NOVEMBER 23, 2009: A New War Rages in the North

New War Rages in the North

SOURCE: New Vision

By Gloria Laker and Frederick Womakuyu

Kampala — Twenty-one-year old widow, Santa Auma remembers the day four men, armed with spears and knives stormed her hut at about 3:35am on March 20, 2008, and robbed her. Then they took turns raping her and her 20-year-old niece. Auma decided to fight back. She and her niece went to the hospital and then to the Police. One of the attackers was arrested and is in jail awaiting trial.

Everytime I think about it, I get angry. The things they did to me were wrong," she says. "There are many women willing to go to court but they don't have money or are oppressed by the community. Something must be done to help women."

Northern Uganda is emerging from 23 years of a bloody war in which thousands were killed, 1.7 million displaced and women and children raped. Now, a new war is raging: gender-based violence.

Out of the camps, women in Gulu district are yet to enjoy peace in their homes. Cases of widespread domestic violence seem to have substituted the atrocities of the Lord's Resistance Army.

A lawyer with the Gulu Chapter of FIDA-Uganda, has described the trend of violence as worrying. "The majority of the cases are violence on women over land disputes," Sarah Apio says.

She adds that most of the cases registered with them involve women being chased away from their husband's land after he dies.

"Relatives want to remove everything from these widows despite having children," she says.

Apio reveals that the majority of the cases investigated and forwarded to courts are still pending hearing because the courts are overwhelmed with cases.

"In May, we found a mother with eight children in Opit sub-county being thrown off her land because it was claimed that she was from Bugisu and since her husband had died, she must go back to where she came from," Apio says.

"This is one of the many injustices we need to bring to light so that stakeholders can address them. Most of the widows rely on agriculture for survival, yet they are being thrown off the land," Apio says.

She says most of the victims abducted were men who were the bread winners at home. "When they were taken away, the women had no protection. Their in-laws either sold their land or distributed it among themselves. The practice denied the widows access to land just because they were women from a different clan or tribe," Apio says.

Ignorance About Legal Issues

Apio says community ignorance of human rights also plays a part in driving up the cases of domestic violence. "Most of the women and children who suffer domestic violence are ignorant of their rights. They do not know what to do next," she says.

According to Apio, poverty and fear of responsibility have also driven many men to elope with other women, abandoning their first family. She says the problem has been compounded by widespread unemployment.

Community members are also reluctant to report cases of violence to the authorities. "Even men who are assaulted are silent. That is another big problem. Some women have even killed their partners," says Peace Apio of Care International. She says the immediate solution is for the Government to establish a specialised tribunal to reduce the backlog of cases.

Henry Kilama, a member of the Law Society for northern Uganda, says there are over 3,000 land cases followed by criminal ones which result from land disputes and there is only one magistrate for Gulu and Amuru.

"Some of the land-related problems need to be resolved at the community level with the involvement of the traditional chiefs. The cases are too many for only one chief magistrate to deal with," Kilama laments. He calls for mediation and dialogue in trying to resolve the disputes.


FIDA says the biggest problem hindering justice for women is the fact that many couples cohabit for a long time, yet the law says one must be lawfully married to have access to property, or be able to obtain a letter of administration.

The only hope for such women lies in the Marriage and Divorce Bill being passed as law as it seeks to put into consideration the issues of cohabiting couples.

Police Reports and Cases

AT least 329 cases of domestic violence were registered at the Police Child and Family Protection Unit in the last 14 months. Of these, 90 new cases were registered in the last six months alone.