Persons with disabilities need access to justice in Uganda

Africa, September 19 2013

UGANDA: Have you ever taken time to reflect on what the term justice means in its real sense? Ordinarily, one would imagine that it refers to fairness, impartiality, righteousness, reasonableness, even-handedness, honesty, integrity and uprightness.

The list is endless. Suffice it to note that the inference of the term is largely general, but its application may fall short of its reality, depending on an individual’s interests.

For instance, while most of the interpretations may favour persons without disabilities, it does not apply to those with disabilities. Experience from National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (Nudipu), as an umbrella organization of persons with disabilities, has shown that the term Justice is farfetched as far as people with disabilities are concerned, and may not hold water by any standard.

A baseline survey commissioned by Nudipu early this year to assess the legal aid needs of people with disabilities in Uganda indicated that 54 per cent of people with disabilities whose rights were violated did not report to any authority for various reasons, including lack of awareness of their rights to access justice.

Of those who took violation of their rights to court for redress, only 34 per cent were satisfied that they had received justice while 66 per cent were unhappy with court verdicts.

The survey was conducted in the districts of Lira, Gomba, Kampala and Iganga to inform the implementation of the Access to Justice Project (AJP), funded by Democratic Governance Facility (DGF).

It also revealed that there were few cases of public interest litigation on disability handled by courts. Three cases— electoral democracy for people with disabilities 2010, physical inaccessibility to public infrastructures 2010 and mental health petition on abusive laws 2012, are still pending. It is not even clear when these could probably be handled.

The survey notes further that human rights violations against people with disabilities were majorly on aspects such as freedom from exploitation (31.7 per cent) and against equality and non-discrimination (23 per cent). The right to education was equally reported to have been violated.

It notes the non-implementation of the existing laws and policies as a major reason why people with disabilities’ rights continuously get violated without or with minimal redress. For instance, the survey generally revealed that across the country, district service commissions had not considered employment of people with disabilities.

Those who find their way into the employment are denied promotions.

“I have been in public service in my ministry for 20 years and was denied promotion to senior position on grounds of disability,” the survey quotes a respondent from Kampala, as saying.

The leadership of people with disabilities at the district unions, said sexual abuse against women with disabilities accounted for 80 per cent of the injustices faced.

Where perpetrators are arrested, they are hardly prosecuted because it has become a tradition for parents of the victims to prefer settling such cases out of court with or without the victims’ consent.

Interestingly, it is the local council leaders who often convince the parents of the victims to settle the matter out of court. One other interesting issue to note is that confinement of people with disabilities as a means of protection by their caregivers is equally rampant.

This often causes the person to develop other disabilities. With such despondency, it is rather unlikely that the term justice applies in the life of a PWD. In fact, in every bit of their life, there is an element of injustice— be it in mobility, education, economic rights, let alone a right to have a family.

It is these scenarios that prompted Nudipu to develop a project ‘Access to Justice by people with disabilities,’ geared at helping people with disabilities realise the practical meaning of the term ‘justice’. And already, there are some results.

A number of advocates have been trained in disability equality and management. It is our prayer that a number of the advocates will appreciate and support disability related cases.

We would, therefore, like to call upon government to, among others ensure that the judicial system recognises the challenges faced by people with disabilities in their quest for justice and find appropriate strategies to address the bottlenecks.

Some of the strategies could include orienting the judges, lawyers and police on disability rights, reform the laws to be disability-friendly, ensure physical accessibility to courts of law, access to court information and decisions in friendly formats, among others.

It is only then that people with disabilities will receive appropriate legal support, hence making the term justice more meaningful to every Ugandan.

Source: The Observer

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