KAMPALA. The Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Maj Gen (Rtd) Kahinda Otafiire has urged governments in the Great Lakes region to borrow a leaf from Uganda on political tolerance so as to bring an end to conflicts that force their nationals into refugee life.
Gen Otafiire made the call on Wednesday in Kampala while launching a report titled; Rule of Law, Access to Justice and Security needs in refugee settlements and host communities in Arua and Isingiro districts.
The study conducted by Legal Aid Service Providers’ Network (LASPNET) focused on assessing the in service delivery gaps in access to justice in the refugee settlements and host communities.
The Minister said much as Uganda has based on empathy to be a host of currently 1.2 million refugees from other African countries, the political actors in those states have a role to play in ensuring that they create a good environment for none of their citizens to flee again.
“The 1.2 million people are refugees because in their countries there are issues that are unable to be resolved. The political actors in those countries should learn from us (Uganda) and see how to resolve issues,” Gen Otafiire said.
The Minister added: “Our brethren should learn that disagreements are handled amicably with respect to each other’s views as we have done in Uganda where we disagree on approach to issues but as a country we remain on one agenda which is development.”
Uganda hosts refugees from Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi among others. Some of these countries continue to experience armed and political conflicts.
Gen Otafiire also said that because African governments cannot use their resource endowments to fight poverty, hundreds of Africans risk their lives by crossing the Mediterranean Sea to seek economic refugee in Europe hence taking themselves into modern day slavery.
The report presented by the Principal of the Makerere University Law School, Dr Christopher Mbazira revealed that much as the government has taken special steps to the need for access to justice and security in refugee settlements and host communities; lack of facilities and human resource remains a problem.
Some of the findings revealed that; the cost of accessing justice is high; language barrier when a victim or suspect appears in courts of law; and also policewomen are not well equipped to serve the needs of female victims of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV).
“Access to courts is unaffordable for most people within refugee communities. This is because of the long distances between the settlements and courts of law. In the criminal justice system, refugee suspects have challenges getting bail because they cannot prove a fixed place of abode which is a pre-requisite for the bail under the law,” the report reads in part.
The report also revealed that Arua and Isingiro are the districts hosting large numbers of refugees and that they face “situational security threats” which include food insecurity, intercommunity hostilities, porous borders and land disputes. There are also incidents of criminality in those communities, the report added.
It is also noted in the report that; refugees have preferred cultural perspectives and reporting cases to local councils or religious institutions since they are not sure of getting justice in the legal channels due limited accessibility.
In the recommendations, the researchers asked government to consider regular mobile court sessions to cater for the refugee communities, deploy more female police officers to handle SGBV cases, deploy judicial officers with specialised training in refugee issues, hold court open days to address issues of ignorance and bring local governments on board.
Gen Otafiire promised to bring the issues of holding court sessions in refugee communities to the attention of the Principal Judge, Yorokam Bamwine.
Meanwhile, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Justice Mike Chibita said that the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) has started holding criminal summons in refugee settlements to hear cases involving refugees.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country representative Ms Almaz Gebru asked the government to consider the findings of the report in developing frameworks to do with refugees, justice, law and order.
Mr Joel Boutroue, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) country representative applauded the report for providing recommendations for the government to build the capacity of judicial offices and security officers in handling issues in the refugee settlements and host communities.