Gulu — Jennifer Abalo struggles to support two of her own and two of her late sister's children. She lost her father, sister and two of her children to Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) violence between 1998 and 2004, but like thousands of other victims she has never received any compensation, despite government promises.
In 2010 Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni promised monetary compensation to 10,000 victims of the two-decade-long war between the LRA and the government.
"The president had promised to start compensating us in 2010, but nothing is coming," Abalo told IRIN. "Life is hard, I am really struggling to manage. Government should have mercy to help us.
"My pressing problems are inability to send children to school, struggling to feed them and paying rent... The compensation money would help me buy land, construct a small house and start a business to raise some income for survival," said Abalo, one of whose sisters was disabled when the rebels sliced off her lips and ears.
The LRA - notorious for killing and maiming civilians and abducting women and children to use as sex slaves and fighters - have not operated in Uganda for about six years, but rebel chief Joseph Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court, and the remnants of his militia are still at large and have been linked to lootings, kidnappings and massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Penesy Lalam, 60, shares Abalo's frustration: Her daughter Margaret Aciro had her lips, nose and ears cut off by the LRA in 2005; Aciro was a witness for the state in the trial of former LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo, but has received no compensation.
"We have been deceived on so many occasions about compensation. However, I haven't seen anything on the ground to date," Lalam said. "We are now beggars."
Anthony Atube, chairperson of northern Uganda's Amuru District, said thousands of former internally displaced persons (IDPs) remained extremely poor and in need of support. "The attorney-general should look at the modalities of speeding up the compensation process for the victims as soon as possible; the president pronounced himself on the matter," he said.
Landowners in the north who hosted close to two million IDPs over the course of the war are also seeking compensation. "Our land was affected for hosting thousands of IDPs during the rebellion," said a landowner who preferred anonymity. "We need to get the compensation as a token of appreciation. The money will help us to buy fertilizers to rehabilitate our land."
State Minister for Northern Uganda Rebecca Amuge Otengo said the compensation exercise had been complicated by a lawsuit brought against the government by some war victims.
"The registration exercise started. However, some controversies came up. Some people went to court to sue government. This slowed the exercise... They are trying to hold other people hostage," Otengo, told IRIN.
More than 24,000 claimants from northern Uganda's Acholi and Lango sub-regions are seeking over US$1 billion in compensation for property and cattle they lost during the war.
"The government is committed to compensating all the war victims [and the] reconstruction and development of northern Uganda," Otengo said. "We are also looking at general programmes instead of compensating individual persons to enhance the socioeconomic status of the people in the region."
In addition to Museveni's promise, a 2006 provisional peace agreement signed by the Ugandan government in Juba, South Sudan, contained provisions for the government to provide compensation and reparations to victims of the conflict.
Need for documentation
Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance analyst at Makerere University's Refugee Law Project, said one of the problems with compensation was the lack of a legal framework within which it could be handled.
"As a country we don't have laws and a reparation policy that address issues of compensation for war victims," he said. "We don't have a clear commitment from government to document the victims and compensate them. So far what we have seen is just political gimmick. The statements are made and not backed by action."
"Clearly, there is an urgent need to compensate the LRA victims. Many of them are suffering from grave injuries as a result of the war. Many of them were maimed, tortured and amputated... They are not going to live longer if they don't channel some treatment and some form of reparation in terms of compensation to alleviate their suffering," he added.
"Everybody is a victim in northern Uganda. There is need for proper research, investigation and proper selection of the victims," said Lucy Lapoti, an advocacy officer for the government's Amnesty Commission in Gulu.
"We need community awareness campaigns on who is the victim and not. If the [compensation] process is tampered with, more internal wars among the community will rise again... Let it be a neutral process. There should be no political attachment on it as everybody suffered," she added.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]