The International Conference for the Great Lakes Region Regional Training Facility (ICGLR – RTF) with support from the African Union and the United Nations convened a Symposium under the theme “Access to Justice and Fighting Impunity of Sexual and Gender Based Violence in the Great Lakes Region” at the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort, Entebbe from the 7th to the 9th of July 2016.
The need for this Symposium arose from the unresolved issue of access to justice for the survivors of sexual violence. Operating in an environment where there is no uniform legal system for Member States, the Symposium provided a platform for the sharing of experiences and mechanisms for accessing justice in SGBV issues, thereby enabling the Member States to share information, learn from each other’s successes as they resolve common challenges and share best practices.
The focus was on the existing measures, good/best practices and major challenges of addressing sexual violence in the Member States of the Great Lakes Region, in order to inform the development of training material for the newly created Regional Training Facility in order to support and effectively assist Member States in the fight against impunity for sexual violence crimes.
The main objectives of the Symposium were to: share the progress and challenges existing in the ICGLR Member States related to fighting impunity in sexual violence related cases; discuss case law related to sexual violence in Member States of ICGLR and beyond and the impact it has had on access to justice; identify good practices to adapt among Member States and also suggest ways, through research and training at RTF, of addressing misconceptions and challenges related to fighting sexual violence and lastly to identify potential experts to train judicial and police officers, medical and social workers and other categories of persons handling cases of sexual violence.
Expectations from the workshop were listed beforehand as a compendium of national legal frameworks and jurisprudence in Member States and of Regional and International Instruments related to SGBV for training stakeholders at RTF; a report of challenges, best practices and recommendations related to areas of more research, documentation and training in prevention and fighting impunity for SGBV cases and a list of potential experts to train TOTs and related institutes for collaboration at the RTF.
A wealth of information was shared concerning the national legal frameworks of each country rep-resented as well as the status of the implementation of regional instruments legislating on SGBV. Whereas some Member States had functional and implementable laws governing SGBV, there were still gaps identified in either the legislation or the enforcement of legislation.
Some of the specific areas for coverage were: an analysis of the situation of victims and survivors of SGBV and the mechanisms of justice available to them; laws and policies in place as well as institutional, administrative and financial frameworks and any other measures in place to address access to justice for victims and survivors of SGBV taking into consideration preventive/suppressive as well as remedial aspects. In addressing these areas, a good number of countries reported good coordination of implementing bodies by way of multi-sectoral coordination. In the countries where this was weak, better frameworks were suggested to aid this coordination since it was widely agreed as a faster route to the implementation of SGBV laws. For countries emerging from conflict, transitional justice mechanisms were seen as a way of addressing the justice needs of the victims of SGBV. One stop victim care centres have taken root in South Africa and Kenya but remain tentative in most Member States. Specialised care for SGBV victims including psychosocial counselling facilities have taken root in most Member States but the availability of legal aid for victims is not as widely available across the Member States as it should be. It was generally agreed that there should be mandatory and/or pro bono legal aid for SGBV cases either across the board for all lawyers or from a special pool of lawyers especially selected for this purpose as has been done in Madagascar. In addition to psychosocial support for victims, the perpetrators were found to need the same kind of assessment in order to get to the root of what causes them to act out violently.
On the major cases and judgments that have been decided in the courts/judiciary that have a major impact on the rights of the victims and survivors of SGBV in civil or criminal cases, every Member State gave examples of cases decided within their jurisdictions and measures being undertaken to enhance or improve access to justice for victims and survivors. Law reform to stiffen the penalties against perpetrators of SGBV, rejection of out of court settlements for SGBV cases and victim compensation came across clearly as a good way forward. With regard to the challenges, les-sons learned and best practices in addressing the access to justice needs of victims and survivors of SGBV, innovations such as toll free lines were shared as broadening the reporting of SGBV cases by shortening the distance information has to travel initially. GBV manuals for prosecutors, medical personnel and Police were also found as a good way to increase dissemination on SGBV to ensure they all have the same relevant information on content, context, procedure and to foster a shared language. Lastly fast-tracking of SGBV cases through either special courts or regular, especially selected court sessions to ensure crimes are addressed in a timely manner for the sake of justice were widely deemed crucial.