18 February 2013

Uganda: After Years of Conflict, Uganda Has Opportunity to Compensate Victims

The government of Uganda should work to institute comprehensive reparations for victims of the war against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). So states a report to be released tomorrow in Kampala by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and the Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP).

The report, Unredressed Legacy: Possible Policy Options and Approaches to Fulfilling Reparations in Uganda, looks at ways that the Ugandan government could provide redress and acknowledge victims of the war, and other past conflicts in Uganda, as part of a national reparations plan.

During Uganda's war against Joseph Kony and his LRA forces, tens of thousands of people were abducted, raped, killed, tortured, forcibly recruited, and subjected to sexual slavery -- many of them children. The survivors and their communities continue to suffer the effects of these unspeakable crimes.

Drawing on extensive surveys carried out in northern, central, and western Uganda, the ICTJ-JRP report paints a picture of who was harmed in the fighting and what kinds of remedies they may need. It also tracks victims' changing needs over decades of war, displacement, confinement in camps and, for some, the return home.

"The government's role in remedying the consequences of the conflict has no substitute," explains Ruben Carranza, director of ICTJ's Reparative Justice program. "Even where violations were committed by rebels, the reality is that only the Ugandan government is in a position to offer a comprehensive program that acknowledges victims' experiences."

Adong Anna is the mother of three boys who were taken by the LRA and disappeared early in the conflict. She has asked for help, even sharing her only photo of her children with humanitarian aid workers. But so far she has received no news.

For years the families of the missing have sought answers about the fate of their loved ones or help with recovering their remains. But because so many of the abducted were forced to cross national borders or disappeared far from home, tracking and locating them is challenging.

A 2007 study by Tulane University and the University of California, Berkeley estimated that the LRA had abducted between 26,000 and 37,000 children.

A coordinated government program for the families of the disappeared could help Anna and others to locate their children, discover the truth about what happened to them, and move forward with their lives.

Similarly, many girls were abducted and subjected to sexual violence. They have since returned to their villages as young mothers only to face social stigma and serious financial challenges. Denied access to land or property and often rejected by their communities, these young victims need reparations that acknowledge their suffering and help restore their lives and livelihoods. As the report recommends, the plight of these "girl mothers" requires national intervention.

"Although the severity of victims' suffering and the kinds of reparations they seek may be different, the right to reparations remains firmly in force," says Boniface Ojok, program coordinator for JRP.

Providing comprehensive reparations will test Uganda's political and economic resolve. But the imperative to provide remedies like education, psychosocial support, and memorialization is too great for the government to ignore.

Given the widespread nature of the violations in Uganda, only a coordinated effort by government is likely to reach victims where they live. As the report suggests, a coordinating mechanism that ensures engagement across ministry and government agencies is needed for reparations to be effective.

"It's important for the government and the international community to invest money in catching perpetrators like Joseph Kony and holding them accountable," adds Carranza. "But it's equally important to ensure practical steps are taken to remedy the havoc wreaked on the lives of victims."

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