Addressing the Rights of the Missing and their Families in Northern Uganda
I reiterate in the strongest possible terms that under international law, no one should be kept in secret detention. States should provide full information about the whereabouts of persons who have been disappeared. And they must effectively implement the right to the truth, justice and reparation for all victims and their families. Enforced disappearance is a practice that cannot be tolerated in the 21st Century.
This firm declaration by the UN Secretary General foregrounding enforced disappearances as unacceptable violations of human rights, resonates especially with the context of northern Uganda, as it emerges from the devastation of a protracted armed conflict spanning over 20 years. In the midst of post-war recovery and reconciliation efforts in northern Uganda, the issue of enforced disappearances and missing victims of mass atrocities during the war stands as a key obstacle in the process of healing, social repair, and advancement of transitional justice in the region.
In a political climate of impunity and gross human rights violations during the 1986-2006 armed conflict, civilians in northern Uganda were abducted and went missing at alarming rates. Systematic abductions of children and youth by the Lord’s Resistance Army to bolster its military strength and terrorize communities led to approximately 24,000 to 38,000 children being abducted and forcibly recruited as child soldiers in northern Uganda. Compounding the issue was state-led abductions of women as wives and sexual slaves by the National Resistance Army during the armed conflict.
The astounding magnitude of missing victims warrants a legal and moral obligation on part of the Government of Uganda to address the needs of the missing persons and their families. Upholding legal accountability under the purview of International Humanitarian Law, the Ugandan government is legally required to recognize certain inalienable rights of the missing, which include the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to a fair trial and effective remedy, the right to know the truth regarding the circumstances of their disappearance, and the right to an identity, among others.
However, the plight of the missing and their families has been marginalized in the national agenda of Government of Uganda, and there has been neither a national initiative to oversee search efforts of the missing, nor considerations for providing formal support to their families. Given this backdrop, the anguish of families of missing persons continues to linger and gets compounded by myriad unaddressed psychological, legal, administrative, social and economic challenges. This underscores the urgent need for concerted efforts to address the unhealed wounds and unmet needs of the missing victims and their families, which is indispensable to fostering long-term structures of sustainable peace and stability in northern Uganda.
Recognizing this gap, JRP launched the “Right to Know” campaign in 2012, in collaboration with the families of the missing to document and promote awareness of the plight of the missing persons and the anguish of their families. Furthering its commitment to create awareness, establish accountability and seek redress for the issues of missing persons and their families, JRP is now leading efforts at collaborating and strategizing with multiple stakeholders, to embed advocacy at different levels of the society in northern Uganda and at national level. To this end, JRP has identified that sustained engagement with diverse stakeholders across different levels of the society, including policy makers, civil society organizations, community members, victims groups and local leaders is vital.
We seek to ensure that:
1. The problem of missing persons becomes a topical issue in discussing transitional justice processes in Uganda in a manner that the on-going developments capture the unique aspect of missing persons and their families.
2. Civil society, NGOs and other stakeholders begin to pay attention to the issue of missing persons in their engagements with victims in northern Uganda.
3. There is national observance and commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared.
Focused activities will be conducted throughout the month of August in preparation for the commemoration of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30, 2015.
– Re-organize families of the missing persons to strategize and engage in community outreaches to creating awareness about missing persons and demand for redress as they seek for the fate of their loved ones.
– Conduct consultation meetings with stakeholders at both local and national level to get their views to inform the direction to take
– Rally support for the Right to Know campaign and redress to families of the missing persons.
– Organize open stakeholders’ dialogue in commemorating the International Day of Enforced Disappearance through a forum for panel discussion on TJ development and justice for missing persons and their families.
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