Kampala — WHEN peace talks between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army rebels started in July in the South Sudan capital of Juba, it was seen as the most significant initiative for peace in a region that has been badly devastated by 20 years of insurgency.
The war-affected community welcomed the talks and is willing to reconcile with their tormentors for the sake of peace. However, experts believe a comprehensive peace where communities will have to reconcile with each other is one way of addressing years of horrific suffering and human rights abuses. The government has also indicated its readiness to plan a process of national reconciliation.
"It is impossible to achieve national peace if we do not have peace within ourselves and families. Peaceful families are essential ingredients in the recipe for community and national peace," Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi said on Friday while presenting a paper titled, "Beyond Juba: Building consensus on a sustainable peace process for Uganda.
"The Juba talks should be viewed as a first step toward developing a comprehensive peace strategy and not a termination. The talks simply represent the first raindrop that must trigger nipples of peace to spread both within and without."
Nsibambi said peace building and reconciliation is one of four objectives of the draft recovery and development plan for northern Uganda.
Local reconciliation mechanisms such as the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative has also been involved in reconciliation initiatives within the Acholi community.
The Amnesty Act of 2000 also provides a legal framework for and recognises the traditional justice mechanism system of Mato Oput among the Acholi to promote community reconciliation.
But Prof. Makau Mutua, the chairperson of Kenya's Human Rights Commission in a paper presented by Gulu district chairman Nobert Mao said national reconstruction and reconciliation is not possible without truth and justice.
"Domestic truth and reconciliation processes might yield several options. Some commission processes seek the truth, others justice and reconciliation and others all the three," he said.
"In Uganda the process must combine truth telling with justice and national reconciliation."
In his paper, "Beyond Juba: Does Uganda Need a National Truth and Reconciliation Process, Mutua says that like in South Africa and Sierra Leone where truth and reconciliation commissions have been set up, Uganda's truth and reconciliation process should be determined by its own history.
"It is my view that Uganda should first address its past and present crisis. This is the only route by which the current abominations that the LRA rebels have waged in the north can be permanently terminated," he says.
"That is why there is no model truth commission or peace process any where that Uganda can copy. Having had a truth commission already, Uganda needs to look beyond such an institution and think about a holistic approach to peace and reconciliation. Even if a truth commission was to be established, it would have to go beyond the narrow confines of violations of human rights."
Mao said as the talks in Juba present a ray of hope, the focus should not only be on the peace it will bring but on justice and reconciliation, which will come with it.
"You cannot have justice if you don't have peace. You cannot talk about reconciliation when the structures which encourage violence have not been changed," he said.
According to Ms Henrietta Mensa-Monsu, a professor of criminal law in Ghana and a former commissioner on the Liberian Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, having a TRC helps victims seek justice and perpetrators take responsibility for their actions.
"It demands telling the truth and admitting mistakes. This is how people can reconcile with each other," she says.
The conflict in northern Uganda has displaced over 1.7 million people now living in squalid conditions in internally displaced peoples camps. Gross human rights abuses including raping of women, brutally mutilating innocent civilians and forcefully conscripting children into rebel ranks has also characterised the 20-year long insurgency which has also left hundreds of innocent civilians dead.
Although the top LRA leaders are wanted by The Hague- based International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Nsibambi said the government will convince the ICC to drop the charges if the LRA signs a peace deal.
But Mutua says justice at the international level is so rare in such atrocities like those committed by the LRA that credible domestic processes are necessary.