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What the victims want: reparations for northern Ugandans

Margaret was home in Opota, Acholiland, with her four-year-old son on the night the Ugandan rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attacked. She was taken from her house and made to lie down next to 12 other villagers. The LRA started to kill them one by one with a hoe.

Margaret, who became more and more agitated as she recalled that night said: “They lifted the hoe high into the air to kill me, but just before they brought it down, the head fell off. I prayed to Mary and the soldiers took it as a sign and decided to leave me alive. They told me to get ready to eat the dead, but they heard gun shots from government soldiers nearby and they ran away.”

After a conflict which lasted more than 20 years between the Ugandan Government and the LRA, victims of serious human rights violations in northern Uganda have yet to be granted their rights to remedy and the truth.

The aptly titled report “The Dust Has Not Yet Settled” outlines the concerns of some 2,300 victims of atrocities surveyed from 2007 to 2011 by the Ugandan Human Rights Commission and the UN Human Rights Office, after the cease-fire and signature of the Juba Protocols.

Recently launched at a conference in Kampala, the report uncovered that victims’ primary focus for remedy was making perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, and receiving material and symbolic reparations for the grave prejudice suffered, as provided for under international law.

Civil society organizations working with victims believe 11 categories of serious violations should trigger the right to remedy and reparation: killing; torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; abduction; slavery; forced marriage; forced recruitment; mutilation; sexual violence; serious psychological harm; forced displacement; and pillaging, looting and destruction of property.

The Juba peace agreements of 2006 acknowledge the need to grant reparations in various forms - including compensation, restitution and rehabilitation - and form the basis for the Ugandan Government to frame delivery of reparations to the victims.

“What we have on our hands now is not whether there should be reparations. I think internationally and domestically we agree that there should be reparations,” said Lawrence Gidudu, Chairperson of the Transitional Justice Working Group of Uganda’s Justice, Law and Order Sector. “What we are seeking here is a balancing of the equation; that a lot of energies and resources have been going into prosecuting the offenders and now, to balance the equation, the victims need attention.”

The report also revealed that most remedy and reparation responses for atrocities committed during armed conflicts have failed to incorporate women’s, girls’ and boys’ specific experiences, needs and rights. In Uganda as in other post-war contexts, the origins of violations of women’s and girls’ rights both predate conflict and are exacerbated during the conflict. Hence, remedy and reparation have an important role in helping address post-conflict socio-cultural injustices.

“Violence perpetrated against individual women generally feeds into patterns of pre-existing and often cross-cutting structural subordination and systemic marginalization,” said Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. “Therefore, measures of redress need to be linked to individual reparation and structural transformation. This implies that reparations should aspire, to the extent possible, to subvert instead of reinforce the patterns of discrimination and inequality that are a root cause of the violence that women experience.”

The Ugandan Government is developing a transitional justice policy which will include a reparations component. The recommendations in the report and the discussions around it lay a solid basis for engaging national stakeholders on a reparations policy and programming for victims of the northern Uganda conflict.

24 February 2012

See also