Welcome to our latest edition of Voices Magazine where we bring you some local perspectives on the ‘Right to Know’. In August JRP launched the ‘Right to Know’ campaign to draw attention to the significance of truth seeking and missing persons in the transitional justice discourse in Uganda. Key to this campaign is the legacy of the various conflicts that have occurred in Northern Uganda leaving hundreds of persons gone missing and in need of the truth of their whereabouts.
From its inception, JRP has been overwhelmed by the number of persons who claim they have lost their loved ones while others have gone missing. The most pronounced of these incidents have been attributed to LRA abductions, more especially to their method of forcibly recruiting innocent civilians to their ranks, torture, killing and maiming. However, we are also aware that another worrying trend of atrocities, such as disappearances in the past has been orchestrated by state agents. These however have largely been unspoken of, or even unreported. In fact, many families to date are still at bitter terms with the government for having a hand in the numerous disappearance persons gone missing in Northern Uganda as testified by one elder: “As the new government took over power they turned against the very people they claimed to have fought for. My children and several other relatives in this area went missing on accusations that they were collaborators. I am now an old man with no children …”
In August 2012, when we got together families/representatives of victims across the greater Northern Uganda in Gulu town, our anticipation (as usual) was to begin a dialogue around the ‘Right to Know’. The dialogue which begun at Gulu town in August should go a long way in re-awakening our thoughts around truth seeking and missing persons. From the August dialogue with victims and families of the missing, I learnt that the term ‘missing persons’ should be understood in its broadest sense. Missing persons or persons unaccounted for are those whose families are without news of them and/or are reported missing on the basis of reliable information. People become unaccounted for due to a wide variety of circumstances, such as displacement, whether as an internally displaced person or a refugee, being killed in action during an armed conflict, or forcibly or involuntarily disappearing. The issue of missing persons is thus intrinsically linked with the respect of rights of the families concerned. One of those fundamental rights is ‘Right to Know’ what happened to the loved ones.
This newsletter therefore in part seeks to give a voice to the missing persons, aware that Uganda is on course with developments around truth-telling. We do this because we know that in war many people go missing, causing anguish and uncertainty for families and friends. People have the right to know what happened to their missing relatives while at the same time governments, the military authorities and armed groups have an obligation to provide information and assist efforts to put families back together. Through the newsletter, we anticipate that the voices of those who still live in pain seeking to mourn their loved ones are reflected within the broader agenda of truth-telling and reconciliation in Uganda.
We assert that the lack of attention paid to the issue of truth-telling and more specifically missing persons doesn’t only give anguish to the families, but also hampers the efforts at reconciliation and a return to peace and stability in Northern Uganda. The ‘Right to Know’ goes beyond the ordinary pain and anguish suffered by individuals, but also the whole community who collectively have a duty to make peace and reconcile with their neighbours/perpetrators with whom they most often live side by side. We shall continue to work with victim/family networks since we have learnt they play an important role in the ‘right to know’ as well as in promoting public recognition of the problem. We believe what we have started through exchange of information between the victim networks across the different regions in the greater Northern Uganda could significantly influence the reconciliation process in the region. It should also help advance the cause of justice for the victims and their families, who want their loss to be taken into account.
Just like any transitional justice process, the ‘right to know’ should be depoliticised in a manner that binds all stakeholders without making any differences based on the ethnic or regional origin of the problem. Every victim has a ‘right to know’ therefore the call to address the plight caused by disappearance can never be underestimated by civil society and government of Uganda as narrated throughout the text of this magazine issue.
Finally, I take the opportunity to thank all our readers and the support shown throughout the year 2012. I also convey my gratitude to all the contributors to this magazine issue.