7 August 2013
Kampala, 7 August 2013 – Prisoners in Uganda are being kept too long in pre-trial detention. This violates their right to a fair and speedy trial as well as the presumption of innocence. It also deprives them and their families of their right to work and to earn a living. With the support of the Uganda Law Society, Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) has therefore launched a pilot project to provide free legal representation for woman prisoners.
According to ASF reports*, lengthy pre-trial detentions in Uganda are caused by factors such as often ineffective investigation practice due to corruption and the lack of awareness among the prisoners on their right to fair trial. This results in overpopulated prisons (sometimes up to 350 %!) and numerous human rights violations against the prisoners.
Women prisoners are particularly vulnerable. Many are arrested and charged on crimes of passion, crimes within the family, or related domestic crimes. “As a result, they lose all family support while in prison. Some of them give birth in prison or are imprisoned together with their babies and have to bear the brunt of parenting the children while in custody”, explains Ismene Zarifis, ASF Head of Mission in Uganda. “Meanwhile, the majority of the women inmates are not gainfully employed and cannot afford to pay for legal services on the own”.
The goal of the one year ASF project entitled “Presumed Innocent Behind Bars: The Problem of Lengthy Pre–Trial Detention in Uganda” is to provide quality legal services by creating a sustainable and skilled pool of pro bono lawyers. The objective is to build their capacity in handling pre-trial detention cases and strategic litigation to address the fundamental issues causing pre-trial detention.
As a kick off, a training session was organized for Ugandan pro bono lawyers on 28th June in Kampala. Set up in partnership with the Uganda Law society (ULS), the session introduced the project to the 16 participating selected lawyers from the ULS, various legal aid organizations and private law firms. The participants were also given training on quality pro bono legal services as well as the principles and standards relating to the right to liberty, fair and speedy trial, the procedures upon deprivation of liberty and the remedies for unlawful detention. Steven Ssenkezi is a member of the ASF pool of lawyers: “This orientation has opened our eyes to the problem and equipped us with the necessary knowledge to handle pre–trial detention cases candidly”.
The pool of advocates is expected to start working on particularly long pre-trial detention cases in Luzira’s women’s prison in the following weeks. Further training on human rights based approach in litigating pre – trial detention cases is planned at the end of August this year.
The ASF project is supported by the Human Rights Program of the Australian Government.
(*) See ASF research conducted in collaboration with the International Human Rights Program of the Faculty of Law, Toronto university between 2009 and 2011 titled “Presumed Innocent Behind Bars: The Problem of Lengthy Pre – Trial Detention in Uganda”