• Mostar bridge, Sarajevo
  • Victims of genocide, Nyamata memorial, Rwanda
  • Parade of coffins, Srebrenica, Bosnia
  • Mountain gorilla twins, Rwanda
  • Mosque, Sarajevo, Bosnia
  • Altar, Nyamata memorial, Rwanda
  • Remembering the dead, Srebrenica, Bosnia
  • Rural life, Rwanda
  • Victims of genocide, Srebrenica, Bosnia
  • Prisoners at work, Rwanda
  • Pigeon square, Sarajevo, Bosnia
  • VIctims of genocide, Ntarama, Rwanda

New policy brief: The Right to Know – Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Rights of the Missing and their Families in Northern Uganda

July 26th, 2015


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.


New Online Resource: Research in Difficult Settings

April 29th, 2015


Susan Thomson, Milli Lake and I have recently launched a new online resource – Research in Difficult Settings – that provides a forum for academics and practitioners from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and regional expertise to exchange ideas related to conducting fieldwork in highly politicized, authoritarian, and other difficult settings. The resource consists of three main components: (1) a scholars’ database to promote networking among like-minded affiliates; (2) a working paper series containing long- and short-form articles on pressing ethical and methodological issues; and (3) an interactive forum that facilitates real-time discussion of challenges that emerge during fieldwork. The resource boasts an impressive Advisory Board, including Kathleen Blee, Kimberly Theidon and  Chandra Lekham Sriram, among others, who will assist with peer-reviewing all working paper submissions. Simply sign-up to join the conversations!

New Web Publication: Among the Anonymous Dead

March 19th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 14.23.06Following a successful panel on “Among the Anonymous Dead: Exhumations and the Emotive Materiality of Deceased Victims of Mass Violence” that I organized for the 2014 American Anthropological Association annual meeting, the discussant, Sarah Wagner, and I were invited to write a reflective piece for the new Emergent Conversations series overseen by the Political and Legal Anthropology Review. In this piece, we highlight the growing interest that surrounds anonymous victims of mass atrocities in various locations around the world, and how dead bodies are often capable of affecting, both positively and negatively, efforts aimed at promoting social repair in transitional communities. We then briefly discuss the papers presented by the panel’s contributors, including John Harries, Jackie Leach-Scully, Dawnie Steadman, and myself, with particular emphasis placed on the themes of “emotive materiality” – how the physical and imagined presence of bones and other remains evokes emotional responses in those who come in contact with them – and “temporalities” – how the passage of time influences people’s reactions to the anonymous dead. A key outcome of the panel was the shared realization that the symbolic capital attributed to human remains in the aftermath of mass atrocities can be contested throughout a society. Assigning meaning to the anonymous dead is a process that is not solely state-driven, nor is it inherently consistent across time and space.

Upcoming IAGS panel on “New Horizons in Perpetrator Research”

February 14th, 2015

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Building upon the network established as part of the workshop I organized last year on “Approaching Perpetrators,” Kjell Anderson and I have organized a three-part interdisciplinary panel on “New Horizons in Perpetrator Research,” which has now been accepted to the upcoming International Association of Genocide Scholars meeting in Yerevan, Armenia. Read the rest of this entry »

New Book Review: Susan Thomson’s “Whispering Truth to Power”

January 5th, 2015

Adobe Photoshop PDFThe fall 2014 issue of the African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review has just been released, and includes my review of Susan Thomson’s Whispering Truth to Power: Everyday Resistance to Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda. In brief, Thomson has written a rich, ethnographically informed book that offers valuable insights on how the current government’s program of national unity and reconciliation impacts the everyday lives of its rural citizens, with particular attention paid to the subtle but meaningful acts of resistance engaged in by rural Rwandans. As such, she complicates the claims of both the Rwandan government and the international community that the Rwandan government’s program of national unity and reconciliation is affecting positive change in Rwanda, and provides a relevant foundation for further studies of grassroots resistance in other conflict and post-conflict settings. Similarly, it represents a powerful indictment of those regional and international experts who would dismiss the Rwandan government’s poor human rights record in the region given the nation’s remarkable economic progress. Read the rest of this entry »


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