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Judiciary to hold special sessions in refugee settlements

By Jeff Andrew Lule, Hannington Mutabazi

Added 20th June 2017 12:00 AM

Unending adjournment of cases also causes delayed justice for refugees

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Deputy Registrar, Isah Serunkuma (L) launching the documentary flanked by Refugee Law Project’s Dr Chris Dolan (C) and the Access to Justice Refugee Law Project’s Charity Ahumuza. Photo by Shamim Saad

Unending adjournment of cases also causes delayed justice for refugees

In an effort to improve access to justice among the forced immigrants in the country, the judiciary is to start special court sessions in various refugee settlements and camps country wide to handle various cases.

Many human rights activists raised concerns over delayed justice for refugees in camps due to long distances to justice centres among other factors.

They also noted that where a suspect is taken to prison, it takes two months for them to access bail because of the unfavourable conditions.

However, while launching a documentary on bail access for refugees, the deputy High Court registrar in charge of special projects, Isah Serunkuma, on Monday said there are so many cases of rape, defilement, assaults and gender based violence committed in refugee settlements that need to be handled.

The documentary titled; “Bail Denied” showed the hardships refugees were facing in accessing court bail. It was done by the Refugee Law Project (RLP), supported by Democratic Governance Facility (DGF).

“At times these cases delay due to lack of interpreters since most of these refugees only speak their indigenous languages. These cases delay for a long a time as we look for interpreters and at times suspects take long in prison without trial. The delay causes disparity,” he said.

He also noted that unending adjournment of cases also causes delayed justice for refugees.

“At times suspects are released due to lack evidence by Police especially in the cases of sexual violence. This promotes fear and enmity in the settlement and can at times lead to death,” Serunkuma said.

He said many of the courts are very far away from the settlements, which makes it hard for the refugees to travel to courts all the time. “At the end of the day, the culprits are released”.

He said they resolved to hold special court sessions to hear the cases expeditiously and also promote reconciliation in refugee settlements.

“We believe with such an approach, it is easy to get witnesses in many of the cases and interpreters from the communities,” he added.

In his speech, also read by Serunkuma, the chief registrar, Paul Gadenya Wolimbwa said long distances to justice centres, simply means that many needs of refugees are never met and the few that are met are either too expensive or stale to be enjoyed by the beneficiaries.

He said that in order to address the problem, the Judiciary has increased Magisterial Areas from 32 to 38 and High Court circuits from 13 to 20, aimed at taking service points closer to experience justice in real time.

He said they have also increased Magistrates from 207 to 532; Chief Magistrates from 46 to 100; High Court Judges from 51 to 82, and consider increasing Justices of Appeal from 15 to 25.

The director RLP, Chris Dolan said there so many cases of sexual violence which need urgent attention before evidence disappears.  

The RLP programme officer, access to justice, Charity Ahumuza stressed that accessing bail remains a big challenge to refugees because of the requirements.

“They ask for a lot of cash which refugees do not have, fixed place of abode and substantial sureties. As a result many receive bail after mandatory period of 60 days in prison. I think we need look into this,” she noted.

Ahumuza wondered how courts expect refugees to raise a cash bail of about sh1,000,000/= without jobs.

The director human resource development for Police, Felix Ndyomugyenyi said Police needs to always expedite investigation into refugee cases to have speedy trial. “Refugees’ cases need to be given priority”.

The Prisons head of administration, Apollo Kankunda said there is need for stakeholders to advocate for refugees as a special group to easily fast track their cases.

“We have not been capturing their data as refugees; the court documents only indicate foreigners,” he added.

Benon Mujuni, a commissioner from the immigration department, said all refugees must face the same law, like other Ugandans when they break the law.

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