People First! Justice, Accountability, and Reparation in the Greater North of Uganda

The LRA and the Government of Uganda (GoU) have waged a brutal guerrilla war for over two decades that has heavily impacted citizenry of the Greater North of Uganda and South Sudan, and, more recently, of CAR and the DRC. The GoU responded, in part, by encouraging most of the citizenry in heavily affected areas into camps, which were soon afflicted by disease and despair. Between 1987 and 2008, in northern Uganda alone, nearly two million people were displaced and impoverished, at least 60,000 youth kidnapped and forced to serve in the LRA, and untold thousands killed. Thousands more experienced torture, rape, slavery, sexual slavery, inhuman and degrading treatment and abuse, or saw their family members, friends, and neighbors killed, raped, beaten, or displaced. Nearly everyone in the region felt the effects as health, education, and social welfare systems crumbled.

As the conflict between the LRA and the GoU continues into its 24th year, there is ongoing uncertainty about the collapsed Juba Peace Process (2006–2008) and the current resumption of armed conflict between the LRA and Uganda army. The LRA has stepped up attacks in eastern DRC, South Sudan, and parts of CAR, but has not recently attacked northern Uganda. In Uganda, the path to peace, justice, and accountability outlined in the Juba Peace Accords remains uncertain. However, new and important developments are taking place, with the GoU, the United Nations, local civil society organizations, and key development partners moving forward on practical discussions of justice, accountability, and reparation for grave crimes and gross violations against civilians.

In 2010 and 2011, we worked closely with the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC, Uganda’s national independent human rights commission) on documenting victims’ views on their rights to remedy and reparation. Working with OHCHR and UHRC, we led four regional and two national meetings on remedy and reparation with victims and members of the Uganda Justice, Law and Order Sector. In addition, Dyan Mazurana and Teddy Atim prepared and presented a report on the views of over 2,000 victims published by OHCHR and UHRC, which they presented at a national conference on the topic in September 2011.

Our plan is to continue and build on our work with local, national, and international policy makers and programmers to remain engaged in issues of justice, accountability, and reparation, to ensure that the concerns and priorities of women and children (as articulated in our study) are recognized and considered at all three levels. At the community level, our approach is a participatory one within the community. We view this as a process to empower the community to take action on their own needs and articulate their rights and interest, while addressing their most pressing needs. As a result of our collaborative work with them, men, women, and children are now able to discuss more openly their different situations in the community and talk about a way forward. We see this as a process of social, cultural, political, and economic transformation. The communities are becoming more active in determining their wellbeing, including being able to hold themselves and their leaders accountable and demand appropriate action to address their needs.

We have also received support from the Ford Foundation and the Compton Foundation to continue their work on documenting mass atrocities, grave violations and crimes, and victims’ views on remedy and reparation throughout the Greater North of Uganda. The Ford Foundation work will focus on mass atrocities, including massacre and enforced disappearance. The team continues to work closely with OHCHR and UHRC and have been commissioned to design a large-scale, representative study for documentation of violations and their impacts and victims’ rights to remedy and reparation throughout the entire Greater North of Uganda, which would directly feed into the Uganda government’s deliberations on this matter. They continue to work closely with local civil society organizations, most notably the Uganda Victims Foundation, that directly respond to victims needs, including medical, reproductive health, and food security.