KAMPALA, UGANDA, June 1, 2012 – Uganda is a country with laws and a functioning system of justice. Accessing this justice is not always easy, however, especially for women and girls - or so it seemed to a group of Canadian lawyers who were present to hear War Child Executive Director, Dr. Samantha Nutt, speak last January.
War Child has been in Uganda for four years working to end the culture of impunity that surrounds the perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence. Challenges still remain in the East African nation and these lawyers asked if there was any way they could help with the program. The lawyers; Mike Eizenga, a litigator with Bennett Jones, Linda Rothstein and Ian Roland from the law firm of Paliare Roland Rosenberg & Rothstein, as well as Sarah O'Grady from Blake, Cassels & Graydon were told that educating the legal community, the victims and potential victims of their rights was at least one step toward changing a culture of ambivalence.
While the necessary laws are in place to arrest, prosecute and punish the wrongdoers, very few actually see more than a few hours of detention and those are the ones they manage to arrest. Police corruption and scarce resources are blamed but the problem goes beyond systemic issues.
When a case does get to court conviction rates are as high as 83%. Getting the cases to court is the challenge, however. And that is where the War Child and the Canadian Lawyers come in.
"We were all moved by what Dr. Nutt told us" said Eizenga. "It only took a couple of conversations to know that we were all motivated to help", he continued.
Determined not to go in with any preconceived solutions; Eizenga, Rothstein, Roland and O'Grady approach this first visit as education for themselves.
"We can obviously learn a lot from our friends at War Child but it would be a typical case of Western hubris to think we understand until we are confronted first hand with the situation on the ground," adds Eizenga.
War Child War Child was founded in 1999 by Drs. Samantha Nutt and Eric Hoskins. Having both worked in some of the world's toughest war zones they had become convinced of a better approach to humanitarian work. Founded on the principle of local engagement they believe that communities and local leaders should be at the helm of rebuilding their countries.
War Child grew from a volunteer base of one to an award-winning international charity with a team of 20 based at the Head Office in Toronto who provides support to over 200 staff members employed overseas, 95% of whom are local people.