Since 2012, I have been collaborating on a part-time basis with the Uganda-based Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP) on their Right to Know campaign. JRP initiated this campaign to draw attention to the plight faced by many survivors of the recent twenty-year civil war in northern Uganda: namely, the absence of reliable information about the missing – often presumed dead – victims of the war, and its negative impact surviving communities in the years since the formal cessation of hostilities.
The Right to Know campaign recently published its first policy brief, based on preliminary fieldwork conducted by JRP staff in Palabek Kal and Palabek Gem sub-counties in Lamwo District. Written by Sylvia Opinia, Katherine Alexander, Boniface Ojok and I, and edited by Oryem Nyeko, the brief offers several recommendations for the Government of Uganda, in collaboration with the international community and civil society organizations aimed at improving the post-war lives of people in northern Uganda. The recommendation include:
1). Formal acknowledgement of the missing as a key impediment to social repair;
2). The creation of a comprehensive transitional justice strategy that treats forced disappearances as a crime against humanity, and recognizes the rights of the missing and their surviving family in this context;
3). The creation of an independent commission on the missing that will help connect families with information;
4). Investment in programs that provide the families of the missing with economic support and skills training to help them overcome the unique economic burdens they face; and
5). Support for further research on the subject of the missing across northern Uganda.
Related to this last recommendation, the brief also highlights the different civil society-based programs that have emerged since the end of the civil war in an effort to promote locally-conceived social repair within communities. Several of these programs show promise in terms of their ability to help surviving families cope following the disappearances of loved ones, but additional research is needed. In the coming years, JRP intends to conduct further fieldwork on the missing across northern Uganda. However, substantial support and funding will be necessary to ensure this additional research is conducted.
A key purpose of this policy brief, therefore, is to demonstrate to the Government of Uganda and the international community more generally, that the missing victims of mass atrocities represent a substantial impediment to genuine post-war social repair in northern Uganda. As such, acknowledging the rights of the missing and their surviving families, as well as identifying and providing for surviving families’ particular needs in the post-war period, should be essential elements of Uganda’s transitional justice program. If the government fails to adequately address these needs, the risk of future conflict in the region will inevitably increase.