By The Insight Post Uganda
The islands of Kalangala District are grappling with a deeply concerning issue of an acute shortage of female police officers, resulting in pervasive human rights abuses with a significant gender dimension.
This follows the alarming experiences of female suspects who are subjected to harassment and mistreatment by male officers.
According to Annuciate Nabbosa, the Community Development Officer of Kyamuswa Sub-county on Bukasa Island, there has been a deeply troubling reality of sexual harassment during arrests and detention, robbing women of their privacy and dignity.
Her accounts further reveal the stark gender disparities within law enforcement, significantly impacting the well-being of female detainees.
The lack of female representation leads to an environment where arrested women have no privacy, their boundaries invaded by male officers, who shamelessly peep into their most vulnerable moments, such as when bathing.
The situation is exacerbated by male officers’ ignorance and insensitivity towards menstrual cycles, exposing female detainees to sexual abuse and exploitation.
It is worth noting that Section 23 (2) of the Police Act stipulates that female individuals should only be searched by authorized women. Similarly, the Police Standing Orders emphasize that arrests involving female suspects should be handled by women police officers, ensuring that decency and sensitivity are maintained throughout the process.
Chaining female suspects are against these directives; however, in Kalangala, this measure is occasionally employed to prevent any unruly behaviour by the suspects.
In response to the pressing issue, Charles Nkirinawe, the Officer-in-Charge of Nkose Police Post on Mazinga Island, has employed temporary measures, involving senior women from local communities to aid in arrests.
While well-intentioned, this approach only scratches the surface of the problem. The urgent need for an increased number of female police officers, well-trained in handling sensitive cases, is undeniable.
However, the Kalangala district authorities are calling for a profound shift in the gender balance within law enforcement. They further look towards a future where female citizens can feel safe, protected, and respected by their male counterparts in uniform.
However, the onus lies on the authorities to take swift action and actively promote an inclusive environment that ensures justice and equality for all. Only then can the islands hope to eradicate the distressing human rights abuses perpetuated by the lack of female representation in the police force.
Nkirinawe explains that when a female suspect is involved in an offence, he, as the OC, involves a senior woman leader from her neighbourhood, often a member of the LC1 committee, to carry out the arrest.
However, upon reaching the police station, the OC entrusts the same leader with searching for the female suspect. This is the approach he adopts for handling such cases.
Due to the lack of enough female police officers, the policemen’s wives play a crucial role in supervising the female suspects while they bathe to ensure their privacy and safety.
Additionally, their wives also offer support and understanding in case the female suspects are experiencing their monthly menstrual cycles, providing a more compassionate approach to their needs during such times.
According to Emmanuel Bagenda, the OC of Kyamuswa Police Station on Bukasa Island, his approach to dealing with female suspects involves accompanying the suspect to the police station.
“When the suspect refuses to cooperate, I seek assistance from a senior woman within the community to facilitate the arrest,” he recounts.
Judicial Service Commission
According to Maria Theresa Nabulya, the spokesperson of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), there is a need for necessary action to address all the concerns regarding access to justice, particularly the lack of deployment of women police officers to the Islands.
The residents of the islands further encounter another obstacle in accessing justice. The absence of easily accessible and affordable transportation to reach Kalangala Magistrates’ Court.
“As a result, many of their cases have been dismissed due to a lack of follow-up by the complainants,” Nabulya explains.
Still, the absence of courts in the islands presents another obstacle making it difficult for residents to access justice efficiently. Moreover, the dispersed nature of the islands contributes to the difficulty in accessing justice, as it involves covering long distances.
The majority of the islands are approximately 48 to 50 kilometres away from the main island of Kalangala, and reaching there via a commuter boat requires a considerable cost, ranging from UGX 70,000 to UGX 80,000, and sometimes even more. This high transportation expense further adds to the challenges faced by the residents in seeking justice.
According to law enforcement officers, during the transportation process to Kalangala Main Island, there have been instances where suspects attempted to throw themselves into the water.
Suspects’ capacity to escape during transportation has the potential to weaken the credibility and efficiency of the law enforcement system, thereby eroding public confidence in the police and relevant authorities’ ability to handle suspects securely and professionally.
Moreover, such occurrences may result in logistical complications and additional expenses in capturing escaped suspects and restarting the legal proceedings, placing further strain on an already overburdened law enforcement system.
Human Rights Protection
The incidents of suspects attempting self-harm or escape during transportation raise significant concerns about the treatment and conditions of suspects in custody. This suggests that some suspects might be experiencing harsh treatment, lack of proper care, or inhumane conditions, which would constitute a violation of their human rights.
Respecting human rights principles, such as the right to life, dignity, and protection from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, is essential throughout all stages of the justice process.
Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach. Law enforcement agencies should carefully review and strengthen their protocols for transporting suspects to ensure their safety and security.
Additionally, it is imperative that suspects are treated humanely and in full compliance with the law. To achieve this, law enforcement personnel must be trained in human rights principles, and the significance of upholding these rights should be emphasised.