Earlier this year, the international NGO Avocats sans Frontieres (ASF) consulted victims of mass atrocities in Uganda about their views on ways to repair the harm they have suffered. ASF wanted to get insight into what kind of reparations is needed by those who had suffered from the more than twenty-year insurgency by the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and what their priorities are. The issue of reparations is important in Uganda because there are local trials as well as a trial at the International Criminal Court which could end with a reparations award.
The study reinforced the importance of placing victims at the centre of any discussions regarding the establishment and implementation of a national reparations programme in Uganda.
“We already know what happened so we do not care about what is happening in the Hague. Set up a vocational training institution, employ our children who missed school.”
This comment, from a person consulted from Parabongo – a small village in Auru district, Northern Uganda which witnessed an LRA massacre in July 1996 – was typical of many victims: truth-seeking and prosecution rank low on their list of priorities; they want reparations programmes that cater for their basic needs.
Victims informed us that they are still traumatised by their horrific conflict experiences over the years. Until their trauma is dealt with, victims can’t be reasonably expected to meaningfully participate in the full spectrum of transitional justice processes, such as trials.
People told us that reparations could help them improve their dire economic situation by supporting livelihood projects and returning the property and other wealth they lost during the conflict. For some of the victims we met, individual reparations are seen as a better option because they leave room to decide how to use a given reparations award. This may be because in a collective reparations structure, their hands are tied. Some also wanted to cut out the “middle-man” in order to guarantee maximum reparation benefit for individuals. These points of view cut across many different audiences in the select regions of Northern and Eastern Uganda where consultations took place: Pagak, Burcoro, Parabongo, Atiak, Abia, Barlonyo, Obalanga and Amuria Town Council.
However, some victims were in support of collective reparations projects such as schools, hospitals, roads and the like. Overall, victims have a clear preference for programmes that touch individual lives directly – for instance; removing bullets from their bodies, providing counselling and medical rehabilitation. These components have largely been absent in government programmes.
Victims also strongly believe that restitution of their lost properties is a necessity. This may be because lost their animals and land during the conflict which has left them in dire economic and social need. A number of victims are interested in receiving compensation in the form of monetary compensation. Some currently do not have the money to access healthcare facilities, send their children to school or even afford basic necessities.
But it’s difficult for them to set an exact figure they would like to receive. “We cannot decide the amount because a beggar has no choice.” a respondent from Amuria Town council stated.
Other important reparations needs mentioned by victims were medical and psycho-social services, education opportunities, clean water, access to legal services in order to place their reparations demands before law courts, memoralisation, searching for the whereabouts of the dead and disappeared, construction of monuments, and commemoration days in remembrance of the relatives and friends who were killed during the insurgency.
So, reparations are a key priority for victims which need to be addressed sooner than later. We plea to the Government of Uganda, civil society, development partners and concerned stakeholders to listen to victims’ voices. They have specific needs and some of the support that could be offered is not compatible with their reality. Tangible long-term support should be offered in lieu of one-off efforts.
Romain Ravet is Uganda country director for Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) is an International NGO specialising in the defence of Human Rights and support for justice in fragile and post-conflict situations. For 25 years, ASF has been implementing programmes in various countries which improve access to justice for persons in vulnerable situations.