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.
This piece explores the dynamics of working from home. It argues that 'Work' went 'Home' at a time when Home wasn’t prepared to receive Work, yet. As such, whereas Work and Home are currently quarantined together, the two are having trouble forging a progressive relationship and peaceful co-existence. The duo sees each other with resentment, anger, and frustration; Home wondering when the uninvited guest will bid farewell. Also, ‘Work’ wonders why our grandfather continues to play games of ‘lock-unlock-lock…’ making the stubborn visitor, who could easily drive back, to wait for Government masks.
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.
Achieving meaningful social co-existence begins with our readiness to embrace diversity, and in championing creative ways of addressing injustices - including unleashing head-on approaches depending on the situation. Progress in businesses, household harmony and professional growth largely depend on how we treat the less privileged, underpaid, and the less qualified personnel who are often ignored and sometimes treated as if they are lesser human beings.
Deeply concerned about the psychological impacts of COVID-19 on individuals, their families and communities in general, Uganda Counselling Association in partnership with Sanyuka TV deemed it necessary to dedicate a moment to discuss the associated psychological stress of COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown in Uganda. Hosted by Hatmah Nalugwa Sekaaya during #MorningXpress on 1 April 2020, Uganda Counselling Association was represented by Sarah Kalyowa, a seasoned Counsellor and General Secretary of Uganda Counselling Association.