Passion for justice
BMS lawyer Steve Sanderson interviews Annet Ttendo, the project director of BMS' partner Ugandan Christian Lawyers' Fraternity (UCLF).
Steve says, "I first met Annet in September 2006 when she began work as the UCLF staff advocate. She had an impressive record of anti-gender violence under her belt. More recently, primarily through the criminal public defence project, Annet has been called upon to represent suspects in the high court, many of them charged with sexual violence offences."
Annet admits she decided to become a lawyer and more specifically a gender rights activist because she herself was a victim of sexual violence when still a young girl. She says, "I wanted to seek vengeance on all sexual offenders. I had a burning desire to prosecute them and, in so doing, protect women and children. [But] God changed my heart. He has turned a passion for vengeance into a passion for justice. That means that everyone has rights and I have been inspired to help anyone who finds themselves in a position of vulnerability and this has also meant standing up and defending sexual offenders."
She admits, "In lots of situations I see these guys and they seem really pathetic. They have spent a long time on remand and they are broken, repentant and desperate…. All people are made in God's image and therefore they have dignity - even sexual offenders.
Steve asks how she communicates her motivation for representing them. Annet replies, "Defending those who everyone else thinks don't deserve help demonstrates Christ's grace. When I act with mercy, justice and humility, it pleases God and also communicates something of God's character. I also want people to know the importance of truth and if someone is clearly guilty, I will advise them to plead guilty and get on with the process of repentance. When this happens I explain that God is faithful and just and will forgive them when they cry out to him with a sincere heart. When this happens, suspects are more accepting of their sentence and approach the trial with the right frame of mind."
In 2008 Annet defended 37 different sexual offenders. Annet recalls, "One time I found myself defending a man of 64 who had allegedly defiled a girl of seven years. I really felt for the victim and in my heart I was just praying for justice to be done. Then there was a man who slept with his own daughter and she became pregnant. He told her he would kill her if she told anyone what he had been up to. As the pregnancy developed, neighbours became suspicious and eventually the police got involved."
Annet with choked emotion communicates some of her empathy for the victims she has encountered while defending their oppressors. Yet, in all the hurt caused, Annet still fights for the balance of dignity that each one of the defendants still deserves. "It is a process," says Steve, "of retrieving humanity from the dehumanising atrophy of sexual violence; atrophy which robs the victim of dignity and turns the perpetrator into an animal."
Annet admits some cases linger in the memory. Some haunt her and the facts of certain cases pollute her mind. Staying pure, balanced and sane is a challenge. She concedes that, "Some of the gruesome details are traumatising, but the key question is how would Jesus react in such a situation?"
She continues, "It's true that people won't always understand why we are apparently on the side of the bad guy! But we represent sexual offenders because it stems from our vision and mission statement. We believe that biblical justice emphasises access to justice for all - even the people who others despise. Our mission statement is taken from Proverbs 31: 9 - 'speak up for those who can't speak for themselves. Judge fairly, defend the cause of the poor and needy.'"
She concludes by saying, "Sentencing is the judge's problem. The law should deter people from committing an offence but, to an extent, sin cannot be legislated into oblivion, but what I do know is that justice remains".