Ugandan judge nominated for Gender Justice Uncovered Awards

Judge Mugambe. Net Photo.

KAMPALA. Justice Lydia Mugambe of the High Court in Kampala has been nominated for the prestigious Gender Justice Uncovered Awards 2017 that rewards legal decisions that promote gender quality.

The Lady Justice is nominated for her landmark ruling of January 2017 that found Mulago Hospital guilty of negligence that resulted in the disappearance of a couple’s baby.

Judge Mugambe’s nomination will battle it out with 16 others from across the world in an award that has categories both for a panel of jury and online readers to decide.

The Gender Justice Uncovered Awards were created by Women’s Link Worldwide an global organization, to recognise that, worldwide, what judges and courts say have a tremendous influence on the sense of justice and in the day-to-day lives of people.

The Awards highlight decisions or statements made in the context of a legal process by judges, members of human rights committees, asylum offices, prosecutors, or ombudsman, which have impact on gender equality, including those related to sexual and reproductive rights, gender violence, and gender discrimination.

The case

In March 2012, Jennifer Musiimenta was taken to National Referral Hospital, Mulago, in labour. Midwives would soon find out that Musiimenta was a typical peasant expectant mother: no medical insurance and access to basic healthcare, not attended antenatal care throughout the nine months.

This is a typical milieu in the Ugandan health sector. What mattered was that Mulago Hospital could help her give birth. And then the discovery: Musiimenta was expecting twins. She was not aware of this. So was her husband Michael Mubangizi.

In their ignorance of the presence of twins, a cunning midwife could have smelt manna from heaven. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all, cases of missing, switched or stolen babies being rife at public health facilities in the country. If well executed, the scheme would go unnoticed. A loss for the deer could be a win for the tiger.

Since the would-be parents were not aware that they were expecting twins, the equation would be to just deliver the twins and hand over only one baby. And so it happened.

However, like the saying goes, you can’t cover the clouds with your palms. Not every evil scheme passes the test of mischief. The parents were soon aware that they had had twins. They filed a case at Mulago Police Post, forcing the hospital administration to unleash Plan B—a dead child.

Not convinced, the couple carried out a DNA test on the body, whose result showed that they were not the biological parents of the body given to them.

The parents, spurred on by the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) advocacy, sued Mulago Hospital executive director Dr Byarugaba Baterana jointly with the Attorney-General, asking that the court orders the hospital to surrender their baby dead or alive.

Enter Judge Mugambe

In her judgement, Judge Mugambe ordered police to conclusively investigate the disappearance of the baby, the midwife who handled the baby at birth to be held accountable, for Mulago Hospital to take steps to ensure and enhance the respect, movement and safety of babies in the facility, dead or alive.

The decision, in which the parents were also Shs85 million in damages, specified that a woman’s inability to access sufficient antenatal care demonstrates a failure on the part of the State to fulfill its obligations under the right to health.

In addition, it determined that the couple was a victim of psychological torture by not giving them the body of the deceased baby, for denying them the right to a dignified burial and for not being able to mourn their deceased child.

This is not the first time the Lady Justice is being recognized for her social justice work. The judge was among the winners of the 2015 Women of Courage Awards alongside Col Rebecca Mpagi, a nurse Winnie Nakalema and an entrepreneur, Donata Komuhangi.

Like Women’s Link Worldwide, many people have praised Judge Mugambe for her ‘Missing Baby’ judgement. Esther Obaikol through the judgement, Mugambe gave a voice to thousands of Ugandan, particularly Ugandan mothers who face injustices in the health delivery system.

This line of thought was to be expected given that the issue of child theft, missing babies or switching of babies at maternity facilities in the country’s public hospitals was becoming endemic. The vice is perpetuated by both visitors to hospitals such as patients and staffers like midwives in connivance with others.

John Kaganga said the judgement was a wake up call to State that many irregularities are happening in its health facilities every day.


About the awards

The Gender Justice Uncovered Awards highlight decisions or statements made in the context of a legal process by judges, members of human rights committees, asylum offices, prosecutors, or ombudspersons which have a positive or negative impact on gender equality, including those related to sexual and reproductive rights, gender violence, and gender discrimination.

Voting is open until May 31 for the 35 judicial decisions from around the world nominated for the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards.

This edition of the Awards features bold judgements by courts from three African countries. A ruling by a court in Tanzania instructing the government to eliminate child marriage and set the legal age to marry at 18 for both sexes is up for the Golden Gavel.

This decision has stiff competition in the ruling of a special tribunal in Senegal that sentenced former dictator of Chad Hissène Habré to life in prison for international crimes committed against women, including sexual slavery, sexual violence, and rape.

These decisions are among the 17 rulings that were nominated for a Gavel Award for the best judicial decision. Under the Gavel Awards, the jury recognises the Gold, Silver, and Bronze Gavel for the first, second and third of the decisions that advance women’s and girls’ rights.


Worst decisions

The Golden Bludgeon for worst judicial decision, on the other hand, may very well go to the High Court of Kenya for its decision to acquit a 23-year-old man for the crime of “child defilement” for carrying on a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl. The Court stated that girls often make false reports of non-consensual sex.


To vote for Lady Justice Mugambe, one can follow the link: The online voting ends May 31.


To be updated…




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