Help for American Victims of Crime in Uganda
This Department of State’s information for victims of crime has information for crime assistance.
Being the victim of a crime in a foreign country can be a devastating and traumatic experience. While no one can undo the emotional trauma, physical injury or financial loss you may have experienced, the U.S. Embassy in Kampala is ready to help. We are very concerned about violent crimes committed against U.S. citizens in Uganda. We will assist you in managing the practical consequences of being a crime victim and provide you with information about accessing the local criminal justice system, as well as other resources for crime victims abroad and the United States. This office can help you find appropriate medical care, contact family or friends on your behalf and explain how funds can be transferred. We can also help you to better understand the criminal justice system in Uganda, which is very different from the system in the United States.
The information included in this guide relating to the legal requirements in Uganda is provided for general information purposes only. The information may not be accurate or relevant to a particular case. Questions involving interpretation of Ugandan laws should be addressed to a legal counsel licensed to practice law in Uganda. The investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may assist local authorities in certain cases of kidnapping, hostage-taking and terrorism.
The Ugandan police will not accept complaints filed by the U.S. Embassy on a victim’s behalf. Victims must register their complaints at a local Ugandan police station within 24 hours, preferably near where the crime occurred. Once recording the complaint, the police should provide the reporting individual with a copy of the report and a case reference number. there is no fee for filing a police report, but in order to get a copy of the report, or information on the status of the investigation, the fee is US $30 (60,000 Ugandan shillings).
If you have difficulties filing your police report with an official, please contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. You may need a police report to file for insurance reimbursement. If you do decide to file a report please send a copy to us, along with your address and phone number in the event we need to communicate with you. While we are not authorized to act as your legal representative, prosecutor or investigator, our office can help you track the progress of your case and advise you of any developments.
Many criminal investigations in Uganda never result in the arrest of a suspect. Ugandan police generally have limited resources to carry out complex investigations, and limited capabilities in areas such as preservation of crime scene evidence and utilization of DNA to assist in prosecutions. The Ugandan police may make an arrest based either on a court warrant or a reasonable suspicion that the suspect has committed or is about to commit a crime. The police are responsible for investigating any suspected crimes. If a case is awaiting sufficient evidence, it can remain open indefinitely under Put Away (PA) status. Once new evidence emerges, the police can recall a PA case.
If someone is arrested for a minor crime (other than murder, rape, armed robbery or certain other violent offenses), the police can release the accused on “police bond,” which is similar to bail. Bond occurs if two people guarantee that the individual will appear before the police officer assigned to the case on a certain date. The police may also require a monetary deposit in order to guarantee the accused will appear in court. For serious crimes including murder, rape, reason, armed robbery or assault with a deadly weapon, police bond is not available and the police will hold the accused. However the accused should be presented in court within 48 hours and may apply for release at that time. Usually persons arrested for violent crimes are not released on bail. The victim can request information on the arrest, and may be asked to identify the perpetrator in person or in a police line-up.
Once a case file is opened, a Criminal Investigation Officer forwards the file to the Department of the Public Prosecutor (DPP), where a State Attorney reviews the file. If the State Attorney is satisfied that there is sufficient information that a crime may have been committed, he/she advices the police what charges to apply in the case. If the State Attorney finds the evidence insufficient, he/she instructs the police to conduct further investigation or close the file and release the accused. Any formal charges applied at the direction of the State Attorney at this time may be different than those recorded at the time of the arrest.
As noted above, according to Ugandan law, the accused should be taken to court within 48 hours of arrest or be released on police bond while an investigation is pending. In practice, however, it is common for many individuals to spend considerable time in detention “on remand” while the police investigation continues. For minor offences, investigations and preparations for trial rarely take more than 30 days, though they have been known to last up to six months. If investigations for minor crimes last longer, the police sometime abandon the case. If additional evidence is obtained at a later date, the police can re-arrest the suspects.
At times, prosecutors take the accused to court without evidence before the 48-hour time limit expires. The magistrate may choose to allow the investigation to proceed, and the prosecutor is required to inform the court of the progress of the investigation every two weeks. The accused must also appear in person before the court every 14 days. In this scenario, a case is considered “on mention.” A case can continue on mention for 60 days for minor offenses, or 180 days for serious offenses. If the judge deems that insufficient progress has been made in the investigation, he or she can dismiss the case. In practice, individuals can be detained for up to five years for awaiting trial for serious offenses. Over two-thirds of the prison population in Uganda is composed of prisoners awaiting trial.
