A Ugandan woman, whose rape by state agents was described by an adjudicator as ‘simple and dreadful lust’, has won the right to stay after a successful public campaign.
Rose Najjemba, who claimed asylum in January 2001, less than four months after her ordeal at the hands of Ugandan soldiers, was denied protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention both at initial level and on appeal. She had fled after being raped by soldiers who brutally beat and arrested her son who had connections with the Allied Defence Forces (ADF) in Uganda.
Rose ran a shop with her son near the Congolese border. Four soldiers came to her home and questioned her and her son about the ADF. The soldiers brutally beat the son in front of his mother and then found a case under the bed. The woman was questioned about the key to the case and then raped twice. The soldiers left with her son, who appeared to be seriously injured, and Rose has never seen him again. The woman fearing for her life and her other children’s safety fled to Kampala and then to the UK in 2000. She was diagnosed by a consultant psychiatrist as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and had also tried to commit suicide in the UK.
In July 2002, her asylum claim was dismissed in the Court of Appeal and Rose was forced to seek a judicial review. The facts of her case were not disputed by the adjudicator or on appeal but the asylum application was dismissed because no grounds for a claim were found under the 1951 Convention. The rape was, said the adjudicator, ‘not a matter of persecution’ but ‘simple and dreadful lust’. It was recognised that rape by soldiers was common in the north of Uganda. But women could not possibly be described as ‘a social group the subject of persecution in Convention terms’. And the rape attack on Rose was not ‘politically motivated’.
It was also argued that Rose Najjemba had the option to go to Kampala where she could live in ‘relative safety and with the protection of the authorities’.
Eventually, Rose Najjemba won the right to stay in the UK after a national campaign, organised by the Women Against Rape group. Following public pressure, including coverage on BBC Radio, Beverley Hughes, the immigration minister, overturned the appeal decision.
Ian Macdonald QC, who represented Rose Najjemba in the High Court, said: ‘This decision will, I hope, scotch for ever the outdated notion that rape by on-duty security forces can properly be classified as mere acts of “dreadful lust”, rather than persecutory conduct.’
The case highlights the fact that sexual violence at the hands of state agents remains a core issue in the determination of women’s claims. Research by the Refugee Women’s Resource Project (Women’s asylum seekers in the UK: a gender perspective, some facts and figures, February 2003) found that in many cases, violence against women is interpreted as a ‘private act’ and thus not recognised uner the 1951 Refugee Convention.