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Working with LEMU in Uganda

By September 8, 2016December 16th, 2019Internship Grant Program, LEMU, Uganda

Blog Post from Linda Waits-Kamau, interning with Land & Equity Movement of Uganda (LEMU)

My first blog was about a 66-year-old widow in Lira, Uganda, where Land & Equity Movement of Uganda has a field office.  While I was still serving my internship, I saw a media report and photo of this widow, whose hands and forearms had been cut off allegedly by her brother-in-law because the widow stayed on the land she was living on following her husband’s death.  The brother-in-law took this heinous action in spite of the fact that a Local Chief had agreed (via a Customary Law that is practiced in this area) to allow the woman stay on her late husband’s land.  The Customary Family Land Law in this region allows a widow to remain in her marital residence along with her children.  The brother-in-law was charged with assault and other charges but even a ‘live’ court session posted on Facebook didn’t see justice served for Pasculina Oming, the widow who had been assaulted and maimed. 

Another local Ugandan newspaper (Rupiny) carried front page photos of Pasculina holding up her arms (see Cover of Uganda’s Rupinynewspaper, which has a photo of Pasculina holding up her handless arms).  Pasculina and witnesses testified against Mr. Okech in the Lira Magistrate’s Court, but the case was postponed and the accused was released on bail because the responding police officers who took the report were at a conference in Gulu, which is not far from Lira, on the day of the court hearing. 

A group of advocate lawyers, called Barefoot Lawyers—Uganda, started a campaign for Pasculina on Twitter (#JusticeforPasculina) prior to showing the live Facebook video of the criminal hearing of her attacker in the Lira Magistrates Court of Mr. Okech, which can be found at  The Barefoot Lawyers commentator noted on the day of the live broadcast of the hearing:
“This is a test Facebook Live broadcast for a case we are following… Today we are at the Lira Chief Magistrate’s court to follow up on Pasculina Oming’s case.  
“In 2014, Pasculina Oming, a 66 year old widow was attacked by her brother in law… and her arms were cut off.  All this was over a piece of land that he claimed belonged to him. Today the Lira Chief Magistrates court will continue hearing this case.
“We decided to take interest in this case after it was brought to our attention during our field visits for a project we are carrying out called the Women Property Rights Initiative.” (From ‘Barefoot Lawyers-Uganda’ Facebook post on June 16, 2016 at
Unfortunately, justice has not yet been served for Pasculina because the case was postponed since the local police officers who took the report of the case were not present (they were evidently attending a professional conference in Gulu, which is not far from Lira in Northern Uganda).  So, the respondent was released on bail and most likely will never be tried if he hides or temporarily leaves the area. 

Under customary law, a widow who was legally married (and sometimes is a wife of a traditional marriage) and her children are supposed to be able to stay at their marital residence following a husband’s death.  This differs from Title Deeds, since land under customary law is inherited by families, including wives and their children.  Despite this protection, many widows are threatened or provoked into leaving the marital residence by land grabbers.  Pasculina had received permission by agreement of the Local Chief in 2014 to stay in her marital residence and her brother-in-law allegedly tried to force her to leave through extreme violence.  This is not uncommon in such cases.   

LEMU has documented the Customary Law, which according to LEMU is practiced by up to 80% of Ugandan land owners.  Land ownership is basically by inheritance from a patriarch to the sons and their wives and children, and single daughters if they have not married (and widows and their children are not to be disinherited, especially from the marital residence).  The problem of land grabbing in Uganda has become a major issue since many widows cannot afford to go to court to maintain their rights.  The Customary Law and local leaders can sometimes assist but in criminal cases at the local level, many land grabbers (as in the case resulting in Pasculina’s assault and maiming) may run away and never receive justice if they are released on bail, as was the case with Pasculina’s brother-in-law.  Now Pasculina must live in fear that her brother-in-law may return and do worse.  In many cases, widows leave the marital residence or land to avoid retribution.  I hope Pasculina will one day not have to live in fear of a land grabber who also took her hands and attempted to take her life from her (as she was also attacked with a machete blow to her head) in addition to having her hands and forearms hacked off.  If such attackers are allowed to take such criminal actions with impunity, then widows and their children will continue living as victims without security or justice.

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.