Courtney Chance

Courtney Chance (The Centre for Conflict Resolution - CECORE): Courtney graduated from American University’s School of International Affairs, where she focused on the intersection of human rights and conflict. She worked as an intern at The Advocacy Project between September 2008 and June 2009, serving as a facilitator with grassroots human rights organizations preparing a report on innovations in the field of international volunteer service. Courtney also represented AP on the Building Bridges Coalition (BBC), an alliance of more than 180 organizations that promote international volunteerism

I am Helen Ruth Akello!

30 Jul

The New Vision (29 July 2009) front page headline:  “Police Boss Free of Wife’s Murder”

The release of James Peter Aurien, a former Mukono district police commander accused of killing his wife, is an indictment against both the Ugandan judicial system and law enforcement. In a gross miscarriage of justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided to withdraw the case against Aurien after the prosecution’s star witness, the deceased’s sister, ‘mysteriously disappeared’.  

Suspecting infidelity, police boss Aurien allegedly shot his wife, Christine Apolot, on April 20, 2008. Police Sgt. James Adang showed up at Aurien’s residence after hearing the gunshot.  Upon arrival, Adang found Aurien loading Apolot into his vehicle. Aurien claimed that his wife had injured herself, and he had to get her medical care. Aurien did not, however, take his wife to the hospital. Instead, after allegedly disposing of his wife’s body, he eluded a national manhunt for a week before turning himself in to authorities.  If this evidence were not enough, Helen Ruth Akello, Apolot’s sister, was present at the scene of the crime and is reported to have witnessed the incident firsthand.

Unfortunately, Akello has disappeared, so how would the court resolve this? Set the police commander free, of course. 

Aurien is no stranger to controversy. He was accused by fellow officer Baker Isabirye of defiling her young housekeeper.   After filing the charges against Aurien, Isabirye, of the Wandegeya Family Protection Unit, claims she received letters threatening to blackmail her.  I have been unable to confirm what became of these charges. Needless to say, the red flags went unheeded, and Aurien was neither stripped of his badge nor his firearm.

The blatant impunity for domestic violence offenders is astounding, especially when the accused is in a position of power. Upon leaving the courtroom on Wednesday, Aurien was embraced by his legislative counterpart, MP Akbar Godi, who also stands accused of using a firearm to murder his spouse. The day before her death, Godi’s wife, Rehema Caesar Nasur, had complained to police that her husband was threatening to kill her. It was the second time she had filed such a complaint. No action was taken by the police.

At this point, perhaps the most important question is, “What has become of Helen Ruth Akello?”  Police have been unable to trace her whereabouts, and there is speculation that she may have been bribed or threatened to convince her to leave the country–that is, assuming she is still alive and not being forcibly detained. It is inconceivable that Akello would willfully not show up to testify on her sister’s behalf. The justice system utterly failed in its duty to provide witness protection services to Ms. Akello.

I hope she knows, however, that there are others who will stand in her place, others who will carry the banner in the name of Christine Alopot and Rehema Nasur and the multitudes of other women who are victims of intimate partner violence. I am Helen Ruth Akello. And, hopefully, you are too. We will take the stand in her place, and if Aurien wants this to go away, he will have to silence us all. For the women of Uganda and beyond, this is a call to action: a call to fight corruption in law enforcement, a call to fight for witness protection, a call to demand tougher gun control, a call to halt and disarm domestic violence.

Posted By Courtney Chance

Posted Jul 30th, 2009

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