Northern Uganda war victims face stigma

Mar 20, 2018

During the 20-year-old LRA war that started in 1987, an estimated 1.6 million displaced persons were pushed into squalid camps

The government is to conduct a study to determine the number of children born of sexual violence in northern Uganda, a senior official has disclosed.

Margaret Ajok, the national advisor of transitional justice at the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS), regretted that there was stigma against children born of rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage during the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) conflict.

During the 20-year-old LRA war that started in 1987, an estimated 1.6 million displaced persons were pushed into squalid camps and thousands of abducted children forced to become soldiers porters and sex slaves.

In 2003, the government of Uganda referred the case to the International Criminal Court, which issued arrest warrants against rebel leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders Vincent Otti and Dominic Ongwen. Kony is still at large, while Otti has been reported dead. However, Ongwen is undergoing trial at The Hague, where he faces 70 charges of crimes against humanity such as murder, torture and sexual slavery.

However, effects of the victims are still enormous. According to Ajok , some mothers in Northern Uganda had resorted to hiring "fathers of their children" in order to access social services.

"To take your child to school, these days, the schools need your baptism card. To baptize a child, they ask you about the father of the child. In Gulu district, some mothers were hiring boda boda men (cyclists) to register for the national Identity (ID) cards. If you do not have a birth certificate, you can't get the ID," Ajok stated.

She expressed optimism that a study would help plan better for such victims.

 "I can't say the study will be an easy one. It is against the background that a child has a right to know their father and mother. However, if they are not there, what can be done? We cannot run away from them. It is no fault of their own," she said.

Ajok made the remarks during a media training on transitional justice organized by the in Kampala.

She also revealed that the justice ministry had drafted a policy on transitional justice - processes aimed at confronting legacies of the past human rights abuses and violations to repair harm suffered by victims.

If approved, the policy would among other things, make amnesty conditional.

Approved in 2000, the Amnesty Law grants forgiveness to rebels who turn themselves in; thus allowing them to escape trial for the potentially heinous crimes they committed. 

But Ajok noted that whereas served the purpose of luring combatants back to the community; there are still mixed reactions on justice and accountability.

"What I hate most about this Amnesty Commission is that they forgive the perpetrators, but they don't look at the survivors. It makes people to think that you first have to join the rebel group, then you come out to gain from government," a respondent is quoted by Ajok as having said.

Over 27,000 combatants have over the years benefited from this law, according to Ajok.

"In the transitional justice policy, we are proposing that amnesties should be considered after a truth telling process. Amnesties should not be considered for international crimes. Children should not be subjected to an amnesty process," she stated.

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