The United Nations refugee agency and the Government of Uganda have launched a pilot mobile court scheme to improve access to justice and legal assistance for victims of crime in Nakivale, the country's oldest and largest refugee settlement.
"Our hope is that the 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," UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, told journalists in Geneva.
The project, launched yesterday, aims to benefit some 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandan nationals in Nakivale, which is about 50 kilometres from the nearest law court in Kabingo, Isingiro.
Yesterday's first session was overseen by a Chief Magistrate who heard cases including robbery, land disputes, defilement, attempted murder and cases of sexual and gender-based violence. Subsequent sessions will cover crimes from petty theft to murder, Mr. Edwards said.
The courts will hold three sessions a year, each lasting between 15 and 30 days and hearing up to 30 cases per session. Half the cases heard will be those of nationals, who live within 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," Mr. Edwards said.
The Nakivale pilot project is collaboration between UNHCR, the Refugee Law Project, the Uganda Human Rights Council and Ugandan government.
Lawyers volunteer their time and services so that the entire process can be provided free of charge to both refugees and nationals.
Mr. Edwards said UNHCR hopes to extend the project to other refugee settlements in Uganda so that more refugees can benefit from speedier justice.