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Uganda jails hundreds of men for sex offences against women and girls

Hundreds of men in Uganda have been jailed for sexual offences against girls and women during a month of special court sessions to clear a backlog of cases.

Between November and December last year, 414 men and nine women were found guilty during 13 trials held in selected courts in 13 districts around the country, according to the justice, law and order sector, a body that brings together government ministries working on legal matters.

The perpetrators were handed sentences ranging from community service to up to 50 years in jail.

“Overall, the objective of the pilot was met with unprecedented success, leading to the disposal of over 788 cases against the target of 650 cases,” said a report.

Activists and campaigners have welcomed the convictions, which they described as “decisive action” that sends a strong message.

“We applaud the gesture of special court sessions on GBV [gender-based violence]. Convicting more than 400 perpetrators is an exciting and welcomed landmark,” said Simon Richard Mugenyi, advocacy and communications manager at Reproductive Health Uganda.

“It’s a massive signal to those who plan to abuse women’s rights. It has been one of the missing links. Therefore, this will go a long away to curb GBV.”

Florence Auma, programme specialist for gender and human rights at the UN population fund in Uganda, said: “The convictions were deterrent enough for those that went through the court process. For those that plea-bargained, the highest penalty was 28 years in prison, including time already served on remand.”

The mother of a 12-year-old girl abused by her 35-year-old uncle in the eastern district of Soroti welcomed the decision to sentence the man to 19 years in jail.

“I am happy with the sentence and I know it is a lesson for other men in the community,” she said.

“Everybody said the perpetrator would bribe the officials and be set free. When I heard the sentence, I felt that justice had been served.”

The Ugandan police crime report recorded 14,985 cases of defilement (sexual assault on a person under 18) and 1,335 rape cases in 2017.

“SGBV [sexual and gender-based violence] has been on the increase in Uganda. Decisive action is therefore required,” said Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.

“Given that [sexual violence] involves infringement of the dignity and privacy of the individual, having special courts on SGBV is appropriate. Giving deterrent sentences is encouraged,” he said.

The special sessions were successfully piloted between 12 November and 15 December to help clear a backlog of more than 1,000 cases.

Mercy Grace Munduru, a lawyer and human rights activist, said the convictions could not obscure the need for the judiciary to learn more about trying sexual violence cases.

“There is need for specialised training for judicial officers who directly adjudicate over these matters; there is also need to comprehensively engage communities in this process prior to establishing special courts,” she said. “The specialised nature of the courts requires a careful approach.”

The report said prosecutions for gender-based violence needed to be handled with greater sensitivity towards survivors.

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