See previous blog on Helen Ruth Akello for more information on the case against District Police Commander James Aurien
Thanks to the heroic efforts of women’s advocates, including the Association of Uganda Women Lawyers (FIDA U), police boss James Aurien was re-arrested in connection with the death of his wife Christine Apolot. The key witness, Helen Ruth Akello, the victim’s sister who was allegedly present at the scene of the crime, has still not been traced, but the Director of Public Prosecution decided to reinstate the charge after evaluating other evidence.
According to her mother Akebina Awoyo, Helen Ruth Akello was taken away from her home by a police officer named David Mpangi who is alleged to be the son of James Aurien. The New Vision (18 August 2009) reports that Mpangi has connections to Parliament and resides in Nsambya Police Barracks, which may explain why residents of the Nsambya barracks were so reluctant to speak with me about the Aurien case when I visited a couple weeks ago. Another police officer, Joseph Alaku, is also accused of conspiring with Mpangi in the disappearance of Akello.
According to Florence Kirabira, head of the Child and Family Protection Unit, domestic violence “has been very common within the police community, and it has led to two deaths.” Echoing the concerns of women’s advocates, Kirabira laments the tarnished reputation of the police, “What will the public think of us? Yet they are supposed to bring their concerns to police but when they look at the institution that is supposed to protect them being turned down, it can cause a lot of mistrust.”
Nearly everyone I have interviewed on the topic of domestic violence has expressed two parallel concerns: 1. Domestic violence is a major problem within the police barracks, and 2. Not all police officers store their weapons properly. Kirabira and police surgeon Dr. Thaddeus Barungi claim that conditions in the barracks are often overcrowded and inadequate for supporting the welfare of the family. When I visited Nsambya, this was certainly true. Officers and their families live in small unipods-round metal buildings in the shape of huts that are practically stacked one atop another. In Nsambya, scores of young barefoot children play among ditches filled with broken glass and used prophylactics. The red dirt community reeks with the noxious odors of burning trash. It’s truly a miserable place, and I could understand why there are reports of high alcohol consumption among the officers living in these sub-standard barracks.
When these factors are combined with easily accessible weapons, the situation becomes even more precarious. Police men and women are supposed to store their firearms in the armory when they are off-duty. According to protocol, they must sign their weapons in at the end of their shifts, but there are some loopholes. As Kirabira remarked, this sign-in system is “not watertight”, and even guns in the armory may not be stored securely. In June, David Opure, the officer who was in charge of criminal investigations in Kamuli District allegedly picked the armory lock to retrieve the firearm used to shoot his wife. Moreover, high-ranking officers are issued a firearm to use for personal security. They do not have to store their personal firearms in the armory.
This blog is not meant to be an attack on the police force. Most officers display tremendous courage and integrity in spite of very difficult working and living conditions. The Center for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP) also deserves credit for developing a police training manual and hosting sensitization trainings on how to handle cases of domestic violence.
The simple truth is that the most violent cases could be averted if domestic violence were criminalized and if perpetrators were not allowed to own a firearm. When a woman is killed in the home, the most likely culprit is her partner or male relative, often with a prior record of domestic violence. If the police force wants to improve its image, it needs to first look within its own ranks and take prompt action against domestic violence offenders. Officers who commit violence should be disarmed and dealt with justly before the law.
The New Vision, “Police Boss Arrested again over Dead Wife,”(18 August 2009), http://newvision.co.ug/D/8/12/691599.
Posted By Courtney Chance
Posted Aug 19th, 2009