Understaffing in Police Hindering Access to Justice in Refugee Communities – Report

Justice Minister, Kahinda Otafire (2nd R) and UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda, Almaz Gebru (R) during the launch of the report.

A new report has cited critical gaps in the Police human resources which have hindered access to justice in areas that host refugees.

The report which was commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was launched on Tuesday.

It was titled ‘Report on Rule of Law, Access to Justice, and Security Needs of Refugees and Host Communities in Arua and Isingiro Districts’.

It highlights gaps like understaffing within the Police, which is a critical institution in the justice process.

For instance in  Isingiro district the ratio of service stands at 1 police officer for every 2,780 people, far below the recommended international ratio of 1:450 the area also has only one state attorney and one prosecutor.

“These officers are overstretched.  Sometimes they are required to appear in the different courts – High Court and magistrates, at the same time which is not feasible,” reads the report in part.

In both Arua and Isingiro, the report found deficit in the number of police women which affects the quality of services provided to women such as such as victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

“Many refugee women were not comfortable taking their cases to policemen,” reads the report. As such, Police have faced challenges in investigating and prosecuting cases related to SGBV, as well addressing the needs of victims.

The report further revealed that refugee suspects have challenges getting bail because they cannot prove having a fixed place of abode, which is a pre-requisite for bail in most cases.

In other findings, the report highlights the issue of language barrier which has hampered access to justice by refugees. This is because some refugees do not understand local languages and require translation services within the police and courts systems.

Gen Kahinda Otafiire, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs who presided over the launch said; “We welcome this effort in addressing the challenges of rule of law, security and access to justice in refugee settlements and host communities”.

The Acting UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda, Almaz Gebru said the influx of refugees in Uganda has put a lot of pressure on existing infrastructure and this is particularly true for public service delivery, which involves access to justice, rule of law and security.

“UNDP and UNHCR have undertaken this joint Needs Assessment to firstly inform us of the challenges but also to look to future strategic interventions that can be put in place to support both refugees and host communities,” she said.

On his part, Joël Boutroue, the Representative UNHCR said the joint Assessment with UNDP revealed that access to justice is complicated for both host and refugee communities because courts are very far away.

This joint Assessment therefore is a call to other partners to support us in improving access to justice for both communities.”

The Executive Director LASPNET, Ms. Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa   said the report highlights gaps and makes compelling recommendations of how to address them, “I hope the findings and recommendations will inform JLOS and other agencies planning for refugees and host communities for better security, rule of law and access to justice for this vulnerable segment of society.”

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