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Africa

Uganda's courts paralyzed as prosecutors strike

State prosecutors in Uganda have gone on strike over low pay and poor working conditions leaving courts empty and suspects in prison.

Uncertain whether their cases were going to be heard or not, groups of people milled around the compound of the Buganda Road court in the center of Uganda's capital, Kampala. 

One of them was John Kakembo, who had been called to speak as a witness at the trial of a man who raped his 16-year-old daughter.

"We are stranded here," Kakembo said to DW. "We do not know what is going on and we do not know what time we are likely to leave this place. This is very frustrating."

Judges adjourned trials across Uganda as prosecutors, who are responsible for representing the state's cases in criminal trials, went on indefinite strike on Wednesday July 12, 2017. 

The prosecutors had previously given the government two weeks to meet their demands for a pay rise and consider ways to improve the working environment. 

"[We] have been left with that last resort of exercising industrial action because [prosecutors] want to live and make ends meet," the President of the Uganda Association of Prosecutors, David Bakibinga, told DW. 

Photo of Uganda's Commercial Court

Uganda's courts already have huge backlogs that the strike could make worse

"We go through risks each day. People threaten us," Bakibinga added, pointing to the murder of Joan Kagezi, a state prosecutor who was assassinated in 2015, as an example of the dangers. 

Speaking to parliament, Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said his cabinet would consider the prosecutors' demands.

"Government is in process of establishing a salary review commission to ensure that there is removal of these distortions," Rugunda said. However, he also stressed that many other government departments and institutions needed consideration, too. 

The prosecutors say they'll stay away from work until their demands are met. There's fear that this strike will further aggravate Uganda's extensive legal backlog and overflowing prisons. 

A report by the Case Backlog Reduction Committee in March 2017 found that more than a quarter of cases in the country were still awaiting judgment after two years.