Once in court, the accused retains the right to remain silent. Whatever the accused says can be used against him or her. The accused has the right to legal representation, and in cases for which the death penalty (such as murder or armed robbery) or life sentences (such as arson or manslaughter) are possible, the state will provide a lawyer to any individual who cannot afford one.
Uganda has two types of criminal courts, each used according to the severity of the alleged crime. For minor offenses, the accused is brought before a magistrate (i.e., a judge of a lower level court in Uganda) who hears the case and has the power to declare the suspect guilty or innocent based on evidence provided by the prosecution and the defense. Unlike in the United States, there is no jury.
For serious offenses, such as murder, treason, robbery or violent assault, a High Court tries the accused. The High Court includes a judge and two “assessors,” who are respected citizens chosen by the court to provide advice to the judge. The judge is not bound by the opinions of the assessors, though he or she should provide a reasoning if their ruling disagrees with the assessors. (The assessor system is a remnant of the British colonial era where the assessors were utilized to provide judges with additional insight into local culture and norms.)
In court, the accused is asked to plead based on the charges prepared by the Department of the Public Prosecutor. The charges should be made available to the legal counsel of the accused beforehand. The prosecution must establish a prima facie case, i.e., that, at first view and without further investigation of evidence, there is a case against the accused. If no prima facie case exists, a magistrate has the right to dismiss the case and order the unconditional release of the accused. According to the law, the burden of proof is upon the prosecution to prove the accused committed the crime in question “beyond a reasonable doubt.” After the prosecution’s presentation of evidence, if there is sufficient evidence, the Court finds the defense has a “case to answer.” The defense has several options at this stage:
- the right to remain silent;
- the right to provide evidence under oath, after which the defense is cross-examined;
- the right to provide a statement which is not under oath and after which no cross-examination takes place; and/or
- the right to present witnesses. The magistrate passes judgment after both sides present their cases. Generally, the more witnesses in a case, the longer a case takes to try. Often the cases are adjourned upon request of either the prosecution or defense and these delays can be for hours, days for months. After all evidence is presented, the parties can make final submissions (closing arguments) after which the magistrate or judge makes a ruling with the defense present in court. Generally, all court cases in Uganda are open to the press and members of the public. Either side may appeal the verdict.
Ugandan courts require that the victim return to the host country to testify unless there is sufficient independent non hearsay evidence to prove the case.
Sentencing occurs after a conviction. At this stage the guilty party is given a chance to plead for leniency and the prosecutor may argue for a severe sentence. Sentencing is at the discretion of the magistrate or judge but has limits set out in the Penal Code, the Magistrate’s Court Act, and the Trial and Indictment Act. Some minor offenses, such as traffic violations, allow for fines or community service as punishments. The court can also simply issue a warning to those found guilty for certain minor crimes. Once an inmate has served their conviction, victims are not notified of the inmates release from detention, but can request this information from the Ugandan police.
Both the prosecution and the defense may appeal the court’s finding of guilt or an acquittal. A case on appeal goes first to the High Court, where one judge will rule on the case. A second appeal goes to the Court of Appeals, where three judges preside. A final appeal goes to the Supreme Court, where five judges preside. If the accused has no funds to hire an attorney, the state may provide one if the case was a capital case (death penalty or life imprisonment). Should the accused appeal, the victim might be asked to provide an additional statement.
If an individual is convicted of a crime for which the death penalty is attached, an appeal is mandatory up to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds the death sentence, the guilty individual must plea for leniency with the Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy. The committee examines evidence taken from the guilty party’s and victim’s community regarding the guilty party’s character and makes a final recommendation to the Ugandan President regarding whether or not the guilty party deserves leniency. Thereafter, the President will either commute or confirm the death sentence. The President also has the right to pardon the guilty. While Uganda has the death penalty for many crimes, nobody has been executed since 1999. If administered the death penalty, the accused is hung.
Ugandan law allows for out of court settlement with the prosecution for minor criminal crimes, such as assault or theft. Formally, there is no out of court settlement available for some serious crimes such as defilement (statutory rape of victims under 18 years old). In practice, however, charges will be dropped if the parties agree on compensation out of court and the victim does not appear in court, providing the prosecution with no witnesses for the trial to proceed.
