Young female abductees were kept at the commanders’ homes until they reached puberty
Former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) combatants of abductees still it hard to find suitable partners many years after the insurgency ended due to stigma, researchers has disclosed.
Scholars attached to the University of British Columbia, York University and Refugee Law Project are documenting the relationship experiences of people in post-conflict regions of Africa.
At a meeting of families affected by the insurgency and self-help groups operating in Northern Uganda yesterday, experts proposed a review of interventions to target men.
“Since the guns fell over ten years ago, returnees still suffer stigma. Some men find it hard to find marriage partners. Even where they are able to find one, their families may not welcome them,” said Dr Chris Dolan, the director of the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University Dolan said.
He noted that most agencies supporting victims of the two-decade insurgency in Northern Uganda pay more attention to female victims, largely excluding men who are seen as perpetrators.
“There are a lot of organisations but little support for men. Some of them are raising children as single parents who have no access to land. There is need for policy review regarding returnees,” he stated.
According to Dolan, male returnees should be treated as victims of conflict since some of them were abducted as children and unwillingly drawn into insurgent acts.
“They need to be seen as people who lost out on opportunities such as education. Many of them suffered injuries in the course of captivity that are not treated and some are disabled,” he explained.
One test case is that of ex-LRA commander Dominic Ongwen, abducted as a child and trained to be a rebel. He faces war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court for a spate of attacks on civilians.
Dr. Erin Baines from the University of British Columbia said male returnees still face not only stigma but also intense exclusion from public life since they are treated as perpetrators of conflict.
“It is not true that only males are perpetrators and women are victims. Men have been victims too and dealing with this far more complex than it often seems,” she said in an interview with New Vision.
Apart from Uganda, the scholars are interviewing victims of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Mali.
The research is part of a five-year project dubbed ‘Conjugal Slavery in War’ which highlights cases of forced marriage in conflict situations and impact on prosecution of war crimes cases.
Ketty Anyeko, one of the researchers said female victims who have been forced into different forms of relationships develop long-term difficulties in their relationships.
“Adults were forced to carry loot and either killed, set free or turned into wives while for widows, initiation rituals were performed on them before they were forcefully married to other men,” she said.
Young female abductees were kept at the commanders’ homes until they reached puberty when they are either turned into wives, Anyeko narrated, noting that in all cases women had no say.
Researchers believe that understanding the experience of the victims will be critical in dealing with gender violence in post-conflict situations.
Paul Nyende, a psychology lecturer at Makerere University says relationship stigma and rejection in relationships can drive victims into depression.
“If one is ostracized by society, they develop a sense of rejection which can lead to depression and withdrawal from the public,” he told New Vision.