You have been pushed out of your village because of incidents of armed violence. You have already lost members of your family in the war. You take your children to a loosely set up camp for the internally displaced, uncertain as to when you will be able to return. Your children follow wordlessly as they have witnessed much violence but are still reluctant to leave behind their studies. The conditions at the camp are dire with drastically little (or no) access to health care, education, food and clean water.
People line up for hours to draw water from the well. You find yourself seeing the size of the camp double without any improvement in conditions. In addition to the cramped conditions, the population lacks any means to ensure their own livelihood lending to attitudes of despondency and idleness. The camps themselves lack security (there are ccasional incidences of attack), but with safety in numbers, you feel that staying in such horrid conditions is the only viable option. One evening, you are attacked by men dressed as soldiers (unclear as to their official status as rebels wear the same uniforms) while gathering firewood in a remote part of the camp with your not-quite teenage daughter. Although you beg for them to spare her, they catch her and rape her first in front of you. And then you are raped in turn by the men.
Even though you would have been able to get justice in your village for such abhorrent acts, you do not report the incident because you know such stories are not uncommon. No matter who the perpetrator is you know that reporting the act will only draw unwanted attention on yourself and your family, potentially resulting in reduced security in addition to shame. There is no mechanism for justice in this setting, a virtual no man’s land for protection. Without adequate retribution and thus deterrence, such instances often go unreported. Lawlessness is a frightening concept, but the freedom of sexual abusers in a highly vulnerable population is even more concrete. According to a recent UNICEF report on sexual and gender based violence in IDP camps, 6 of 10 women are victims of rape. Only a small fraction, however, ever come forward as evidenced by their statistics.
The importance of legal aid in these areas cannot be overemphasized as sexual abuse which is condoned may only serve to normalize such criminal behavior, creating a culture of abuse. The legal aid clinic of RLP works with a consortium of other organizations to work at providing more legal aid for all, especially those more vulnerable populations. Given the placement of many of these camps, victims also face the challenges of traveling long distances to gain access to legal remedy or advice. At the moment, the legal aid clinic is completely overwhelmed with their caseload which is sourced within Kampala. They currently lack the capacity and clearly funds to reach out to incidences which are reported at the IDP and refugee ettlements. Expansion of legal aid clearly needs to be prioritized.
Posted By Eun Ha Kim (Uganda)
Posted Jun 27th, 2005