This summer, we sent three to interns to work with the Uganda Department of Public Prosecutions (our equivalent of the Attorney General). The following blog post is by one of those interns, Debbie Stieglitz.
|Hope and Debbie|
Before arriving in Uganda to intern for the Director of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, I was thrilled to be placed on the team of students from the Center for Global Justice to work with Peter Sewakiryanga from Kyampisi Childcare Ministries. This past spring, Peter sent the Center two cases seeking legal assistance. Hope’s case came to us in late January and required urgent attention. Hope was kidnapped when she was one and a half years old. The witch doctor kept her on his shrine for almost two years, constantly draining her blood and harvesting different parts of her body. As a result of this constant torture and poor living conditions, Hope now has severe cerebral palsy. She requires 24/7 care just to survive. And from my personal experience, as my own sister has severe cerebral palsy, I know that Hope’s condition will continue to bring new struggles as she continues to grow and age.
When I arrived in Uganda I was surprised to hear that Hope’s case was still being heard in Court. It was a surreal moment realizing that work that was being done in faraway Virginia was about to catch up to my life now in Uganda. I consider myself blessed that I am actually able to be here and see the fruits of the labor that had begun for Hope’s case so far away.
When I began my internship, I informed the assistant to the DPP about Hope’s case. He was immediately interested in making sure this was handled properly so that Hope would get justice. However, he questioned why the charge against the witch doctor was kidnapping with intent to cause grievous harm instead of kidnapping with intent to murder. He asked me to research the Penal Code section on kidnapping with intent to murder and previous cases and determine if we could amend the charges. After the research and knowing the facts in Hope’s case, we agreed that the charge should have been kidnapping with intent to murder that carries a maximum sentence of death as opposed to 15 years for kidnapping with intent to cause grievous harm.
I wrote a legal opinion and submitted it to Mike Chibitia, the head of the DPP. After looking over the memo he called Joseph and me into his office to discuss the case. Concluding our brief meeting, he agreed with us that the charges should be amended and gave us the task of writing a withdrawal and substitution form to be submitted to the court that he would sign for approval.
In order to amend the charges Joseph and I had to work fast. Hope’s case was coming up for ruling in four days, and if the judge made his ruling we could not later amend the charges. We sent a carrier to go and retrieve the handwritten case file from the town of Rakai and bring it to the headquarters in Kampala. We only had one day to get our withdrawal forms put into Hope’s file because of how far the travel time is between Rakai and Kampala. By the end of the day on the Tuesday before the court ruling on Thursday, we finished our work, received approval from the DPP, and the file with the new withdrawal and substitution charge was on the way back to Rakai.
The day of the court ruling I traveled early to get to Rakai by 9:30am. It was immensely important that the Resident State Attorney spoke to the magistrate before he made his way into court and began making his rulings. The DPP asked me to go to court to ensure the RSA got to the magistrate before the ruling. If we missed this one chance, the opportunity would forever be lost. We had one shot and we were going to make sure we did everything we could to get Hope’s new amended charges to the magistrate before he made his ruling (even if that meant waking up at 4:30am).
I am pleased to report that the RSA and I went before the magistrate prior to his ruling and he accepted the withdrawal and substitute charge.
Hope’s case is not over yet, but the potential outcome is now greater than what it would have been. The current standing of Hope’s case is that the new charge of kidnapping with intent to murder has been accepted. The case is now being moved to the High Court in Masaka as the charge is now a capital offense. On July 28, the witch doctor will appear in court and the DPP will have the committal papers ready to commit him to that court. Upon committal, the judge will add Hope’s case to his or her docket and a new court trial date will be set. In addition to the committal papers, the Director of the DPP, Mike Chibitia, is sending along a personal letter requesting the judge in Masaka to make this case a top priority so that justice can hopefully be served quickly.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice student intern. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.