A Truth-Telling Process that will lead to reconciliation

By Nancy Apiyo

Continuing from last issues ‘Ododo Wa: Our Stories’ (‘Storytelling, Gender and Reparations’ Voices, Issue 2, September 2012), JRP’s Gender  Justice department uses the mechanism of story telling to ascertain the views of war affected women on the Right to Know, truth-telling processes, missing persons and the need for reconciliation at community level.

 A group of about twenty women are silent and listening attentively while we explain what a truth telling process is. We give them illustrations on how a truth process is conducted and how it has worked in other countries. We also explained how the process can led to healing,   reconciliation, reparations, prosecution or any other post conflict recovery processes that are recommended. Women who took part in this discussion were formerly abducted women who stayed in captivity for various periods of time. We use illustrative discussions, drama, songs and theatre to make the women understand what we are discussing. The women play games in between the sessions to make them more engaged and comfortable. When we ask them later if they think a truth telling process should take place in regard to the conflict in Northern Uganda they keep quiet for some time. We get curious why it was taking them so long to respond yet they are usually very active until they start to explain. They explain that they are hesitant to answer because they feel bringing back the past might bring more violence. On the other hand also they felt it was important to have a truth telling process. In one groups   where the women used colours to illustrate what the future would be like they put white and red to show what an outcome of a truth telling process would be like.  Red meaning recurrence of violence and white meaning peace.   

Aida was abducted at ten and wonders who among the four men who raped her during the conflict should be prosecuted. On top of that she was forced as a child to engage in active combat.  She was a soldier, mother, wife, porter and had to do anything the rebels asked her to do. She does not know who should be held accountable for the violations that happened to her. To her everyone is guilty and everyone should be accountable for what happened to her during the conflict: the community members for reporting her whereabouts to the rebels leading to her abduction, the government for not protecting her, the international community for being silent over the conflict in northern Uganda for a long time and the rebels for subjecting her to such extreme violations. Life is not any easier now that she is home.  The community has failed to accept her back because she was with the rebels. In addition to this, she has to take care of children she bore while in captivity, children she never wanted in the first place but now form part of her life. She ponders about this loudly as we listen.  Many of the women we meet with are struggling with the same issues.   

One of the groups plays a skit about one of the massacres. Some of the women took part in it and know they are not innocent. They live with the guilt, trauma and struggle to survive everyday   in a community where it is hard to differentiate who is a victim or a perpetrator amidst poverty.  They say so many things happened in the past that it is better for people to move on and stop dwelling in the past. 

After staying in Sudan for a long time,  Rhoda  and her husband decided it was time to come back home but the rebels got to know of their plans and her husband was forced to do an atrocity that made him a wanted man. She still recalls the conversation they had up to today.  She says, “He really wanted to come back home but when he was forced, he could not and there was no turning back.”

She still looks at him as an innocent boy who was trained and later turned evil. Just like her he was abducted at a young age from his parents and joined the rebels in the bush. She thinks his lapwony (teacher) should be the one who is responsible for his acts. It makes sense now to me that commanders in the bush were called lapwony and not according to their rank because they were indeed teachers.  I used to wonder why the women referred to the men as lapwony. I ask myself whether between a teacher and student who should be held   responsible for a child’s bad or good performance.

 After we had a long discussion the women said they think it is important to have a truth telling process so that truth is known and justice prevails. They said it is important that the facts of what they went through is known so that people can acknowledge that they are victims and establish who should be held responsible for their suffering. They also feel that a truth telling process will help identity the root cause of the atrocities. To them, reconciliation is the most important thing, followed by reparation. They think that any truth telling process should lead to reconciliation and reparations.

The majority of the women who were forcefully married off to commanders want reconciliation to take place between their clans and that of the men who abducted them. The women say that for the sake of their children, they want reconciliation between the two clans so that their children can live in harmony. They said they would be conflicting with themselves by wanting to prosecute the men and also wanting the children to identify with their fathers and their clans. Right now, these women feel that their children are important and that they need identity within the community.

They say that the government and the top commanders of LRA should be held responsible because they are to blame for the atrocities they went through. Those who were given to junior commanders   feel that the men they were given to in the bush were victims too because they were forced to marry them. They agree that it is important to have a truth telling process as long as it will lead to reconciliation and reparation. They are adamant about prosecution because they are tired of war and disunity.    They want to heal and move on after the conflict.  

When we asked them how a truth process should help them, they said that a truth process should change the lives of women to make it better. They think there should be an economic and social change in the current situation that women are in. They also feel that traditional institutions should be strengthened so that they can hold an informal process that will lead the community to healing and reconciliation. One of the respondents in a group says, “The rwodi (chiefs) should be involved so that they can talk to the affected clans to foster reconciliation.”

One of the groups acts a skit on how the process can take place using the chief and the traditional institutions as mediators between victims and perpetrators. They say to have genuine reconciliation all parties named should be supported for some time to engage fully in the process. They also think women should be actively involved in the process as full and equal participants. Reports on testimonies should be kept well and then disseminated to the public.  The community should be involved in planning and implementing the process so that the outcome of the process can make sense to them. They also said it is important for the community to say the truth and not be bribed to give false testimonies. They also suggest that   the truth about what all parties did be the government, rebels, those who were abducted and the community should be established so that there is justice. They also feel it is important that such a process should incorporate measures to ensure that women are able to tell give evidence about what they know in a private way, although some feel they are bold enough to share their stories publicly.

 All in all the women feel that a truth process is a necessary measure in the context of the Ugandan war. They also feel that they would support an unofficial truth telling process spearheaded by religious and cultural leaders. They however insist that such a process must lead to reconciliation and recommend reparations. They also feel that such a process will clarify some preconceptions the community has about them leading to forgiveness and acceptance.

The women are indeed tired of war, disunity and violence.  That is   why reconciliation is at the fore front of all their discussions. This has to be respected and valued if the women have to get the kind of justice they desire and deserve.

Nancy Apiyo is a Project Officer with JRP’s Gender Justice Department.