Uganda

Ugandans have endured extreme violence since independence in 1962 resulting largely from civil wars and political repression. This has given rise to widespread and systematic violations of human rights and the laws of war, including child slavery and torture. ICTJ works to help create a comprehensive and inclusive national transitional justice strategy to confront this legacy.

Kampala, 16 Feb 2011: a supporter of opposition leader Besigye, during the Presidential elections campaigning

Background:

Uganda experienced nearly two decades of civil strife, under Milton Obote I (1962–1971) Idi Amin (1971–1979) and Milton Obote II (1980-85). During this period, it is estimated that over 300,000 people died.

In 1979, exiled Ugandans—including now-President Museveni—invaded the country. Following a guerilla war, Museveni and the National Resistance Army (NRA) gained control of the country in 1986 and installed a "no-party" political system.

Museveni’s government either defeated or made peace deals with several rebel movements. The most brutal insurgency, led by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), continues to date. Its crimes against humanity and war crimes include the abduction of an estimated 30,000 children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves.

The government’s counter-insurgency tactics have also caused suffering. It created “protected villages” teeming and dangerous camps where millions of internally displaced northern Ugandans lived from 1996 to 2007.

The 2006-2008 government-LRA negotiations in the Juba Peace talks led to five significant protocols, but no final peace agreement was achieved. LRA leader Joseph Kony conditioned his final signature on the cancellation of the standing International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants against him and four of his top commanders.

Under Juba’s Accountability and Reconciliation protocol, the government has promised to implement:

  • A special war crimes court, and legislation to try war crimes domestically
  • Cooperation with the ICC
  • A body of inquiry into the conflict (on past and related matters)
  • A special fund for reparations
  • Attention to address special needs for women and children

The government has set up a War Crimes Division of the High Court to try serious crimes. One person—the LRA’s Colonel Thomas Kwoyelo—is already in custody pending formal trials.

The Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) Justice working group is preparing to undertake nationwide consultations for the implementation of other transitional justice mechanisms, including truth seeking and reparations.

The Peace and Justice Debate

In 2005, the ICC issued arrest warrants for five LRA leaders among whom only three are surviving—Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo, and Dominic Ongwen—for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The ICC involvement triggered mixed reactions from the public and affected communities. Some Ugandans resisted the ICC's intervention, fearing it would prevent peace with the rebels. Others believed the indictments were useful pressure tactics to get the LRA to talk about peace.

Uganda is at the forefront of the international debate on peace and justice. The debate revolves around whether accountability and peace must be pursued separately or together to ensure long-term stability.

In June 2010—before the ICC review conference in Kampala—President Museveni assented into law the ICC Act 2010. For the first time, Ugandan courts can now try crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide defined under the ICC’s Rome Statute.

ICTJ's Role:

ICTJ has worked since 2005 to further Uganda’s transitional justice efforts at all levels, from the grassroots up.

  • With the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, we interviewed more than 2,500 Ugandans on their conflict experiences and their opinions on peace and justice. In 2005, we produced a joint report, [Forgotten Voices].
  • We facilitate meetings and trainings with local partners such as the Justice and Reconciliation Project.
  • We work with the government’s Justice Working Group to advise and build capacity on transitional justice measures. We worked to develop the specialist knowledge of national judges on war crimes and crimes against humanity in a series of expert-led workshops. We also organized study tours for the judges to observe international criminal proceedings and other transitional justice mechanisms.
  • In 2010, we participated in the Review Conference of the Rome Statute in Kampala. We produced a case study on the impact of the Court and the Rome Statute in Uganda.