KAPCHORWA —Anger, condemnation and shock engulfed the District Integrity Promotion Anti Corruption Dialogue in Kapchorwa — with community leaders and Civil Society Organizations accusing key players in the Justice, Law and Order Sector including Magistrates and Police chiefs of vending justice by openly receiving bribes to fix murder, rape and defilement cases.
Some other leaders claimed the doors of justice were long ago shut for the poor in Sebei region with Kapchorwa Magistrate’s Court being on spot over selling ‘justice’ to the highest bidders—forcing the poor to turn to murders and negotiating capital offenses outside court systems.
Ms. Priscilla Kusuro, the founder and CEO Sabiny Transformation Initiative (STI) whose civil liberties watchdog follows up on cases concerning rape, defilement, teenage pregnancy and gender based violence told PML Daily that hearing of cases at Kapchorwa Magistrate’s Court happens during night hours.
Kusuro adds that most victims—majority are so poor often travel as far as from other district to follow up on their cases in court but “sit in court from 8am and the judge arrives at 5pm”.
“At 8pm, we’re in Court and that’s very frustrating for most of our people. Many people here travel as far as Bukwo. [Bukwo is 85 km away from Kapchorwa Chief Magistrate’s Court],” Kusuro told PML Daily alleging that hearing of cases sometimes go as far as past midnight.
This, she says is done to frustrate the poor because those in authority know, the poor are unable to conclude the whole process which is so costly
“Someone has traveled 85 kilometres, at a cost of UGX 30,000, plus accommodation, breakfast, lunch and supper, all these to attend a case that is most likely to be adjourned after three or four minutes,” a highly frustrated Kusuro added.
The frustration that victims go through every the other day has made many victims in Sebei region to prefer negotiations even in most of the capital offences like murder, rape, defilement and gender based violence.
“For instance, they will negotiate 23 cows for a murder case, they negotiate for 10 cows for forced marriage, child marriage or teenage pregnancy”
“You find that the rate at which girls get married here is so much. The rate at which people are murdered is also very high because they know my clean members will contribute each a cow and the case is closed. Period”.
“The cost of appearing in court makes those who are actually following up on cases to give it up. Out of frustration, they surrender and give it up”.
Kusuro’s civil rights organizations between 2020 and 2021 followed up on upto 16 cases but was only able to succeed in one case— with the remaining 15 file cases “disappearing” in the process. She claims that suspects in the other 15 cases were released under clumsy circumstances.
Mr. William Chemandwa LCV Concillor representing Kapwowo Sub-county collaborated Kusuro’s allegations saying there’s a big challenge with investigations and processing of cases.
“You will find that the poor suffers at the expense of the rich,” he said adding that “when the rich [people] present their money to authorities [judges and police officers], the poor are denied justice there and then.”
“Magistrates and police officers are openly bribed to execute the poor ones and this practice now is leading to unprecedented increase in murder cases in our region,” Chemandwa told reporters.
“The poor who don’t have funds to facilitate the police and the magistrate have suffered alot here. When they report their cases to police, files disappear, cases always adjourned in court, or they are pushed back in community that you go back and settle and the victim will not find justice. A poor person can’t win a case here. Impossible”.
He added: “This has really led to many murder cases in the region. I’m just requesting that whoever is concerned, to excute their rights to investigate the matter in a proper way.”
Ms. Shibah Namulindwa, ActionAid International Uganda Programmes Coordinator in Eastern Uganda said Kapchorwa Chief Magistrate’s Court sends criminal cases including murder, rape and defilement to be negotiated outside court system.
“One of the major challenges here is that there’s issues around evidence collection, processing cases and prosecution of the perpetrators,” Ms. Namulindwa said.
She told reporters that there is a strong cultural system in Sebei region where cultural leaders seem to have an upper hand beyond what the constitution stipulates under law. She says this also also frustrates access justice for victims.
“The cultural leaders will mobilise the entire clan and go to the police. In most cases the victim is a stand alone with no connections and police gets overwhelmed and given to the cultural leaders. These criminals cases are then sorted just like a civil case”.
Namulindwa said ActionAid International Uganda is reaching out to communities —giving them a platform to speak out and amplify their voices.
Mr. Tom Chesol, Kapchorwa Residential District Commissioner who arrived in the district early November promised a new beginning.
“I have been informed about that big gap and it’s matter that should be taken up by the Judiciary seriously.
He added: “When they (Judiciary) are deploying Judicial officers , , they should be guided because when some of those people are deployed in upcountry areas, they become relaxed and that creates alot of gaps”.
Mr. Chesol promised to fix the matter by engaging all parties implicated in scandal.
“Now that I’m new here and we have also received new magistrates, we hope that we are going to have a new start through meetings where we can share and come up with modalities of how best we can move forward together as a team”.
“We will also invite them to our district security so we can address these issues together”.
Judiciary spokesperson, Jameson Karemani said Judiciary was not aware that courts in Sebei region start after stipulated working hours.
Karemani said the Judiciary will send a team from Kampala to come and investigate them matter noting that all Police officers and Judicial Officers involved in selling justice will face the law.