Uganda has been on total lockdown since the Covid-19 pandemic began to deepen its sting in East Africa in March. Friction is currently building in homes, leaving no doubt to whether a new Covid-19 crisis – domestic abuse.
Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development announced that since the country was put on lockdown on March 30, cases of domestic violence against women and children have spiked.
Statistics by the ministry state that between March and April, at least 3, 280 cases of gender based violence and 283 cases of violence against children have been reported to police. These cases have led President Yoweri Museveni in a televised address, to shun the violence and urge residents of Uganda to live together in peace and to dialogue instead of fighting.
While the domestic violence cases do not seem to be on the decline, it is better to be safe than sorry and to take precautions when there are looming signs of violence in a home. To echo the President’s sentiments, couples and families should indeed resort to dialogue, rather than fighting.
From a criminal defence point of view, domestic violence quite often leads to fatalities or massive injuries that could have been avoided if precautions were earlier taken. Sometimes, violence leads to catastrophic injuries or wrongful deaths. Families of those involved, quite often end up in court, seeking justice for their loved ones.
Meanwhile, prosecution of these cases is often a long process, given the amount of evidence needed to pin down the accused. Because of this, many of the victims’ families could take matters into their own hands.
Such a scenario could complicate matters. Though not a case of domestic violence, on June 26, 1994, a crime of passion was committed at a wedding party in Naguru, Kampala, a case which led to a twist of events as a man shot and killed 26 people. In the incident, the father of the first woman killed, broke through the ranks of the police and killed the perpetrator himself. This often leads to even more charges, when “revenge” is taken so swiftly.
As a criminal law expert, it’s important to me that the public understands how to keep themselves safe and secure from this ever-more-present events of domestic violence. The rise in cases of domestic violence means a rise in criminal law cases.
For criminal defence attorneys, domestic violence cases, especially in the era of Covid-19, could be difficult given the restrictions on public gatherings, hence court processes. Quarantine measures also restrict the speed with which a domestic case could be reported to the police and prosecution process initiated.
With the quarantine restrictions in mind, it is important for the complainant to arm himself/herself with evidence against the accused, when approaching a criminal defense attorney. Evidence such as pictures of the alleged victim’s injury or of the property destroyed can be powerful for prosecution. It is further important for the victim to be consistent in his/her narrative when reporting the case to the police or the defence attorney.
Criminal defense attorneys are available in this season, to offer guidance through virtual platforms such as Skype, Zoom and on phone conversations without breaking the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
Mr. Bukh is a criminal defence lawyer at Bukh
& Associates PLLC, NewYork