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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Despite tremendous technological advancements, increase in number of ‘experts’ with spectacular insights on laws and policies to make this world a better place, international community still grapple with disturbing cases and statistics of human rights abuses including conflict-related sexual violence. Consequently, the need to empower national and international practitioners on documentation and investigation has suffused among humanitarian and development actors as one of the measures of tackling impunity and guaranteeing non-repetition of human rights abuses and violations.
After several years of work on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV), this declaration is a demonstration that through rigorous advocacy, we can collectively realise progressive transformation towards better support for survivors/victims and gender inclusivity. However, herculean hurdles lie ahead of the journeys toward realising contexts where all survivors can access and uptake services without discrimination, and where survivors/victims are not only beneficiaries of services but also active partners in response to and prevention of sexual violence.