Response to Sexual Violence in Northern Uganda. Whose Responsibility?

Sexual Violence encompasses a wide range of human rights violations which include rape, defilement, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, human trafficking, harmful traditional practices, female genital mutilation, forced and coerced sterilization, sexual slavery, forced abortions, forced pregnancies, sexual exploitation or coercion. All of these can and do result in many negative consequences for human health and well-being .

Sexual violence (SV) is common during war and in post-conflict setting worldwide. In post-conflict Northern Uganda, both nationals and South Sudanese refugee men and women have experienced sexual violence, sometimes witnessed by their own children, spouses, close relatives and neighbours. It is a pressing global challenge because it violates human rights, deters economic and social development. Scholars have focused attention on victims primarily being women and girls but emerging evidence is proving such scholars wrong. For example, Refugee Law Project Working Paper 25 of August 2017  highlights the nature and different forms of SV experienced by victims in Northern Uganda and notes that men and boys including women and girls are victims of Sexual Violence. The paper further states that victims are not adequately protected despite guaranteed international, regional and national legal frameworks established by various states to promote and protect victims of sexual violence, and restore families and community. In Uganda, there has been increasing concern among some humanitarian organizations about the definition of rape in the Penal Code Act, as it does not protect male victims of rape and is thus a challenge to men and boy victims of sexual violence.

These gaps therefore call for key players such as the Uganda Police Force, to effectively respond to different forms of sexual violence and critically improve on their roles to maintain and enforce the laws of Uganda; taking statements, summoning suspects, conducting thorough medical examinations, investigations and documentations, court procedures, security, counseling, referrals, cooperation with the community and other security organs established under the constitution to detect and prevent such crimes while protecting human rights.

In the case of Northern Uganda, sexual violence is a complex issue that requires response and involvement of not only the Uganda Police Force, but key security sectors such as the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces, Judiciary, Prison, Immigration, NGOs, Uganda government, CSOs, community members to network, collaborate, coordinate and raise awareness about sexual violence and interventions to address it.

Government of Uganda should develop and improve relevant policies, review and amend sexual violence legislation, particularly the Uganda Penal Code Act. This should be done through the Law Reform Commission and make the current provisions of laws and capture laws gender neutral in order to also protect and support men and boy victims of sexual violence.

Relationships, partnerships, teamwork, referral systems need to be promoted, strengthened and cooperation, and best practices need to be increased.  These practices will strategically help deal with the challenges police face as they respond to sexual violence crimes, and as a result, police promotion of the rights of SV victims will gradually improve and ensure they are respected.

Is important partners and police jointly build capacity and conduct community policing and sensitize the community on sexual violence issues and human rights in Northern Uganda. Corruption and indiscipline in the police needs to be addressed so as to improve on their image, public relations and customer care. This way, the community will be empowered to cooperate and trust the police, develop and maintain close contacts, good relationship and strong links so they can work together to respond to SV cases and the community. Sexual violence victims will be encouraged to report cases and access justice through the courts of law.

The Government of Uganda through PRDP (Peace, Recovery and Development Plan) should provide social, health, legal and economic support to improve the justice system and strengthen the police structures to expand their services through best practices in the communities where they do not exist so that police professionally provide access to justice to sexual violence victims. This will sustain and ensure long-term response to programmes, deepen the respect for the rule of law, and broaden the prospects of SV victims’ families and community stability and national reconciliation in Northern Uganda.

There is need for Public Interest litigation to nullify and avoid harmful traditional practices that promote sexual violence. For example, government, NGOs and CSOs should monitor sexual violence victims and endeavor to stop LCs, traditional clan leaders and family members from handling rape, defilement and domestic violence cases. Those who try to resettle such cases should be arrested and prosecuted.  This way, the culture of complacency among the police will be castigated and police will effectively and professionally respond to sexual violence crimes.

Schools should be encouraged to form Child Protection Clubs and train children to sensitize the community on sexual violence and child protection laws through powerful messages on TV talk shows, radios, newspapers, leaflets, IEC materials, songs, poems, music, dance and drama. As a result, children, and the community will be involved in reporting sexual violence crimes to the police as well as managing their own protection and wellbeing.

There is need to provide safe custody to victims through temporary shelters, medical care, counseling and referrals to SV victims who are at risk, while alternative solutions are being sought.

Winifred Agabo – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a human rights activists and Training  Co-ordinator at the Refugee Law Project, School of Law, Makerere University Kampala

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