KAMPALA – Different justice actors involved in asylum seekers and refugee programmes on Monday gathered at the Nakawa Chief Magistrate’s Court for the first dedicated open day held for this special group of people.
The day was presided over by the Principal Judge, Dr Flavian Zeija, who pledged on behalf of the Judiciary to address some of the refugees’ challenges.
This was in response to a report dubbed: “Access to Justice for Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Host Community Open Day Info Pack” that was released at the Court, highlighting some of the challenges refugees and asylum seekers face.
These included; language barrier, delayed justice, limited legal guidance, ignorance of rights and responsibilities, corruption tendencies, not knowing what to do upon reporting a case to the authorities, discrimination and bias, and the negative attitude towards non-nationals by nationals and duty bearers among others.
The Principal Judge explained that sometimes, the courts find it hard to grant bail to refugees for fear that they might jump bail.
He gave an example of the late German national, Bernhard Glaser, who succumbed to cancer in incarceration while battling cases of sexual abuse, following accusations of molesting Ugandan girls, of how his release on bail became complex due to challenges of language interpretation.
“As the Judiciary, we were accused of killing that German national for not releasing him on bail to seek specialised treatment. It’s not true; that man came to court speaking English. When it came to bail application hearing, the presiding judge said the suspect claimed only to know some lesser language in German,” the Principal Judge narrated.
Adding: “We sought for that type of language interpreter, but there was none at the German Embassy. When we finally got that particular language interpreter, the parties were never ready at the same time. This saw this language interpreter return to German without helping out, and the rest is now history.”
Further, in his response to the challenges facing refugees in accessing justice, Justice Zeija, cited some of the interventions.
“For example, in 2013, the Judiciary, with support from UNHCR, launched mobile courts to improve access to justice for victims of crime in Nakivale Refugee camp, the country’s largest and oldest settlement. The mobile courts benefited 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandan nationals, living in and around the settlement.”
He also promised to continue conducting mobile courts in refugee settlement camps to ease access to justice, continue studying access to justice needs and re-tool their staff to handle those needs in the best way possible.
However, the Principal Judge cautioned the lawyers who use delaying tactics in court for such cases and said the culprits would be penalised.
The Nakawa Chief Magistrate, Dr Douglas Singiza, commended the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and CJSI for funding the event.
Addressing the meeting refugees, Ms Caroline Lai, the Deputy Country Director of IRC, said the court open day was an opportunity for different institutions to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers have access to justice.
The same message was re-echoed by the Executive Director of CJSI, Ms Valentine Namakula, who added that refugees and asylum seekers leave their countries for various reasons such as political unrest, gang violence, and natural disasters, which makes them vulnerable. “They, therefore, need guidance on the Laws that govern their status,” she said.
The day was held in partnership with the Centre for Justice Studies and innovations (CJSI) and the International Rescue Committee, with more than 16 stakeholders. These included; the Judiciary, Judicial Service Commission, LAPSNET, UNDP, Refugee Law Project, Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution, Uganda Police Force, FIDA, Uganda Law Society, Uganda Human Rights Commission, UGANET, Uganda Christian Lawyers fraternity, Zimba games and Willow International among others.
The open day was witnessed by Lady Justice Damalie N. Lwanga, Registrars; Flavia Nassuna Matovu and Amos Kwizera, and Magistrates Grade One; Odwori Ponsiano Romans, Kainza Beatrice, Nyamwenge Immaculate and Akello Irene.