The long walk: Uganda adopts a Transitional Justice Policy
On 17th June 2019, the Government of Uganda announced the passing of the National Transitional Justice Policy (NTJP), after a decade-long formulation and adoption process. This was followed by an official release of the Policy in September. The passing of the Policy is partly fulfilling the Government’s commitments on accountability and reconciliation made during the Juba Peace process that started in 2006, as well as its constitutional obligations. Generally, the NTJP addresses the legal and institutional framework for investigations, prosecutions, trial within the formal system, reparations and alternative justice approaches. These matters are clustered into five key priority areas including: formal justice, traditional justice, nation building and reconciliation, amnesty and reparations. It is envisioned that the NTJP will work towards achieving peace, stability and social cohesion.
Why does a Transitional Justice Policy matter?
The adoption of the NTJP raises hope especially for the victims, who have for the last two decades been left with uncertainty on whether, when and how past violations committed against them would be dealt with. Additionally, albeit in a vague way, it also provides an overview of how the relevant stakeholders may contribute towards its implementation. The Policy specifically notes that whereas the Government will provide an enabling environment for its implementation, it will be implemented under a multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional approach that involves collaboration between various stakeholders. Funding will be coming from Government and non-State actors including development partners, the private sector and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).
The long walk to adoption
The development of the NTJP emanates from an initially broad consultative, participatory and inclusive process informed by studies and research undertaken by the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS), as well as consultations with and by CSOs. Efforts were further taken to garner views and contributions from the civil society through the Transitional Justice Working Group, an initiative of JLOS during the early formulation stages. In the later stages, however, the Transitional Justice Working Group was transformed into a Plenary limited to only Government officials, consequentially eliminating CSOs from the process. To keep the momentum of the advocacy, CSOs took initiatives to hold consultative meetings within their networks and provide feedback to JLOS. They advocated for the adoption of the policy through providing platforms for stakeholders, including Members of Parliament through the Greater North Parliamentary Forum, and pushed to fast track the development of the NTJP.
In order for the NTJP to achieve its objective, it is important that its implementation is not further delayed and that some areas of the policy are clarified.
First, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as entrusted to lead the implementation, should set up an effective coordination structure, able to implement policy directions across sectors and to coordinate the respective contributions of the multiple actors involved in the implementation. In particular, the coordination structure should organize the participation of civil society organizations as they have built strong and reliable interface with the policy’ beneficiaries in post-conflict areas, in particular with victims of human rights violations.
Second, the policy, albeit a general framework, defaults a considerable part of its implementation modalities on the adoption of a number of complementary legislations. Among others the Policy makes the adoption of a Transitional Justice Act, and legislations on Witness and Victim Participation, Traditional Justice Mechanisms, and comprehensive reparations, preliminary requirements to its own implementation. Given the protracted process that led to its adoption, further bureaucratic delays could only add up to the general sense of fatigue among TJ stakeholders, in particular victims.
Finally, the reparation area of the policy remains quite vague. The idea of a reparations fund, mentioned in earlier drafts of the policy, has now been left out
from the final text, as the NTJP refers to a ‘consolidated fund’ without further details. The policy is further silent on the question of court-ordered reparations for victims of past atrocities and ignores the concrete avenues for victims to obtain reparations (including but not limited to financial compensation) through court processes. Overlooking reparations would jeopardize the Policy’s objectives. Indeed, victims in Uganda have made it clear that they expect reparations above all other outcomes of their participation in accountability processes. The absence of a perspective on reparations is thus likely to take away victims’ main rationale to participate in criminal proceedings, if not in the overall forthcoming transitional justice mechanisms.