Joyce Ilukori is a former police officer who now advocates for women’s rights on behalf of Mother Care, a community based organization in Kaabong. Joyce’s experiences as a police officer revealed to her just how few resources are available to victims of gender-based violence in Karamoja. When I spoke with her, she described an incident in which a relative of hers was brutally raped by five men. The police merely detained and later released the perpetrators without pursuing charges. According to Joyce, when women report violence, it is “typical for nothing to happen.” In Karamoja, the prevalence and severity of domestic violence and inter-clan armed rape are staggering, yet a lack of infrastructure and an adherence to traditional practices barricade women from seeking justice.
Domestic violence against both women and children is so severe that many are left permanently disabled. Given that the Karimojong are a semi-nomadic pastoralist people, being disabled is a tremendous hardship. During raids, being disabled becomes an extreme liability. Those who are unable to escape or defend themselves are exposed to a much greater risk of being raped or shot by rival warriors. In addition, disabled survivors face an elevated risk of repeated attacks.
Children also suffer both directly and indirectly from domestic violence. Adolescent boys, charged with watching cattle, may be beaten or even killed for losing an animal or falling victim to a raid. Girls are at risk of being raped while gathering firewood or walking to and from school. Patrick Osekeny of UNFPA recounted a recent incident in which two female students were on their way to school when they were stopped by members of a rival clan. The men used the barrel of a rifle to rape the girls.
Determining the rate of armed domestic violence in Karamoja is nearly impossible because reporting is all but nonexistent, and official structures go unused. Osekeny asserts that “deaths [are] not even reported.” Likewise, Patrick Lomongin of FORDIPOM claims that police records do not reflect the “many cases” of spousal murder in the region. He provided an example of a wealthy cattle rustler from Lotome who shot two of his eleven wives. Lomongin said that despite everyone in town knowing about this man’s crimes, no attempt has been made to bring him to justice or even to ostracize him from the community.
Instead of seeking help from the police or the courts, affected parties usually settle disputes within their community or tribe. Some disputes are referred to the Akiliket, the local council of elders. Oftentimes, the Akiliket dismisses claims of domestic violence outright because wife-beating is considered normal or a private family issue. If the victim’s family protests or the violence results in major injury or death, then the aggressor may be asked to compensate the victim’s family. Once this is done, the case is deemed to be resolved.
Patrick Osekeny recalls a case from last year when a widow was raped in her hut. There were several witnesses, but no one intervened. The woman was so distraught that she hung herself. Police detained the perpetrator, but they released him when his relatives agreed to pay compensation to the widow’s son.
In addition to cultural barriers, survivors must surmount systemic obstacles to justice. There are no resident judges or magistrates in Karamoja. The region’s presiding magistrate oversees Soroti District plus all five (soon to be six) of the districts in Karamoja. The only court in the region is situated in Moroto, and there are no resources available to transport witnesses or plaintiffs to and from Moroto. According to Lomongin, the chief magistrate spent only four days in Moroto during the previous year. As a result, there is a backlog of more than 300 cases. Ironically, the sign outside the Moroto courthouse reads “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Furthermore, because the Karimojong are a semi-nomadic people, locating witnesses and following up on cases is very difficult. Ann Grace Namer of Caritas claims that both victims and witnesses fear that they will be harassed or killed if they report violence or testify in court.
In Karamoja, there are few police units, and only a handful of officers have received gender sensitivity training. Currently, UNFPA and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are training community development officers to collect and manage cases, but this project is still in the early stages. Women’s organizations are also forming more cohesive alliances. At least 80 women’s groups are now registered with the Karamoja Women Umbrella Organisation. Even though Karamoja is a difficult working environment, community-based organizations, such as FORDIPOM and Warrior Squad, are using innovative methods to reach out to the communities in the region. I was truly inspired by their enthusiasm and their dedication to promoting peace and gender equality.
I want to recognize some of the individuals and organizations committed to women’s rights in Karamoja. The following were kind enough to share their time and expertise.
Milton Lopiria, Warrior Squad Foundation
Romano Longole, Kotido Peace Initiative (KOPEIN)
Patrick Osekeny, UNFPA Moroto
Mark Can Lain, International Rescue Committee
Anna Lomonyang and Patrick Lomongin, Foundation of Rural Disabled Persons of Moroto (FORDIPOM)
Ann Grace Namer, Caritas
Juliet Achieng, Karamoja Women’s Umbrella Organization (KAWUO)
Joyce Ilukori, Mother Care
Paulina Chepkumun, nurse/midwife and women’s health advocate affiliated with KAWUO
Posted By Courtney Chance
Posted Oct 6th, 2009