UN Women Uganda, supported by the EU-UN Global Initiative and the Embassy of Sweden, is working with the Ugandan police to ensure trauma-informed and victim-centred investigations of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes. UN Women has supported evidence collection trainings and donated evidence collection vans as well as state-of-the-art technology to facilitate DNA collection to better investigate SCI-related crimes.
UN Women donated three crime scene evidence collection vans, 18 Crime Scene Officer (SOCO) kits, 18 crime scene cameras, DNA consumables (for equipment), 3 pre-configured containers and 3 devices for audio and video recording. Crime scene vans are used to maintain the quality of evidence by avoiding degradation of DNA samples.
“Women report more often and they have gained trust in the police. The forensic evidence speaks for itself, there is no longer the impression that witnesses to the crime are needed at the scene.” said Emmanuel Ogwang, Regional Crime Scene Officer for Kampala Metropolitan Eastern Region.
In addition to the equipment, UN Women supported SOCO trainings on trauma-focused, victim-focused and gender-sensitive investigations. Police Assistant Inspector Emmanuel Ogwang, the Kampala Metropolitan Regional Crime Investigation Officer has undergone evidence gathering training in 2020 to better assist in the investigation and therefore prosecution of SGB crimes. Ogwang spoke about the impact of the trainings: “I learned how to conduct trauma-informed and victim-centered interviews, I know how to better work with investigators and submit forensic evidence of SGBV to the appropriate laboratories.
Acting Director of Forensic Science ACP Andrew K. Mubiru reflected on the Center for Forensic Science’s history as a regional center of excellence, saying that 40% of the cases that come to the Forensic Science Laboratory are related to sexual and gender violence.
With this equipment, the investigation time of the case has been greatly reduced as the police now have their own DNA processing laboratory in addition to the government analytical laboratory. On acquiring the game-changing equipment, Mubiru shared: “We are grateful to the Government of Uganda for upgrading our capabilities in 2020 when we purchased DNA equipment. In the same year, UN Women paid a visit to the country, during which it pledged to support the efforts already being undertaken by the government. DNA capabilities are critical to supporting investigations and are very useful for SNI crimes. We managed to reduce the backlog to 8 months. Moreover, in 70% of cases in investigated cases, credible evidence of criminals was found. This 30% gap will be filled by awareness (of the general public and practitioners) of these opportunities and education.”
Reflecting on the impact of this support, Mubiru stressed that DNA collection is important for the prosecution of crimes, adding that “In two years, we will see court reports and real progress in cases.”
Drug-assisted sexual violence among university students in Uganda
Director of Forensic Science Mubiru has shared information about a ‘new trend’ in Kampala that is not being talked about. Offenders gained access to narcotic and psychotropic substances, as well as over-the-counter tranquilizers used as “date drugs.” Now these criminals are able to subjugate their unsuspecting victims, who have been lured on a seemingly innocent walk or date. Survivors often do not report these cases due to the stigma of hooking up, as it is often done by intimate partners. Mubiru continued:
“We need to bring the perpetrators to justice, the victims are often middle-aged university girls and these men are abusing them and their futures. We want victims and survivors to be able to report and know that we have state-of-the-art chromatography and mass spectrometry techniques capable of detecting trace amounts of endogenous and exogenous chemicals in a variety of matrices such as blood, urine and hair.”
Dr. Jafar Kisitu, Head of the Forensic Chemistry Section, conducts training for UPF staff and investigators on the use of drug detection equipment. He said that the chromatography machine detects trace amounts of substances and provides evidence for the prosecution of crimes of sexual violence. He said “Samples detect alcohol content as well as drugs, the liquid chromatography machine is a game changer. Mass spectrometry is a detector, gas chromatography is also a detector.”
Increasing Optimism in the Ugandan Police to Investigate Crimes Effectively
As Police Assistant Inspector Emmanuel Ogwang, the Kampala Metropolitan East Regional Crime Investigation Officer explained, there is growing optimism in Uganda over reports of SGBV cases. Ogwang has been trained as an evidence-gathering staff that focuses on SGB crimes. He noted: “When cases happen in the community and the victim seeks justice, they share that feedback with the rest of the community and they are motivated to report similar cases.”
Inspector Ogwang supported the 5-year-old victim to explain the details of the abuse after her mother reported the incident to the police. Another victim was a classmate who initially kept quiet about the violence, but after seeing that the police had successfully closed the case, turned to her mother, who later reported that the same thing had happened to her daughter.
Ogwang pondered “Thanks to training, I confidently took the initiative with her [the victim] with a request to determine the crime scene. She identified the bathroom, using evidence markers, the exact scene of the crime. We reconstructed the crime scene, collected evidence from those places at the scene, as well as the clothes (of the criminal, her teacher) for verification.”
Inspector Ogwang was trained in the use of a sexual assault evidence kit which was crucial in the investigation of two defacement cases in June 2022 and three in July 2022 which were successfully cleared. Once a crime scene officer like Ogwang attends the scene, evidence is collected, examined and a report issued to the investigator, who in turn takes the case file to court. Collected evidence can be stored for more than 72 hours, as the lifetime of sperm in the body lasts up to 5 days. He told us “In Uganda, there is sunlight that affects the crime scene, but with [UN Women supported] Now, when we get to a crime scene, we pay attention to transitory elements like clothing, shoe prints, palm prints, clothing fibers, hair, brush patterns on surfaces.”
UN Women’s support has led to an increase in the number of reported cases of GBV and effective investigations by UPF’s Forensic Division. Thanks to this support, the quality of investigations into SGB crimes has improved, as the quality of DNA has improved due to improved transport facilities to the laboratory. This support led to increased prosecutions of SGB crimes throughout Uganda, ultimately reducing impunity for crimes of this nature. Although the immediate impact is already evident, it will really be seen in two years when the court reports and successful cases are eliminated.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN Women – Africa.
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