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Uganda; United Nations: Mobile Courts Program Launched

(Apr. 18, 2013) On April 15, 2013, a pilot program to establish mobile courts in refugee settlements was launched in Uganda jointly by that country’s government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Refugee Law Project (of the School of Law of Uganda’s Makerere University), and the Uganda Human Rights Council. The program’s goal is to provide improved access to justice for victims of crimes in the Nakivale settlement, located in southwestern Uganda. The participating lawyers volunteer their time, and the process is without charge to the refugees and national citizens in the settlement. (Uganda: UN Launches First of Its Kind Mobile Court Initiative in Refugee Settlement, UN NEWS CENTRE (Apr. 16, 2013); Refugee Law Project, Refugee Law Project website & Uganda Human Rights Project, Uganda Human Rights Commission website (both last visited Apr. 17, 2013).)

According to Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR representative speaking in Geneva:

Our hope is that mobile courts will speed the rate at which cases are heard, and serve to deter crime by bringing lawyers and a magistrate directly to both refugees and Ugandans in the settlement. … We already run similar mobile court initiatives in refugee camps in Kakuma and Dadaab in Kenya, where they have significantly reduced crime within the camps and surrounding areas. (Briefing Notes, Mobile Court Scheme Launched in Uganda’s Nakivale Refugee Settlement (Apr. 16, 2013), UNHCR website.)

A Chief Magistrate presided over the first session of the mobile court, held on April 15. The cases heard included robbery, land disputes, attempted murder, and sexual and gender-based violence. The plan is for the courts to hold three sessions of 15 to 30 days each annually and to cover a wide range of offenses, from petty theft to murder. (Id.)

There are at present an estimated 234,150 refugees in Uganda. Uganda is rare among refugee host countries in providing settlements instead of camps. Nakivale is the oldest and largest such settlement, but the nearest court is 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) away. The organizers hope to extend the pilot mobile court program to other settlements in the future. (Id.)