A beggar has no choice

12 July 2017

Kampala, 12 July 2017 – Between February and April 2017, ASF conducted consultations with victims of mass atrocities in Northern and Eastern Uganda, about their views on ways to repair the harm they have suffered. The consultations took place in areas affected by the insurgence of the rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Their purpose was to get insight into LRA victims’ reparation needs and priorities, as well as their perceptions of ongoing discussions within the Transitional Justice Policy framework. We asked ASF Uganda’s Country Director to highlight issues raised during these consultations.

What is the main finding of ASF’s study A Beggar has no Choice?

ASF’s Country Director Romain Ravet: Our study highlights the need victims have for compensation for what they lost during the war. It emphasises that they be recognised as victims who suffered loss and are entitled to these reparations. During the consultations, we came to the unfortunate realisation that most victims view themselves as ‘beggars’. They are not beggars. They are rights holders who need to be recognised as such. Yet, they face a great deal of injustice because not only have they suffered from crimes in the past but they today struggle with daily life as a result of these past crimes. For instance, many women have endured sexual violence which is a highly traumatic experience. Yet, as they are not being recognised as victims of these crimess they do not benefit from support in trauma healing or caring of the children born of war or rape. This is highly problematic: as unrecognized victims of traumatic crimes, these people are marginalised, in the Ugandan society. 

So, to be clear, what crimes are you talking of and how would one get about repairing them?

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in Northern Uganda took place over a period of two decades starting in 1987. In January 2004, the Government of Uganda referred the LRA situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Upon investigation by the ICC, the LRA commanders were charged with allegedly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. The results of these atrocities left many victims wounded physically and psychologically. There is dire need for psychosocial support to heal their minds and enable them to become fully functional members of their community. There’s also a need for access to public services, clean water, vocational training for their children, and agricultural tools to mention a few. ASF’s study details their needs and how these needs can be provided.

What is causing this delay in the implementation of reparations for victims of crimes?

There is a draft Transitional Justice Policy which is supposed to set up comprehensive mechanisms for truth telling, reconciliation, accountability and reparations of past crimes but it has not yet been tabled before Parliament. However this should not be an excuse for victims not to be granted reparations. Through various consultations, victims have clearly stated what it is they need. Government, civil society, development partners and other concerned stakeholders should come in to provide tangible support to victims. Government development programs are a responsibility of the sitting government to its citizens and should not be viewed as reparations.

In what ways do you think providing reparations will restore victims’ dignity?

No reparation can fully restore victims’ dignity, but some measures can bring relief to them. Providing free education to their children will allow them to envision a better future for themselves and their children. Better health services will physically relieve them of pain they are suffering and allow them to work to make a living. For instance one victim said she could no longer dig in her garden because of the physical pain she still lives with from the gunshot wounds.

Lastly, victims today live in a marginalised situation. There‘s an urgent need to empower them so their voices can be heard again. We believe that the law is a very adequate language to voice one’s needs and aspirations. Being able to frame one’s claim with legal standards does a great deal to get the claim across to and understood by the actors which bear the duty of guaranteeing human rights. As such, we believe that it is crucial to turn victims of atrocities into active right-holders, able to function within the Uganda society by being aware of their rights and being accompanied into claiming them.

What is ASF’s final plea to Uganda’s Government and Parliament, to CSOs and development partners regarding reparations for victims?

ASF would like to make a plea to listen to the victims voices. They have specific needs and some of the support being offered is not compatible with their reality. ASF would also like to suggest that tangible long term support is offered in lieu of one-off efforts.

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ASF has actively pushed for victim participation before the International Crimes Division (ICD) of the Ugandan High Court through spearheading the development of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence for the ICD, draft ICD Bill and the draft ICD Registry Guidelines. All these documents include provisions on how victims can participate before the courts and how best they can be represented. ASF has also worked closely with victims lawyers in the Thomas Kwoyelo case through training and trial monitoring. Most importantly, ASF has interfaced with victims through outreaches and information sessions where victims are empowered to know their rights.

The study A Beggar has no Choice was made possible with the support of the MacArthur Foundation.

Cover picture: Field consultations on Reparations in Northern and Eastern Uganda © ASF

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