UCU graduates in BarefootLaw seek justice in un-just world
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2018/09/ucu-graduates-in-barefootlaw-seek-justice-in-un-just/
By Brendah Ndagire
“What,” an anxious young man began, “does punishment for defilement mean?”
It was 2014. James (not his actual name) hopelessly asked the question to lawyers at BarefootLaw (BFL), a nonprofit legal organization founded in the Ntinda, greater Kampala area, Uganda.
The lawyers responded: “The maximum punishment for defilement is life in prison, and if it is aggravated defilement, someone may be subjected to capital punishment.”
The BFL legal team then received a message from James detailing what happened to his 12-year-old sister in Eastern Uganda’s Lganga District. A powerful businessman was accused of sexual abuse/defilement of the young girl. The man was caught in the act and taken to the police, but the offender negotiated with the police and was let go. He had paid the child’s mother some compensation to get the mother to drop the charges.
But the older brother couldn’t forget. He knew that his younger sister had been raped and deserved more than a monetary payoff by the perpetrator and a brush off by police. Despite the mother’s refusal to press on past her compensation and no help from Ugandan legal prosecutors, James reached out to BFL to reopen and proceed with the case.
According to BFL lawyers, no one should be able to compensate his way out of a rape/defilement charge. BFL took on the case of James and his sister. Two years later, there was a conviction of three year’s imprisonment for the perpetrator. Not enough, but some vindication.
“The news of the conviction made our year,” said UCU Law graduate Timothy Kakuru. “It made us realize that no matter how hopeless the case may be we have to keep encouraging the person we are helping to get justice.”
Stories like James’ are part of many successful stories Timothy’s BFL creates every year. Timothy shared another story of a young woman who was working in a security company. She was sexually harassed by one of her male bosses. Many times she had reported the abuse but nothing happened to the culprits. In Uganda, oftentimes when the victims of sexual violence report such abuses they are met with such accusations as: “You invited it… it was your fault…the way you were dressed.” The victims of sexual violence are often blamed for what has happened to them.
Another young woman, working in the IT department of an organisation got a video recording of her being harassed by security officials. She hoped she could use the video to sue the company, but the company decided to fire her and tried to get her arrested for stealing their company video. By the time she came to BFL for justice, she was very terrified because officials were threatening her.
Barefoot Law guided her to notify her employers of her intention to sue, detailing all the laws broken by her bosses at the security company, and listing out how much (money) she could ask for in terms of compensation. The lawsuit according to Timothy, would have included sexual abuse, wrongful termination, and mental suffering/health. The letter got into the hands of the Human Resource Manager and later in the hands of the director of the company. To protect its image, after receiving a letter from her, a week later, the company m informed her that it would compensate her.
“In the end, she decided not to go ahead with the lawsuit because it was going to be a very long and tiring process, and she was happy with the decent financial compensation received. This helped to restore her dignity,” said Timothy.
COMING UP: Next week, UCU Partners will share more of an interview with BarefootLaw co-founder Timothy Kakuru. Included will be more details how Barefoot Law got started and how more lives have been transformed by this non-profit organization.
If you are interested in supporting students who are making a difference in the communities around Uganda such as Timothy Kakuru and the UCU graduates’ team at Barefoot Law, contact Mark Bartels, UCU Partners’ Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow our Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin pages.