IJM Uganda, alongside other partners, supported the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to host the Conference of the East African Association of Prosecutors, in Kampala from February 26 -March 1, 2023.
Established in 2010, the Association brings together national prosecution authorities in the region, with the objective of promoting and facilitating cooperation among the National Prosecuting Authorities of the Partner States to ensure effective measures for the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of crime.
Titled “Transboundary Crime: Practical Approaches to Protecting Women and Children,” the conference was attended by public prosecutors, judicial officers, development partners and senior government representatives from 11 countries namely: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Uganda
In her welcome remarks, the host of the conference and Director of Public Prosecutions of Uganda, Lady Justice Jane Frances Abodo, noted that women and children are most vulnerable to abuse and constitute the bulk of victims of crime within the East African region. This, she noted, was exacerbated by the COVID-19-induced lockdown which led to spikes in cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Thus, Justice Abodo said the conference was an opportunity for prosecutors in the region to share experiences as well as refocus energies on how best to handle such cases across borders.
IJM Uganda Country Director Ms. Wamaitha Kimani concurred that SGBV is not only a shared problem, but it remains persistent and is now escalating in the face of organized and emerging crimes. Left unchecked, Ms. Kimani noted, violence has a disastrous impact on the health and well-being of women and children, and their participation in society. Some of the cases result in death.
“The vulnerabilities created when crime is experienced at the core of society, in homes, create easy targets for even more crime that soon takes on a transboundary nature with trafficking, terrorism, commercial sexual exploitation,” Ms. Kimani told the conference.
She added that in family situations, where the victims and perpetrators, share a home, a history, and very likely a future, violence “makes an adversarial court system, a truly complex balancing task of persuading the victim to testify, assuring the victim of their protection, and a vigilant watch over the perpetrator to ensure they do not interfere with the witnesses or cause them even more grave harms.”
She called for the need to close the justice gap and bring in more women and children under the protection of the law.
During the conference, IJM Uganda Legal Coordinator, Ms. Florence Lora Atim was a panelist in the first session chaired by Kenya’s DPP Noordin Mohamed Haji.
Ms. Atim delivered a compelling presentation on SGBV, how it manifests, the challenges in investigating the cases, and the way forward to ensure that perpetrators are held to account.
Sending a strong message to the community that SBGV is not acceptable, Ms. Atim called for tough and deterrent sentences against the crimes, regardless of the relationship that the perpetrator has with the abused person. She also stated that it was necessary to have witness protection laws so that witnesses can feel safe when testifying before the court.
This was echoed by Uganda’s Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Nobert Mao, when he asked, “How risky is it for people to commit these crimes against women and children?”
Uganda’s Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dolly remarked that a country cannot develop if criminality reigns, and criminal justice is weak. He, among other issues, called for the promotion of moral values in society.