areas, the courts schedule all criminal trials during a specific session in order to reduce costs of transporting witnesses the long distance to court. Sessions may only be held a few times a year in the High Court covering ten or more separate districts, creating significant backlog. By the time cases are heard, child survivors and family members may struggle to testify with the same accuracy and effectiveness, and many witnesses do not have the immediate means to reach the court before being reimbursed for travel costs.
To address this challenge, IJM sponsored a 10-day High Court criminal session to be held in one of the remote districts where witnesses struggled to make the long journey to court. This ‘mobile court’ heard 17 cases in Kamwenge, resulting in 12 convictions with sentences ranging from 4-20 years. The success of this mobile court session proves that there is hope for effectively prosecuting cases of sexual violence against children in Western Uganda.
About the Fort Portal Pilot Project
In 2017, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development selected IJM to serve as Consultant for the Ministry’s World Bank-funded SCOPE Project (“Supporting Children’s Opportunities through Protection and Empowerment”) in Kabarole and Kamwenge Districts. The purpose of this pilot project is to build government capacity to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children through partnerships between the Ministry, the public justice system, other government actors, and NGOs.
Through classroom training, coaching and mentoring, IJM has worked alongside these actors to improve the way they investigate cases, deliver services to survivors, and move cases through the justice system. IJM has provided in-depth support on cases involving approximately 13 children, and has provided high-level advice on case involving approximately 21 children. The project runs from September 2017-November 2018.
Although the SCOPE project will be ending in November 2018, IJM will be continuing to work in the region supporting sexual violence against children cases.