Victims may want to consider hiring a local attorney to secure appropriate legal guidance. Local legal procedures differ from those in the United States. Although the public prosecutor is responsible for prosecuting your case, a private attorney can initiate a prosecution and an attorney can promote certain interests with the police and the court. While our office cannot recommend specific attorneys, we can provide a list of attorneys who have expressed interest in representing U.S. citizens. This list is available on the mission website at the attorneys page.
Victim Compensation in Uganda
There is not a national crime victim assistance office.
The Ugandan government does not provide monetary compensation to crime victims. The court does have the authority to order the perpetrator to pay restitution.
Americans living or traveling in Uganda are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Uganda. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 1577 Ggaba Road, Nsambya, 0414 306 001 (extension “0” after hours), or KampalaUSCitizen@state.gov.
Special Information for Cases of Sexual Assault and Rape:
Physical evidence is very important in sexual assault cases, and can deteriorate as time passes. As such, victims should not change clothes, avoid bathing if possible, and have a physical exam at the first opportunity. Forensic sexual assault exams must be conducted by the Ugandan police doctors at their facilities if the victim wants to report the crime to the police. Also, it is important to note that the victim must pay up to US $25 (50,000 Ugandan shillings) for this exam. This exam generally includes a pelvic exam, vaginal/penile/anal swabs, head and pubic hair samples, fingernail scrapings, blood samples, saliva samples. A consular officer from the U.S. Embassy may be able to accompany victims of sexual assault for the medical exam.
Regardless of whether pursuing prosecution, victims should get medical attention to determine any injuries and to discuss treatment and prevention options for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Emergency contraception and HIV prophylaxis is generally available in Uganda. The U.S. Embassy can provide you with a list of local doctors.
According to Ugandan law, rape is committed when a person has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind or by fear of bodily harm. Rape is a felony and is punishable a term of imprisonment or by death in Uganda. Spousal rape is not a crime according to Ugandan law. Likewise, there are no instances of charges for acquaintance rape (date rape), and the law does not specifically address this situation.
There are no laws that protect the identity of sexual assault victims.
Hope after Rape (har.interconnection website) is an organization operating in Uganda designed to help victims of sexual assault and rape. The U.S. Embassy knows of one American citizen psychologist resident in Uganda with expertise in counseling sexual assault and rape victims, and at least one medical clinic also has a sexual assault/rape counselor on staff to treat victims.
Special Information for Cases of Domestic Violence:
Domestic violence is a serious problem in Uganda. However, the Domestic Relations Bill, legislation that addresses this issue, has been pending in parliament since 1997. Domestic violence is often is not considered a crime, for religious, social and cultural reasons. Husbands are believed to be the head of household and have the right to discipline their wives. Further it is widely accepted that parents have the right to discipline their children, including corporeal punishment. There are no specific laws to address domestic violence or child abuse but the general assault, battery, defilement and murder related charges are used to prosecute those whose violence is seen as excessive. However, it is not common for the police to intervene in a domestic situation until it is too late to save a person from a severe beating or death and women seldom find familial support for protection in an abusive situation (often due to her family being unwilling or unable to return the bride price). Consequently, often the only avenue for redress is through local women’s rights organizations.
Hope after Rape is one local organization designed to facilitate the recovery of abused woman and girls. The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any domestic violence shelters available in the country. American citizens who are the victims of domestic violence generally seek temporary lodging in hotels, and if fearful for their safety often depart Uganda.
Special Information for Cases of Child Abuse:
The Domestic Relations Bill, which addresses cases of child abuse, is pending in parliament. Currently legal avenues of redress are limited. With the exception of enhanced penalties for defilement (rape) of females under the age of 18 (which is a capital offense), indecent assaults on males under the age of 18 (punishable up to 14 years) and kidnapping of a person under the age of 14 (punishable by up to 10 years), there is little in the current law that provides special protection to minors. Chapter 120 of the Penal Code act outlines rules regarding the desertion of children (section 156), and neglecting to provide food for children (section 157). However, both of these crimes are considered misdemeanors, for which the maximum penalty would be two years. Penal Code section 11166 [still don’t know what law this is}requires that when a professional has a reasonable suspicion of child abuse, he/she is required to report it on penalty of US $1000 and/or six months in prison. However, the penal code does not give further guidance on punishment for perpetrators of child abuse.