Private: Formal Justice and Accountability for People in Northern Uganda

This research seeks to document and analyze the formal justice mechanisms that will be established by the government of Uganda in response to the widespread grave crimes and human rights violations that occurred during the 22-year war in northern Uganda. Our project seeks to provide timely, precise, and insightful documentary evidence and analysis, drawing on our investigation into how victims and survivors view and experience these justice mechanisms. We aim to inform the processes as well as policies and responses that emerge as the processes unfold. Additionally, the final report and publications serve as important historical documents for the people of Uganda and those in the international community concerned with formal systems of accountability and justice in post-war societies.

This research focuses on three broad justice and accountability mechanisms in post-war Uganda, with an emphasis on crimes of a sexual nature and gender-based crimes and violations (both sexual and non-sexual in nature): truth-telling or fact-finding bodies; court proceedings and prosecution for serious crimes and grave rights violations committed during the conflict; and reparations for victims of serious crimes and grave rights violations.

The purpose of this work is to provide real-time documentation and analysis of justice and accountability mechanisms in Uganda, and to investigate the links between these mechanisms and people’s perceptions and experiences of accountability and reconciliation in northern Uganda. This research began in July 2008 and continued through 2010.

Our research teams documented, analyzed, and reported on grave crimes and human rights violations committed in northern Uganda—including both the Acholiland and the Lango sub-regions—by all sides of the conflict between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda . Our specific focus has been on crimes and rights violations against women and girls and, to a lesser extent, against men and boys.

The parties to the protracted conflict in northern Uganda have been engaged in peace negotiations since 2006. The most contentious issues to come out of this process regard accountability and justice for the grave crimes and rights violations suffered by civilians, in particular young women and girls. Most of these crimes and violations were committed by the LRA, although the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defense Force), local Ugandan militias, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) are also culpable.

Our team contributed to Agenda Item 3 of the peace process, which was signed on February 28, 2008. This agenda item, on accountability and reconciliation, contains guidelines for setting up truth-telling, prosecution, reparation, and transitional justice bodies. Agenda Item 3 is a path-breaking document and sets very high standards for how accountability mechanisms should move forward. The importance of this document makes a thorough analysis of the document and its outcomes even more important for Uganda and the world.


The team will consult with key stakeholders and interested groups throughout the study, including during the finalization of the study design and the project implementation. These groups include survivors’ and victims’ groups, national legal groups such as the Uganda Women Lawyers’ Association, national women’s human rights groups including Isis-WICCE, Unicef Protection and Child Protection, and OHCHR (the point UN agency on the ground for justice). We have been in contact with these groups regarding the possibility of such a study since the beginning of the planning process, and met with representatives of these organizations in Uganda in March and April 2007. We received positive feedback on the need for such research and the application it would have to informing national processes.

Throughout the study, we will maintain close contacts with relevant local leaders and officials both inside Uganda and internationally. This will help to ensure that our findings are communicated and have a better chance of influencing policy and programming. We will also prepare a series of timely briefing reports on current findings and make these available to the main parties involved in processes and mechanisms of accountability and justice. We will carefully tailor these briefings for the different audiences, ranging from the local populations that experienced the crimes and violations to the accountability and justice bodies themselves.

We will also prepare and publish a final report for distribution within Uganda and internationally. Additionally, we will prepare and submit two articles for peer-reviewed scholarly publications on the study’s findings. Finally, we will offer public and private briefings within Uganda and internationally to interested and relevant stakeholders.


We are seeking to impact institutional change at four levels: local, national, regional, and international. At the local and national levels, the series of timely briefing reports will present current findings to the key parties. Given the fluidity of the process, our work has the potential to positively influence these bodies and assist them to better carry out their intended functions. At both the local and national level, our work will provide a written record on truth-telling and accountability processes. Our project will make an important contribution in this regard by featuring the experiences and accounts of women and children. We believe that if done rigorously and from a gender and generational perspective, this research will contribute substantially to the ways in which Ugandans (now and in the future) understand the conflict and the responses to it by the state and civil society.

In addition, by working in partnership with a local grassroots organization, we hope to facilitate the expansion of the work and research capacity of this organization in the areas of justice, accountability, and reconciliation. This organization already has experience in these areas, but we hope that this work will become more sustainable through our shared collaboration on this project. We also hope that the research findings will make a significant contribution to the future policy and programming of this local organization.

At the national and international levels, our research briefings will seek to inform the policy and programs of UNICEF and OHCHR, Uganda, as these are among the international bodies most concerned with and most active in working for justice for victims and survivors in northern Uganda.

At the regional and international levels, our work will be informed by and formally link up with (and in doing so help to inform) regional and international efforts regarding accountability, reparation, redress, and remedy, specifically for women, children, and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. We will work most closely with UNICEF, OHCHR, and Women and Armed Conflict, an international network of lawyers and human rights defenders focusing on justice for women and girls in armed conflict.

This research is complemented by the in-depth work by Feinstein’s Uganda and Sudan team among war-affected communities. That team’s work gauges the perceptions and (more rarely) the experiences of local populations regarding justice and accountability processes. Additionally, this project dovetails with Feinstein’s work on traditional justice systems in northern Uganda.

For eight years, the Feinstein team worked closely with a grassroots human rights NGO based in northern Uganda. The team also maintained close links with OHCHR and the child protection teams of UNICEF in Uganda, and connected with UNICEF researchers working on transitional justice at UNICEF’s research center, the Innocenti Centre, in Florence, Italy.

Moreover, Feinstein’s researchers sought to cultivate strong ties with survivors’ and victims’ groups, national legal groups such as the Uganda Women Lawyers’ Association, national women’s human rights groups including Isis-WICCE, and key members of the Ugandan parliament, and the Ugandan Human Rights Commission.