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Constitutional Guarantees for Women and Children in Uganda

By July 11, 2016December 16th, 2019Internship Grant Program, LEMU, Uganda
Blog Post from Linda Waits-Kamau, interning with Land & Equity Movement of Uganda (LEMU)
This past week, while I was here serving in an internship with Land & Equity Movement of Uganda in Kampala, the U.S. celebrated Independence Day. So, although it was not a holiday in Uganda, I was thinking about and thankful for those who made freedom possible and about our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  Freedom, security, rights, and justice are not something to take for granted, of course.  Rights are supposed to be protected in our justice system based upon our Constitution.

Here in Uganda, it is the same—the Constitution stands as a guarantor of rights of men, women, and children! 

I am learning that the rights of widows and their children to remain in the marital residence after the death of the widow’s husband are sometimes abused even though, under the Uganda Constitution, the rights of women and children are guaranteed, just as rights are supposed to be protected in the United States.  On June 27, I was reading a Ugandan daily newspaper called “New Vision,” and I saw a very disturbing photo of a middle-aged woman, standing next to her two sons.  The woman had no hands because they had been chopped off allegedly by one of her own husband’s relatives whom the article related as having tried to force the woman and children out of their home following the husband’s death. 

Then I was imagining the grief and suffering she experienced of losing her husband and her children losing their father, as well as the husband’s extended family members’ grieving the loss of their son or brother.  Then one of the husband’s relatives comes around and demands that the woman leave her own home.  Then, because she didn’t evidently leave, she was viciously attacked and could have easily lost her life, possibly from the trauma, shock, and loss of blood from having her arms and hands cut off. 

This was almost too much for me; but the worst part was that evidently the case of this unfortunate woman had been dropped by the local Magistrate’s Court and the only reason given according to the newspaper report was because the police officers had to attend a conference about one hour away in Gulu on the same day as the court date.  So the case was just dropped!  Not only that, but according to the newspaper report, evidently the male relative had been let out on bail even before the case went to court—and that after being implicated by witnesses!  I was glad for the news report to at least let others know what happened, but will there ever be a court case to determine who did this and will there be any help for the woman and her sons?

I wondered how this woman could ever get justice if cases are dropped because police officers have to attend a conference in another city?  I wonder even in our country about how people get justice when authority is overstepped by those who have more power or money?  I would like to see Constitutional guarantees actualized through proper justice.  The way to handle this in the United States as well as in Uganda is if those who have more power also have to submit to the system of justice.  One thing I am learning during my externship with LEMU is that while Uganda, like America, has a wonderful Constitution, these rights need to be accessible to everyone—especially those who are more vulnerable to those who have political or authoritative power over others. 

Now, of course, the person who committed this crime in Uganda also has rights, but evidently more rights than this woman does, because no one is even being made to account for this crime through a proper handling of witnesses and a court hearing to bring out the evidence.  And worse, who will help this widow now that she has no hands?  She does have two sons who may be able to help her, but what can she do now for herself without her hands? 

Although under the Ugandan Constitution the woman whose hands were cut off does have rights, how can her rights be actualized for justice?  I am hoping that the Prosecutor’s office will take note of her right not to have to undergo threats for her life and liberty; and for her right to be able to go on living in her own home with a garden will be actualized.  Of course, now she will have to pay someone else to tend to her home and garden.  Might may make right in the law of the wild kingdom, but not for people living under Constitutional protections, including those who are less able to protect themselves or are vulnerable to those with more power and authority. 
*LEMU provides advocacy, support, and mediation based on the customary laws in Uganda and assists widows and orphans in protecting their interests, rights, and access to family land and in gaining clear rights of the marital home and property usage after the death of a spouse.

This post was written by a Center for Global Justice student intern.  The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.