Murder, defilement and rape, often attract a harsh punishment under the formal courts of law, but this is not the case in Amudat District.
The district located in the remote Karamoja sub-region neigbouring Kenya, is many miles away from the main key social and administrative services; available in Moroto Town.
Amudat is bordered by Moroto District in the North and Kenya to the East and was carved out of Nakapiripirit District in 2010.
In Amudat, the ancient tradition of solving criminal cases still rules. There is slim presence of the police in the area who, according to the residents, are not being felt because of the absence of the courts and prisons to complement their role.
Tales of cases being settled traditionally by respected communal elders through the Lapai traditional court justice demonstrate how the absence of the formal court justice have continued to thrive among locals in Amudat District who have belief in their local tribunal for litigation, a practice they have held for a long period of time.
The local communities in Amudat rely on the ancient justice system to dispense justice by passing verdicts, causing reconciliation and paying damages to the afflicted whenever Lapai elders sit to arbitrate.
According to Michael Lukwang,60, the LC1 Amudat village, Amudat parish, the Lapai justice system has been practiced over years and still finds acceptance here.
According to Mr Lukwang, the traditional justice system their grandfathers practised, is a cultural ritual aimed at cleansing criminal offenders from sin, and this is done to those who commit crimes such as murder, witchcraft, adultery, fornication, among others.
“Through the Lapai courts which I have on a couple of occasions attended, the complainants and the accused are brought before chosen elders who arbitrate between the afflicted parties and families,” he says.
He says the effectiveness of the Lapai traditional justice has always come under scrutiny from government and the non-governmental organisations for allegedly abetting crime, adding that as LC1’s, the elders in their communal settings find leverage to carry on with the ancient arbitration because there is total absence of formal courts of law in the district since it was carved from Nakapiripirit in 2010.
“Our police presence in Amudat is so small to act, where they have acted they can’t cause justice to prevail because they can only handle a limited number of suspects, above all there are no courts to prosecute suspects. Time and again defilers and rapists are let free while some murder cases are settled locally,” he said.
Mr Lukwang said under Lapai, murder suspects attract a death sentence and pay hefty compensation of 30 head of cattle to the relatives of the deceased but recently, the latter has taken precedence.
One Lubanyang,70, an elder said cases that have chance to reach police do not live to see justice being dispensed because the suspects are either released from police custody or from distant courts in Moroto or Nakapiripirit for failure to produce witnesses.
“We have trusted the Lapai courts for rather a long time; they promote reconciliation where the afflicted are treated to a cultural ritual of cleansing using blood from slaughtered animals,” he explained.
The Amudat District chairperson, Mr Francis Kiyonga, told Daily Monitor that 90 per cent of the murders, defilement cases, assault, rape and other civil cases have overtime been solved traditionally through the Lapai arbitration.
He said this kind of justice has continued to find resonance among the people because formal courts of law are non-existent in the district.
“It may sound ugly but 90 per cent of the defilement and murder cases do not reach court, the residents have entrusted their arbitration to the communal elders who grace the Lapai court system,” Mr Kiyoga added.
He said the absence of magistrate’s courts, prisons coupled by the expensive costs involved in transporting suspects to Moroto or Nakapiripirit, which burden has often been transferred to the complainants, have given more leverage for the Lapai court system to continue operating.
“At times when cases are successfully forwarded to the courts of law in Moroto, they are discharged because witnesses cannot foot the transport costs which come along,” he stated.
Mr Kiyonga said defilement cases have been the most affected of all because the aggrieved relatives to the defiled girls have always failed to secure medical forms, since the only functional private hospital that provides such services have often charged victims exorbitantly to a tune of Shs100,000, a situation that has made others to shy away.
In the course of reporting a crime involving sexual violence, survivors must obtain a medical examination form from the police, also known as a Police Form 3 (PF3) in order to be examined by a health practitioner.
“Since we don’t have a government hospital to provide free medical forms that are pre-requisite, the defilement cases have always collapsed,” he explained, adding that because of such difficulty, the people find solace in reporting their cases to elders who in turn have succeeded in settling them.
Mr Kiyonga said as Amudat local government, they have overtime petitioned government to have the judicial services, prisons and hospital facilities instituted but nothing has been done seven years since Amudat was created.
“Such absence of courts of law is even frustrating the fight against Female Genital Mutilation, because this being a traditional culture among the people here, it finds no place in Lapai arbitration process,” he added.
He said the ministry of Justice asked for land which they have allocated for both construction of the magistrate’s court and prison, though development of the land is yet to take off.
Rev Con Jane Chorey of Church of Uganda, who is an advocate against FGM, said the courts of law are needed as much as yesterday to help fight the vice.
The regional police commander Karamoja sub-region, Mr Aruk Maruk, said much as criminal and civil cases remain high in the region, the police have not reached the extent of releasing suspects for lack of arbitration institutions.
“My police have always referred criminal cases to Moroto or Nakapiripirit districts where they have been handled,” he said.
“People shouldn’t claim to be Jesus to know everything about police, they have enough fuel to transport suspects to wherever they are prosecuted from,” Mr Maruk explained.
When contacted Mr David Pulkol, the former External Security Organisation director, said the challenges of Karamoja are quite unique to dispute, saying the sub-region still needs social services which have been only constructed within Moroto.
Situation. Tales of cases being settled traditionally by respected communal elders through the Lapai traditional court justice demonstrate how absence of formal court has continued to thrive in Amudat.
Reward. Under Lapai justice system, murder suspects attract a death sentence and pay hefty compensation of 30 head of cattle to the relatives of the deceased.
Need support. Mr David Pulkol, the former ESO director, says the challenges of Karamoja still needs social services.