National War Victims’ conference - Day 2

Victims’ Voices – Conference concludes with Conference participants sharing their Transitional Justice ideas and requests

30th May 2014, Kampala

The final day of the National War Victims’ Conference began with a presentation by the war victims Susan Acan from Gulu. Her presentation emphasised the importance of incorporating gender into Transitional Justice processes.

Her organisation, Empowering Hands, works with women who were abducted by the LRA – many of whom returned home with children to find they were stigmatised and marginalised by their communities.

“We began by grouping together 25 abductees and 5 women who had remained at home,” she said. “By putting them together we could make it clear women who had been in the bush had not made that choice and they had many challenges facing them when they returned home.”

Ms. Acan explained how women who returned home were shunned by people in the community and often by their own families. “So many women were young girls when they were taken – 10, 11, 12 years old – and they came back with children, but wanted to marry.

“If they fell in love with a boy, the boys’ families would say to them ‘Why go for a girl like that from the bush? They are traumatised and could burn your house or kill you at any time’,” Ms. Acan said.

The activist explained how the abducted women had suffered appallingly in the bush, tortured and raped by their captives and often forced to fight.

“They came home and still suffered from violence because they were women,” she said. “Tensions lead to increased violence against women as they struggle to reassert control.

“But we need a safe environment to have the opportunity to speak our minds. We do not have to do what the men say just because they are men; we are equal and can do what men do. That should be recognised by our leaders.”

Ms. Acan outlined how difficult it was for women to participate in traditional justice and community decision-making processes and demanded for this to change and for the Government to recognise the specific plight of abducted women.

“Women were taken into captivity and came back with children but were marginalised,” she said. “They need legal representation for land disputes, they need counselling, they need direct reparations for what they have suffered.”

She also demanded for schools to be set up specifically for abducted women who were taken during their education, and for their children.

“For Transitional Justice to work, it needs to be gender-sensitive, women need medical rehabilitation, they need education, not just vocational training, they need to share their experiences and speak their mind.”

Reparations – the healing process

The afternoon started with the screening of the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) which featured AYINET Director, Victor Ochen and the Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission, Justice Ogoola, discussing the importance of reparations for victims.

“It is a mammoth task and mammoth task require mammoth solutions,” Justice Ogoola said.

The video explained how the LRA have no resources to provide for reparations – an issue the Juba peace process recognised and insisted that the Government should take responsibility for.

“The Government are there to protect its citizens and if that goes wrong then there should be some form of reparation from them.”

Mr. Ochen stressed the difference between reparations and aid and outlined how victims have lost trust in Government promises because of the constant delays.

“The community needs to own the process, let them take ownership and let them know reparations are for them,” he said.

Victims’ response to Transitional Justice – a chance to discuss the conference

The victims then separated into four groups to discuss reparations, amnesties, health, truth telling, missing people and reconciliation and give presentations on their desires for change.

Truth telling – Victims said they were prepared for truth telling but felt the Government did not want to accept it because of what could come out of the process. A representative suggested the policy should be delivered by the JLOS rather than the Ministry for Justice or Ministry for Internal Affairs.

“Truth telling must not be delayed and must be put into law,” one of the groups’ spokesperson said. “It is a major urgency and must happen even if it takes 30 years.”

“There also need to be structures to provide psychosocial support and the support must be free.”

Another group representative said that truth telling needed “acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness.”

“Safe environments must be created for both victims and perpetrators and psychosocial support given once the truth comes out.”

The representative also said that the Government needed to look to other countries like Rwanda and South Africa who have tried similar policies to decide how to adjust it for Uganda.

A different group said civil society needed to help develop the draft National Transitional Justice Policy and speed the process up. They also argued that the Government needed to sensitise local leaders so that they welcomed victims and made truth-telling processes accessible to all victims, especially those who are marginalised.

Missing people – One group said it was paramount that missing people were tracked, in order to help communities move on from what happened.

“These people need to be tracked,” one representative said. “The LRA is still fighting but the fact remains children were forced to join them when they were young and they are still missing. The Government needs to begin talking with the LRA to find out where they are.”

Other groups said there needed to be some accountability in the Government’s efforts to find the missing people. “A database of everyone who is missing needs to be drawn up and experts sent to South Sudan and the DRC to check sources and information for where people are.”

Reparations – Victims unanimously demanded for the reparation process to be delivered immediately by the Government.

“A trust fund must be made to cater for victims,” a representative said. “We need to encourage the Government and civil society to follow this but NGOs should get the funding. The elections are coming and promises will not be delivered.”

Another group said there needed to be an assessment of victims’ needs, with another stressing the importance of medical, psychosocial, educational and livelihood support.

“A commission should be established to database all the victims and to stop corruption, there must be victim representatives.”

“There also needs to be grassroots mobilisation because there are a lot of victims out there who need to know they should also get reparations who do not have access.”

Reconciliation – One group said that to deal with the atrocities, victims “need to say how they feel about them” and what can be done to improve their lives.

“Everyone is still crying about who was captive and who captured their sons,” a representative said. “There needs to be reconciliation at both a community and national level. No one wants to talk about it, but it is paramount. A real strategy is needed.”

Amnesties – For some victims, a new amnesty bill needs to be enacted to allow some prosecution. Many are angry rebels returned home with amnesties and were given money or jobs.

“It needs to be investigated,” one representative said. “There also needs to be witness protection in court – if you blow your whistle they will come and kill you but lots of people need to share their experiences.”

Another group said amnesties needed to be linked with other Transitional Justice policies and should distinguish between ages and whether people were forced to fight or took up arms willingly.

“Those who were abducted should not be forced to take amnesty. Amnesty should be done after the truth telling process and should not cover serious crimes.”

A time for change

AYINET Director Victor Ochen closed the three day conference by applauding the victims for their courage in speaking out and solidarity in standing together to promote peace in Uganda. He relayed a personal message from President Museveni, saying that a report of the Conference, incorporating the views of victims, should be shared with him as soon as possible after the Conference, presenting the first post-Conference follow-up step.