Since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Uganda, lives have and continue to change dramatically. With several measures and televised Presidential directives, the #StayHome mantra continues to impact lives in various ways. Refugees and host communities have not been spared – if any, the pandemic has worsened the already biting challenges and vulnerabilities.
With some vulnerable communities in ‘hard-to-reach’ places at the receiving end of the directives and its associated enforcement and curfew, many of the things happening in and around refugee-hosting areas haven’t made it to the media. Many refugees and hosts are mired in inadequately documented challenges.
While communities have not resigned themselves to the hurdles at hand and are adopting numerous creative coping mechanisms, the ways in which such resilience and positive coping mechanisms can be supported and replicated elsewhere by government, civil society, and international actors requires further exploration.
On June 19 we commemorated the International Day of Elimination of Sexual Violence. This year’s International Day of Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict was arguably shaped by COVID-19 and focused on the consequences arising from COVID-19 on the lives of the survivors, including difficulties in delivery of support to CRSV. In the statement to mark the occasion, RLP asked the question; What if we responded to sexual violence in conflict as an existential threat?
The press statement took a critical look at what the national and international response to COVID-19 has taught us thus far about our collective potential to end sexual violence in conflict. If we can mobilise the resources and will to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, if we can close airports and public transport to better control the virus, couldn’t we do the same to better control sexual violence in conflict? While COVID-19 has directly harmed our capacity to respond to survivor needs in the short term, it has also made clear that to eliminate sexual violence in conflict we need a sea change in how it is perceived. We need to see it as the existential threat it undoubtedly is, and invest time, effort and resources correspondingly.
Robinson Ocira, a Project Assistant based in the Kiryandongo Office, poses the question; Why are children being chased away from community related awareness raising events? Particularly disturbing in Robinson’s exploration of the discrimination and exclusion children are subjected to during community related events is the fact that sometimes the discrimination is directed to the children by the very organisations that are meant to protect and promote the rights of all including children.
Despite the existing legal frameworks prohibiting torture, torture continues to be used in conflict situations and even during supposedly peaceful times. Even prior to the pandemic, incidents of torture by security organs featured in the news. In the last three months, however, these appear to have been exacerbated by the pandemic, with Uganda’s national news dominated by the ordeals of citizens who have been tortured by security organs such as the Police and Local Defense Units (LDUs) in the name of enforcing presidential directives related to COVID-19. Uganda is not alone in this; other countries such as Kenya and India have also seen incidents of torture of civilians in the course of enforcing of COVID-19 directives. What happens when an institution like Uganda Police Force, one of the institutions mandated to receive cases of torture, is itself implicated in violating the non-derogable right to freedom from torture?
Children come into contact with the justice system for various reasons. The 2019 Situation Analysis on Children in Uganda shows that 27% of children have been exposed to a crime. Despite the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) position that ‘putting children in prison should only be the last resort and for the shortest time possible’, there are children in many of Uganda’s detention facilities. Whereas many children come into contact with the law, many more suffer at the handsof adult abusers. UNICEF’s 2018 situation analysis shows that 44 percent of girls and 59 percent of boys aged 13-17 years had experienced physical violence in 2018. The outbreak of COVID-19 has further heightened the challenges as reporting and response mechanisms are temporarily affected.
For refugees, the Covid 19 pandemic is beyond a health crisis, but escalates challenges faced by those already pushed to the margins of society. Refugees are not only at risk from the virus itself, they are severely affected by the negative impacts of measures to control the pandemic. In our statement, Inactivity is Perpetration we highlight the plight of refugees in Uganda during the pandemic; tribal clashes within the settlements, food ratio reductions, gender-based violence exacerbated by the Covid 19 prevention stay at home guidelines, inadequate information, failure to access medical services, are just some of the challenges faced by refugees that the pandemic has amplified.
A thought-provoking blog piece written by Wokorach Mogi, our SGBVP Officer – Kampala Office. In his piece, titled “The Loud Silence: The plight of refugee male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence” Mogi brings out his extensive experience in the complex field of working with refugee male survivors of Conflict-related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in Kampala, Gulu and Nakivale. He explicates key challenges male survivors grapple with, especially focusing on dilemmas in seeking and uptaking services so as to (re)gain their full functionality as well as lead dignified lives.
In the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, and the fact that all Uganda’s neighbours with the exception of South Sudan have reported confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last 48 hours, UCA and RLP have made the decision to postpone the 16th Annual Counsellors’ Conference on the theme “Attaining a Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body: Focus on Forced Migration, Mental Health and Gender” that was scheduled for March 25-27, 2020.
On March 8, 2020 during the commemoration of the International Women’s Day at Ofua Primary School Playground in Adjumani district, RLP was recognized by UN Women, Adjumani District Local Government, and the Office of the Prime Minister for its “Outstanding contribution towards promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Adjumani District”. During this same event, Mercy Wanda Achiro, RLP’s Legal Assistant Adjumani Field Office was recognised as one of the committed and dedicated activists in the region.
I have had an interesting photography journey thus far! With numerous interactions with ‘professional’ photographers, I have learnt to view the world in an entirely different way. That said, I have contributed to Refugee Law Project’s photo gallery with my ‘raw’ photos which 'professional' photographers refer to as amateur, but I brand them as ‘organic photos’ since they contain no artificial additives. For those who missed out on my photos shared via social media and/or struggle with the constant bustle and alerts of the 'new media', worry no more – the Photo Gallery on RLP’s website is up and running with carefully selected and stunning photos.