The need for a gendered approach to justice and reconciliation in northern Uganda

When the guns go silent, everything might seem peaceful, but for the victims of gross violations, the wounds still fester.

Many violations in northern Uganda conflict were perpetrated on the basis of gender. For instance, women and girls, boys and men were subjected to sexual violence and sexual slavery in various forms. Both men and women were raped with impunity. Young girls were abducted and forced into ‘marriage,’ unwanted pregnancies, sexual slavery and labor against their own will. Women and girls in the former IDP camps suffered rape and defilement by rebels and government soldiers. Oftentimes, this violence was perpetrated to torture the victims physically, psychologically and socially, and the impacts are horrifying.

Experiencing these violations has left open wounds in the hearts of the victims, who are pleading for healing and closure. After experiencing such abuses, many victims have not received adequate psychological, social or physical rehabilitation in order to live a comfortable life in the communities. Others are forced to come face-to-face with abusers who have never acknowledged wrong-doing, which constantly reminds survivors of the harms they suffered. More so, gender roles have changed because of the conflict and mass displacement, a challenge the returned communities are grappling with and which often fuels domestic violence in the homes.

What then should be done to address the plight of these victims?

Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights notes that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Yet, most of these violations inflicted on civilian populace were aimed at torturing, dehumanizing and punishing with no reason. What does it mean for a man to be raped by a fellow man? It is not ‘done for fun,’ but to degrade him. Consequently, this has led to depression and suicidal tendencies in many survivors. How well can we design our justice policies and programmes to suit the gender specific needs of victims, such as those of Tek gungu (male rape)? Many times when we talk of rape, people assume we are only talking about women. Such limiting runs the risk of excluding certain victims from post-conflict debates.

With these few notes, I would like to call upon different transitional justice stakeholders and all working in post-conflict societies such as northern Uganda to ensure that policies and programmes take into account the gendered nature of violations that occur in conflict in order to deliver gender justice to the victims of such abuses. It’s important that a response is proportionate and relevant to the degree of harm suffered by the victim, particularly those harms perpetrated by the fact that they were women or men, young girls or young boys. I would appreciate any feedback or suggestion on how gender could be incorporated into policy debates or post-conflict programmes such as reparations, traditional justice or accountability for violations.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s remember our brothers and sisters who are living with open wounds and seeking for justice, healing and closure after experiencing sexual and gender-based violence.

-Ketty Anyeko
JRP Gender Justice Team Leader