Welcome to the second edition of Voices Magazine. The aim of this magazine is to serve as an avenue for the victims we at the Justice and Reconciliation Project often engage with to narrate the diverse forms of experiences they underwent during the conflict. It is also an opportunity to communicate to those who need to pay attention and take action on their ordeals. In this edition, the focus is on reparation for victims of conflict.
The government of Uganda through the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) has taken significant steps to ensure that transitional justice concerns affecting the country are brought to the attention of government through the Transitional Justice Working Group. Of recent, under the International Crimes Division of the High Court (ICD), particular attention has been paid to how to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. However, as much as such efforts are vital, less attention has been paid to the Uganda Government’s efforts by way of reparations for the victims.
Clearly, both prosecutorial and the reparative efforts can be considered elements of justice, but the latter has not received sufficient systematic attention apart from the often sporadic political gestures and empty promises made to victims of conflict, such as those at Barlonyo, Mukura, and most recently Atiak, following political campaigns and political speeches.
It is worth emphasising that from the standpoint of victims, reparations occupy a special place in the move towards sustainable peace and development, especially in restoring the eroded confidence in government due to failures prior to and during the Northern Uganda conflict.
As you will read in this edition, for some victims reparations could offer the most tangible manifestation of the efforts of the state to remedy the harms they have suffered. Criminal justice, even if it were completely successful both in terms of the number of perpetrators accused (far from being the case in any transition) and in terms of results (which are always affected by the availability of evidence, and by the persistent weaknesses of judicial systems, among other factors) is, in the end, a struggle against perpetrators rather than an effort on behalf of victims (see Pablo De Greiff, ‘Repairing the Past: Compensation for Victims of Human Rights Violations’ pp 1-3). Any transitional justice process for Uganda therefore runs a risk of being considered by victims as an empty gesture – cheap and without any relevant meaning to victims. As expressed by one youth during a focus group discussion: “We youths are fed on the same stories every other time. We are told government is doing a lot to arrest Kony and yet we are tired of waiting, tired of promises and tired of anything that does not bring us food on the table. We can never forget what we went through unless we are compensated for time lost because our parents are long gone.”
The efforts to establish a truth telling body as recently embarked on by JLOS is welcomed, because it promotes a sense of closure and recognition of those who suffered, but in the absence of tangible benefits victims will always feel a sense of injustice because of their suffering. While looking back at the atrocities committed in West Nile for instance, in the article ‘When Killers are Rewarded’, Veronica recalls her narrow escape from the hands of her tormentors, and yet to date is yet to come to terms seeing her tormentors walk free while benefiting from a USD 4.2 million donor project. This, among other articles you will read in this issue, raises some perplexing concerns as to how to ensure reparation complements other transitional justice processes without hurting the victims – while at the same time addressing the demobilisation and reintegration concerns of perceived perpetrators.
In the end, decades of armed conflict in the northern Uganda has left victims without the acknowledgement of their suffering and without the means to deal with the consequences. As views published in this edition suggest, reparation when accompanied by other transitional justice mechanisms, will fill a special space for victims of conflict in Uganda.
I wish to thank JRP staff and all the contributors to this edition. Please enjoy your reading until we meet again in the next edition.▪