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.
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.
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.
The international criminal law (ICL) system can only hear and describe a tiny fraction of what people experience, particularly when it comes to sexual violence. The ICL system not only makes it difficult for victims to disclose their experiences, but often misplaces, deprioritises and erases the sexual elements of violence under other headings such as ‘torture’ and ‘inhumane treatment’. This is what inspired ‘Call It What It Is’, a campaign designed to enable victims to freely testify in a system where sexual violence is better articulated.
Launched in The Hague in June 2019, the IGC Justice Impact Group’s first project on advancing understanding of all forms of sexual violence is making steady progress. The Declaration is available in English and in French and will soon be available in Spanish and Arabic. The three documents (the Civil Society Declaration, the ICL Guidelines and the Key Principles for Policy Makers) will together form The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence.
On 23 October 2019, the UN Secretary-General announced the establishment of a High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement in an event organised to mark the 10-anniversary of the adoption of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa a.k.a Kampala Convention. Herein, I argue that the yet to be composed panel should look deeply into the vulnerabilities of refugees and focus on addressing the root causes of internal displacements.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands recently (7-8 October 2019) demonstrated its commitment to improving Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) for millions of people affected by conflicts and forced displacements through the first International Conference on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Crisis held in Amsterdam. I bring to you the (audio-recorded) speech of Dr. Olaro Charles, Director of Clinical Services at the Ministry of Health who represented the Government of the Republic of Uganda at the conference.