Exclusive interview with Dr. Simone Knapp
On March 25 2015, Dr. Simone Knapp ended her tenure as head of Office at the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) here in Uganda. Before she left, Dr. Knapp gave www.jlos.go.ug an exclusive interview and spoke on a number of wide ranging issues in the sector and the role of ADC in the administration of justice and the rule of law in Uganda.
You have been at the helm of ADC support to the Justice, Law and Order Sector in the last four years. What key initiatives and programs has ADC supported in the Sector?
ADC’s support to JLOS started in 1997. Since 2002 Austria has supported JLOS through sector budget support. In addition to this - from what we hear - by JLOS very appreciated sector wide support, ADC has provided funding to JLOS for key initiatives: for example we supported several trainings for members of the JLOS Leadership Committee, Steering Committee and Technical Committee in Management for Development Results, Gender Responsive Budgeting and Leadership skills.
ADC also works closely with JLOS in rolling out mediation services to all courts and other dispute resolution bodies like the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Law Council and it is key that also the Uganda Law Society and its members, the lawyers, are involved. Currently, and this is news now, we are working on a new project which will be ready later in the year, namely the development of a publication of JLOS success stories and achievements in order to better communicate and showcase the work of JLOS!
Let us talk about the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) project (supported by ADC) whose roll out was officially launched on March 18, 2015. How do you think this project will benefit the ordinary Ugandans?
Case-backlog is a big issue in Uganda. We hear about it constantly – legal proceedings take years! That is why the need for alternative ways of handling disputes became very obvious. This is for example called mediation. Mediation means for example: a client now does not need to go to through a lengthy and very expensive court procedure to get the father of her children pay for school fees. She can ask trained mediators to intervene. The mediator will talk to and hear both parties and assist them in finding a solution to their problem. This means, that the solutions are owned by both parties, and they are taken speedily. With this, the courts will be able to focus on fewer and really difficult cases.
The ADC Uganda Country Strategy (2010 – 2015) ends this year. What have been the key achievements registered under support to the sector during this term? Going forward, what programs in JLOS will ADC be supporting in the next 5 years.
Yes, the ADC Country Strategy for Uganda is coming to an end this year, because it was aligned to the National Development Plan I. We undertook a review of our past work, and together with the upcoming National Development Plan II we will define our new ADC Country Strategy (2016-2020). It is a bit early now to talk about details of our future program but from my experience in the last years I believe that a mix of sector budget support and additional project support is very useful. This complementary mix of instruments was also confirmed by the recent review.
How critical is the engagement of Development Partners and Non-state Actors in ensuring that the Justice, Law and Order sector continues to play its part in sustainably promoting pro-poor growth in Uganda?
This is indeed a very critical engagement. Civil Society in Uganda plays a vital role in monitoring Government’s performance, holding Government accountable and very often even in service delivery. For example, within the Justice, Law and Order sector, there are a number of Legal Aid Service Providers who provide legal aid and counseling services to people. I would not want to imagine a Uganda without the essential contribution by these Legal Aid Service Providers. Many of these organisations like FIDA, Paralegal Advisory Services, Muslim Centre for Justice and Law, Uganda Land Alliance, and others are supported by the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) which is supported by Austria and seven other Development Partners.
What strategies can the sector employ in order to deepen justice reforms that are pro-people?
A number of such strategies are already ongoing like the attempt to improve service delivery and customer service as well as to introduce performance management in the sector. However, these strategies need to be strengthened and broadened so that the Ugandan women or men, particularly the poor and vulnerable, really feel a difference when accessing any of the services of the sector. It is key that the entrance point for clients of the justice system is a friendly and positive one and that these people are attended to when they have questions and need support, especially as clients are often intimidated when entering a court and when getting in contact with the quite formal systems in courts.
As your tenure comes to close as head of ADC in Uganda, what is your general assessment of sector performance over the last four years?
I like to see the glass half-full. While we are all aware that important challenges remain, important progress has been made in the past. Together with other Development Partners we undertake detailed assessments of the sector’s performance twice a year. We appreciate that human rights desks and committees have been established in the Police and Prisons and hope to see their number – and influence - grow. The physical presence of JLOS services in the districts has also increased, which makes accessing justice for people much easier, as they no longer have to travel so far in order to go to Police for example. What we also see is that the legal framework in Uganda is well developed and positive is that the development of policies and laws is often done in a very consultative process. I am also impressed that JLOS within a short period of time introduced several innovative ways of reducing case backlog like mediation, plea bargaining or the small claims procedures. Let’s hope the Ugandan women and men will soon benefit from these innovations.
What would you describe as the major challenges facing the sector today and how can these be overcome?
It is not a secret that corruption is a huge problem in Uganda and very rampant, especially amongst lower rank Police and Judicial Officers. This needs to end and the fight against corruption needs the clear commitment of the JLOS Leadership. I would hope the Government would one day take it up to reform the public service thoroughly.
Equally well know is the problem of human rights violations within the sector. These range from violations of the 48h rule by Police, to torture and mishandling. More training on human rights needs to be done, and individuals need to be held accountable, if they mistreat. By the way, what I was really hoping to see before my departure was the Legal Aid Policy and the Transitional Justice Policy adopted by Cabinet
In your opinion, what stands out as the key legacy of the sector-wide approach in the 16 years of JLOS’ existence?
JLOS is a best practice example indeed. Other countries look at Uganda and ask how you managed to do this. To me, the key legacy is the existence of JLOS houses, starting to be all over the country. Through this, all institutions come under one roof, and improve their cooperation, not only on paper and in meetings and discussions, but in real life issues and cases, when people come to approach them. This is what JLOS is about – bringing justice closer to the people!
Before leaving, let me thank all the good-hearted people in the sector for their very hard work, it was really a pleasure to work with you all and I wish JLOS all the best for the future!
By Edgar Kuhimbisa | Published: April 20, 2015