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Uganda: Women Judges Voice Concern over Domestic Violence

(July 8, 2013) On June 18, 2013, a group of female judges in Uganda expressed concern over the increase in gender-based domestic violence and abuse in their country. (Domestic Violence Cases Soar, NEW VISION (June 18, 2013).) The President of the National Association of Women Judges-Uganda (NAWJU), Stella Arach Amoko, attributed this in part to the fact that the law on the subject, the Domestic Violence Act, No. 17 of 2010 (approved on Mar. 17, 2010) (International Labor Organization website) is not widely known among legal professionals, law enforcement officials, and victims. (Id.) Amoko noted that some judges and magistrates do not even have copies of the Act. (Id.)

In addition to the problem of lack of awareness of the Law, there is the problem of apathy; some judges and magistrates are uninterested in enforcing the Law because they see gender-based abuse as a women’s issue, added Amoko. (Id.) Some civil society organizations have put the blame for the persistently high numbers of domestic violence crimes on the failure of the government to adequately fund the Act’s implementation. (Uganda: Survey – More Women Think Domestic Violence Is Justified, NEW VISION (Mar. 16, 2013).)

The Act itself puts in place stringent protections against domestic violence. It defines domestic violence broadly to include physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological, and economic abuse of a victim or anyone related to him/her. (Domestic Violence Act, § 2.) Under the Act, harassing, harming, injuring or endangering the victim or anyone related to the victim for the purpose of coercing them into complying with “any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security” are also considered domestic violence. (Id.) The Act casts a wide net in terms of categories of people protected against domestic violence under its provisions: married people; people related by consanguinity, affinity or kinship; roommates; domestic workers; employers of domestic workers; or anyone that the court deems to be or have been in a domestic relationship. (Id. § 3.)

A domestic violence complaint may be filed before a local council court, which is to make a written referral to the police and a magistrates’ court if the perpetrator is a recidivist, the victim is in danger, or the violence that has already taken place is serious. (Id. § 6.) If the violence involves children, a domestic violence complaint may be filed with a family and children’s court. (Id. § 17.) The Act imposes an obligation on police officers to advise victims of domestic violence of their legal rights, including the right to lodge criminal complaints. (Id. § 7.)

The Act imposes strict penalties for violation of its provisions. It makes domestic violence an offense punishable by a fine and/or up to two years’ imprisonment. (Id. § 4.) In addition, the court (local council court, magistrates’ court, or family and children’s court) may order the perpetrator to pay compensation to the victim. (Id.)

Data show that domestic violence is commonplace in Uganda. According to a 2007 study of the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, close to 70% of “ever-married women aged 15 to 49 had experienced some form of violence” at the hands of their partner. (Immigration and Refugees Board of Canada, Uganda: Domestic Violence, Including Legislation, Statistics and Attitudes Toward Domestic Violence; The Availability of Protection and Support Services (June 19, 2008), REFWORLD.) Citing a United Nations report, a 2010 U.S. Department of State report on human rights in Uganda offers further insight:

…60 percent of women aged 15 and above experienced physical violence, 15 percent of women face violence during pregnancy, and 24 percent report that their first sexual encounter was a forced one. Many law enforcement officials viewed wife-beating as a husband’s prerogative, as did the majority of the population, and rarely intervened in cases of domestic violence. (U.S. Department of State, 2010 Human Rights Report: Uganda (Apr. 8, 2011).)

More recent statistical data does not show any improvement. According to the Ugandan police, in 2012, there were 9,278 victims of domestic violence. (Domestic Violence Cases Soar, NEW VISION, supra.) In the first quarter of 2013, close to 2,500 people were victims of domestic violence, and 72 people died as a result. (Id.)

Written by Antoniette Ofosu-Kwakye, Intern, Law Library of Congress, under the guidance of Hanibal Goitom, Foreign Law Specialist.