Friday July 18 2014

Justice day should remind us of the struggle for reparation

By Penny Mbabazi Atuhaire

As Uganda joined the rest of the international community yesterday to celebrate the International Criminal Justice Day, victims of the northern Uganda conflict seem not have much to celebrate even when discussions on issues of justice, accountability and reconciliation needs have been around for quite a long time.

The International Justice Day is celebrated as part of an effort to recognise the emerging systems of international criminal justice around the world and also as an opportunity to re-emphasise the need to end impunity while remembering victims of crimes.

Specifically, victims are those millions of women, children and civilians who were killed, raped, wounded and whose homes were destroyed as a result of conflict.

The decision to dedicate this day to international criminal justice was taken after the adoption of the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Review Conference of the Rome Statute that was held in Kampala on June 1, 2010.

Such a day should be a constant reminder to government that despite the ever changing political circumstances, the needs, interest and aspirations of its citizens should always be at the centre of its agenda.

As Uganda prepares to transit from conflict free communities with the guidance of the proposed transitional justice policy, its priorities need to be put in the right places and at the right time.

The government needs to address itself to the actual rights, needs and expectations of victims who suffered the most grave human rights violations. This should not be seen as a reward to victims but as a fulfilment of its obligation under prescribed laws.

Under several human rights laws of which Uganda has ratified, the State has an obligation to provide effective, prompt and adequate reparations to victims of conflict. And at the same time, it is also the right of victims of gross human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law to ask for reparations. Such reparations can be material or symbolic, collective or individual and can be in form of monetary payments or services.

Specific research findings by civil society organisations, including the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, have constantly revealed that victims of war crimes need reparation. Their sense of justice is largely connected to the very basic needs such as land, shelter, food, healthcare and clothing – the essentials that one needs to live a fairly decent and dignified life.

Unfortunately, to the victims such basics continue to remain the ideals of life!

Other studies have shown that much as many victims would want to see perpetrators being held accountable for the crimes they committed; they also strongly feel that getting material and symbolic reparation for the grave prejudice suffered is important.

With the proposed Transitional Justice Policy that has raised hope for victims, the government needs to balance the equation between the excessive energies and resources that have been going to prosecution and the actual needs of victims.

More attention should focus on the long-term solutions by making significant financial commitments to the health and education sector and at the same time strengthen the working relationship with victims and civil society organisations to be able to build meaningful and sustainable national programmes.
For this to happen, victims need to be widely consulted on the real issues that affect them as individuals and as a community. Their representatives need to be engaged at all levels of the planning and implementation of transitional processes.

Ms Mbabazi is an associate researcher at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.