Achieving Gender Justice through Truth Telling

By Kasiva Mulli

With a proposed truth-telling process being considered at national level, Gender Justice Team Leader Kasiva Mulli examines the factors that need to be taken into consideration if such a process is put in place from a gender perspective.

 Whichever form of truth-telling process that a community affected by conflict or repressive rule decides to adopt, it is essential that gender is included as a key component. This is important because truth-telling is the only transitional justice process offers an opportunity to address gender based violations in a broad way and allows for deeper investigations into structural and enabling factors while adopting recommendations that can promote gender equity as well as ensure the lives of women and men in question are transformed through policy and legislation. They also offer an opportunity for people to understand different roles played by different genders in conflict and their contribution to peace and development.

Due to their non-judicial nature and unlike prosecutorial processes, truth-telling bodies are able to provide flexibility in evidential requirements, broaden their scope of work and adopt friendlier ways of interacting with victims. This is especially important for victims of gender based violations who often shy away from the “ruthless” questioning and evidential requirements in prosecutorial processes. Applying lesser standards of evidential proof especially in sexual violations ensures that such crimes are not disregarded due to lack of direct evidence which is usually never available due to lapse of time.  

Inclusion of a gendered perspective in any truth-telling process is not obvious. In fact many a truth-telling processes in the world have been accused of either neglecting gender or dealing with gender based violations in a very narrow way thus closing an opportunity to interrogate deeper the causes of such violations. Many truth-telling processes also tend to limit gender based violations to sexual based crimes only. Sexual based crimes are serious offences which should be dealt with seriousness but it is important to appreciate that gender based violations are much more than sexual based crimes and can involve marginalization,  displacements,  loss of livelihoods and challenges of new roles taken up by different genders in post conflict situations like women and orphans heading households.

The conflict in Northern Uganda has resulted in many gender based violations including rape, forced marriages, sodomy, forced pregnancies, displacements, loss of life, loss of livelihoods amongst others. Uganda has an opportunity to ensure that these violations are well tackled by any truth seeking process that will be adopted. The question then becomes: how can we ensure that gender aspects are included and comprehensively dealt with by a truth seeking process?  

To ensure that any truth seeking process is able to deal comprehensively with gender based crimes it is important to take the following into consideration:-

Firstly, the mandate of any truth-telling process needs to be broad enough to provide for a wider and deeper interpretation of 1) what amounts to gender based violations; 2) the structural context enabling these violations to occur in the said conflict; and, 3) the different roles played by both genders in the conflict. This assists in ensuring that issues of gender are not dealt with in a superficial manner, i.e. just scratching the surface but through a comprehensive and multifaceted way which digs deeper to the root causes and enabling factors. The way a truth process defines a human rights violation will also contribute to how that violation will be handled. Some of gender based violations may not present themselves outwardly in the form of injuries resulting from crimes like torture but may be non-physical like social economic crimes which may contribute to the physically visible violations and will require the same serious attention.  

Secondly, it is very important to ensure that the personnel of any truth-telling process is gender balanced. The presence of women or men among the staff makes such a process approachable to victims of each gender. However, ensuring gender balance does not mean that gendered issues will be solved: the staff need to understand what gender is and what violations are suffered as a result of one belonging to either gender. This can be achieved through continuous training of staff on gender based violations and how to handle victims of such violations.    Measures should also be taken by the truth seeking body to protect victims from stigmatisation and re-victimisation. It is important to build confidence through upholding confidentiality, especially for men who have suffered sexual violations, because it is not easy for them to come forward and provide testimony on such an issue. 

Thirdly, it is essential that these violations are captured at the statement taking stage.   Statement taking is the backbone of any truth-telling process. It is through this initial stage in any truth-telling process that determines how the commission will establish patterns of violations for investigative purposes. Ensuring that statement taking is gender friendly will encourage participation of victims resulting to highlighting these crimes. Most victims of gender based violations do not openly talk about the violations they suffered but tend to highlight other violations committed against people they know. It is thus important for statement takers to ensure they can sieve through testimonies to establish these violations while at the same time been sensitive to the victim in question. It is also advisable at this stage for a truth-telling body to work with victim groups who will help them identify victims of these violations and encourage them to provide their testimonies.

Other essential issues to take into considerations are how investigations are conducted as well as the role of research. Due to its non-judicial nature, investigators in a truth-telling process have an opportunity to be creative. They can provide invaluable insight as to the root causes of gender related violations, existing structural inequalities that lead to these violations and discriminative practices adopted by a state or a society. Unlike judicial bodies, they can adopt friendlier ways of investigating sexual based violations taking into consideration that due to lapse of time it will not always be easy to get evidence.

Researchers can play a critical role of ensuring that there is qualitative participation of all genders. Interviewing many women and men does not always result to establishing gender based violations, this is especially so for women who always treat themselves as secondary victims. Through continuous tracking, the truth-telling body can continuously adopt measures to encourage victims to speak out about violations committed to them in their own person.   Researchers should also work with civil society organizations, academics and victim groups who usually have documented these violations during and after the conflict. They can provide very valuable literature to harness the final report.  

Another important and crucial issue is the outcome of a truth-telling body which is usually in the form of a report. It is important for gender issues to be captured well and clearly at this stage.   This is because this is usually the relationship of the truth-telling process and the public.  Articulating gender based violations well in the report ensures that the public knows and acknowledges violations committed to different genders. It can also provide basis for advocating for law reform and gender equity. Gender based organisations need to be vigilant to ensure that gender issues form a critical part of the report and useful recommendations are generated. ▪

 Kasiva Mulli is the Team Leader for JRP’s Gender Justice Department.