Ugandan government must establish reparations programme for war victims

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

During northern Uganda's 20-year conflict between the Government of Uganda's (GoU) armed forces and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), widespread human rights abuses were committed by both sides.

Amnesty International documented the LRA's abduction of thousands of children and adults, unlawful killing of thousands of civilians, the rape of thousands of women and beatings of men, women and children during the 1986-2006 conflict.

The organization also documented human rights violations committed by the government's Uganda Peoples' Defence Forces (UPDF). These included unlawful killings, rape and beatings of civilians. There was general impunity for soldiers who committed human rights violations against civilians.

The government of northern Uganda should establish an effective reparations programme for those victims of the conflict, according to a new Amnesty International report.

Left to their own devices examines the continued suffering of the victims of the hostilities and makes recommendations to the government on how to deal with the aftermath of the human rights violations that took place there.

Also documented as one of the most enduring effects of the conflict on civilians was, and remains, the massive displacement of about 1.8 million people from their homes into internally displaced persons' (IDPs) camps in which living conditions were often dire for IDPs in relation to shelter, hygiene, health and nutrition.

An Amnesty International delegation visited the northern Uganda districts of Gulu, Amuru, Kitgum, Pader and Lira in August 2008 and interviewed hundreds of victims of human rights violations suffered during the conflict. Amnesty International delegates also met with government officials and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including victims' groups.

Victims expressed the urgent need for the government to put in place an action plan, in consultation with them, to provide reparations, which addresses their current suffering. Victims and survivors of human rights violations committed during the conflict include victims of sexual and gender-based violence, formerly abducted youth and adults, survivors of killings and torture and those who still don't know where their loved ones are. They still bear the scars of these violations, many years after they were committed. Little has been done to ensure that victims and survivors have access to full and effective reparations that address their continued suffering and help them to rebuild their lives.

The government's Peace Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) for northern Uganda, launched in September 2007, while proposing government policy on post-conflict recovery and development, does not establish a program which addresses the reparation needs of victims.

In addition, the two Agreements signed between the GoU and the LRA (on Accountability and Reconciliation; and Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration) under the auspices of the peace process attempt to lay a framework for reparations but contain significant flaws.

These Agreements do not ensure that the proposed framework for reparation will be informed by wide consultation with victims and survivors. Even with the PRDP and the two Agreements, it is not clear if, when, and what type of reparations will be granted to victims and survivors.

Amnesty International is calling on the government of Uganda to establish an effective reparations program which is victim focused, comprehensive, consultative with victims and the civil society and properly resourced. Such a program should provide for the five recognized forms of reparations: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

The organization says that the program should deal with immediate challenges resulting from the conflict, including educational challenges/needs for children and youth; urgent medical treatment; medical psycho-social support and counselling on trauma and psychological effects of those affected by the conflict (including female victims); improved livelihoods to victims and survivors and an urgent inquiry into the whereabouts and fate of persons abducted by the LRA.

Amnesty International is also making recommendations to the international community, including the United Nations and key donors and the civil society to lobby for, support and participate in the establishment of a reparations program for victims and survivors of human rights violations committed during the conflict.

Amnesty International