TJ Monitor: The Ugandan draft Transitional Justice Policy 2013

A case of courting survivors of conflict or accountability at last?

The Government of Uganda through the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) has reached a milestone by pulling a draft National TJ Policy, a first of its kind in Africa and the world at large. This policy is in response to Uganda’s legacy of past violations and seeks to provide accountability and reconciliation through a combination of justice mechanisms including formal criminal prosecutions, traditional justice, truth-telling and reconciliation, reparations and amnesty.

The policy comes alive in the interventions proposed in the above mentioned TJ mechanisms. The first pertains to the formal justice process which relates to securing victims’ participation in the trial process. The policy proposes to ensure witnesses to trials are protected, borrowing from precedents of witness protection from countries like the US that have formal witness protection programmes. Witness protection as it is involves much more than just posting a police officer or a security agent to the home of a witness for purposes of ensuring his or her protection before, during and after trial, not to mention the financial resources it requires. Considering that war crimes trials involve no less than hundreds of witnesses who in most cases come from the same community as the perpetrators facing trial, this would automatically dictate that witnesses be given new identities and  be relocated forthwith –  all of which have deep financial implications. Is the Government prepared to employ other evidentiary techniques like voice recordings bearing in mind the rights of an accused person to confront his or her accuser?

The TJ Policy under this mechanism further proposes to remove barriers to access to justice by victims. As we try to get inside the heads of the drafters of the policy, we are inclined to suppose this to include putting an end to impunity to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) committed during conflict by charging perpetrators of sexual violence with SGBV crimes besides other war crimes.

Under the truth-telling process, Government proposes to establish and implement a national truth telling process which should consider the unique gender needs and concerns of the survivors such as conducting separate truth telling sessions for women and male survivors of sexual violence and child victims.

Under reparations, Government proposes to establish and implement a reparations programme for victims of conflict which too is expected to respond to the unique gender needs and concerns of survivors following their commitment to mainstream gender in to the proposed mechanisms. It is expected that such a programme will have due regard to unique circumstances such as the needs of women survivors who returned home with children born in captivity or in internally displaced peoples’ camps as a result of forced marriage, rape, forced pregnancy or sexual slavery and male survivors who lost all their property in the wake of the conflict thus rendering them incapable of providing for their families and child headed families among others.

The traditional justice system under this draft policy has been recognised by the Government as a tool for conflict resolution, it remains to be seen how they intend to operationalise it especially where it involves victims and perpetrators hailing from different cultural settings or background. How does the Government of Uganda intend to harmonise the different cultural practices?

Acknowledging that each of the mechanisms have pros and cons, the notion of complimentarity comes in handy. In essence the mechanisms are meant to complement each other to ensure accountability and reconciliation. The challenges notwithstanding, the draft TJ Policy seems like the most appropriate response to past violations of human rights in Uganda, we only pray that this is not another case of courting victims, but rather spells accountability for victims of conflict.