LRA Victims Demand Implementation of Local Transitional Justice

The victims say they do not view the on-going trial of Dominic Ongwen and Thomas Kwoyelo the two former commanders of the Lords Resistance Army commanders as an end in dealing with past legacies of the two decades of conflict in the region.
Mato-Oput Ceremony Among The Acholi People

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Victims of the Lord's Resistance Army insurgency in Northern Uganda want religious and cultural leaders in the region to trigger parallel implementation of local transitional justice mechanisms in affected communities.

The victims say they do not view the on-going trial of Dominic Ongwen and Thomas Kwoyelo the two former commanders of the Lord's Resistance Army commanders as an end in dealing with past legacies of the two decades of conflict in the region. 

Speaking to Voices from Beyond, a transitional justice project of Refugee Law Project in West Nile, the victims called for implementation of multi-faceted reconciliation approaches among the various affected communities in the region.

Solomy Awidi, the Transitional Justice Lawyer at Refugee Law Project says the victims want traditional justice mechanisms such as mato Oput, truth-telling, public apology, national and regional peace prayers as well as community dialogues promoted among communities to heal the persisting wounds of the conflict. 

According to Awidi, victims of the war in West Nile are bitter with their Acholi neighbours who they accuse of masterminding atrocities against them during the conflict. She said such victims are willing to forgive if transitional justice mechanisms are triggered. 

“One particular woman testified of how she found the grace to forgive when clerics from Acholi sub-region publicly apologized for atrocities the people of West Nile suffered at a regional peace prayers held in Adjumani last year. She said she used to look at all people from Acholi sub-region as killers responsible for the death of her family members” Awidi narrated to the 6th Justice Tafakari dialogue in Gulu district on Monday.  

According to the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), transitional justice refers to the various ways countries emerging from periods of conflict and repression address large-scale or systematic human rights violations so numerous and so serious that the normal justice system will not be able to provide an adequate response to in timely manner.

It is rooted in accountability and redress for victims and recognizes their dignity as citizens and as human beings. Uganda is still developing a Transitional Justice Policy to support some of these processes in dealing with legacies of the conflicts which have befallen her since independence from colonial rule in 1962.

Sarah Kasande Kihika, the head of office of International Center for Transitional Justice in Uganda says triggering transitional justice mechanisms complement the formal judicial processes aimed at delivering justice to victims of a given conflict.

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The LRA gained notoriety for maiming, killing and abducting children and women for its fighting ranks, porters and sex slaves. Its atrocities transcended the Uganda boundary after the UPDF deployed renewed firepower against the rebel group forcing them to flee into DR Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. 

Kasande says the demands for transitional justice mechanisms by the victims of the conflict should provide a learning curve to the ongoing trial at the International Criminal Court and the International Crimes Division of the High Court that victims of the conflict are hungry for meaningful justice.

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According to the victims, they can't trust the government with the task of organizing such community transitional justice processes on account that government is reluctant to bring its agents responsible for atrocities in the region to justice several years later. 

They recommended that regional peace prayers championed by the Archbishop of Gulu Archdiocese Dr John Baptist Odama must continue at Parish levels to promote healing and reconciliation among communities affected by the conflict. 

Every year, the Catholic faithful in Gulu Archdiocese gather together to celebrate a week of peace under different themes including reconciliation, tree planting and forgiveness among others. 

Sheik Uthman Oola, the Khadi of Agago Muslim district says clerics in the region should seize this opportunity to promote true reconciliation in the region on the sidelines of the trials of Ongwen and Kwoyelo.

Sheik Oola said the Mato Oput transitional justice mechanism should promoted by Acholi chiefdom should transcend the boundaries of the ethnic group for her neighbouring communities to find sustainable peace, healing and closure from the conflict. 

The paramount chief of Acholi David Onen Achana II says Acholi chiefdom is firmly behind the integration of traditional justice mechanisms and the formal judicial processes.

The demands come as communities affected by trails of brutality around Acholi ethnic group, where the founding father of the Lord's Resistance Army Joseph Kony hailed, continue to wait for justice for many years.