Empty Promises or Real Action: Uganda’s Commitments to End Violence Against Women and the UPR

On 3rd November 2016, Uganda’s human rights situation will be reviewed for the second time by the United Nations Human Rights Council under the Universal Peer Review (UPR) mechanism. The UPR mechanism was established in 2006 has since reviewed the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. It reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The review takes place after every four years and Uganda was last reviewed in 2011. A total of 182 recommendations were made by 51 states and 28 recommendations addressed women’s rights.

Uganda accepted recommendations to address gaps in respecting women’s rights through implementation of laws protecting women from violence including sexual violence, to investigate gender based violence cases and bring perpetrators to justice in addition to providing legal and medical support to survivors.

Actions Taken by the government 

Uganda has put in place the necessary legal and policy framework to support efforts to prevent SGBV. It boasts of a specific policy on sexual and gender based violence along with a Reproductive Health Policy. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in partnership with development partners and civil society  drafted and is implementing a National Action Plan to implement UNSCR 1325, 1820 and the Goma Declaration. This is focused on ensuring the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse.

Furthermore, in line with the ICGLR declaration on ending SGBV, the Government of Uganda launched the Zero Tolerance to Violence against Women campaign in 2012. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development has also made some progress by coordinating a SGBV Working Group that includes the participation of civil society actors engaged in various interventions to address SGBV.

In addition, SGBV has been incorporated into the Police Training Curriculum and the Criminal Investigations Directorate now includes an SGBV Department. To facilitate easy access to justice for SGBV survivors, various procedures have been strengthened. For instance, the general Police Form 3, which was inadequate for recording complaints of sexual violence, has been revised

The Gaps

Despite the above efforts, the results are still minimal and violence against women has been on the increase. According to the Uganda Police crime report, 2014, violence against women was among the top crimes. Defilement continues to lead in sex related crimes. In 2014, a total of 12,077cases were recorded an increase of 25.8%. 1,099 cases of rape were recorded compared to 1,042 cases in 2013, a 5.4% increase. 3,006 cases of Domestic Violence were registered and 314 deaths as a result of domestic violence.

Violence against women incidences are reportedly high in North and Eastern Uganda at 45% and 43% respectively compared to central region at 6%. Northern and Eastern Uganda experienced the LRA insurgency for a period of about 20 years and this disrupted social order and affected the social fabric of communities.

Justice for the survivors of SGBV is still far from being realized, for instance, the government has not set up special courts to handle SGBV cases and efforts to sensitise judges and magistrates are still minimal. It is also estimated that only 2 in 10 women report violence or seek help and even when cases are reported, conviction rates for perpetrators stand at only 6.6% of prosecuted cases.

Way Forward

Violence against women is deeply rooted in the unequal power relations between men and women and is triggered by the discriminatory social and cultural practices in the society.  Therefore, intervention to avert it have to be holistic and multidimensional.

As the government of Uganda prepares to undergo the second cycle of the UPR, more efforts are needed beyond adoption of laws and policies. The government of Uganda should allocate more resources and live up to its commitment of protecting women and girls from violence.