Advancing International Criminal Justice in Africa: Spotlight on Uganda

June 25, 2014

TrustAfrica’s Fund to advance International Criminal Justice in Africa seeks to engage civil society, as well as scholars, legal advocates, and state authorities, to develop innovative strategies to improve accountability for crimes committed.  To help achieve this objective, most recently, TrustAfrica was the primary donor for the first ever National War Victims’ Conference in Uganda.  The conference was facilitated by TrustAfrica grantee African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), an independent Ugandan NGO that has been working for the last nine years on projects that seek response to and redress for serious crimes and harms resulting from armed violence.  

The conference convened stakeholders from all sectors of society who are engaged in the Transitional Justice (TJ) process, including victims, the Government, civil society and development partners.  The objective of the conference was to empower victims and to build nationwide solidarity around victims’ rights.  The conference, which took place from May 28-30, 2014 at the Imperial Royal Hotel in Kampala, Uganda, was timed to feed into the reform of Uganda’s Transitional Justice policy, which hopes to holistically address the plights of Ugandans scarred by numerous post-independence conflicts.

Participants of the conference included over 150 victims’ representatives from all regions of Uganda and over 30 victims from other African countries, including Kenya, South Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, and Burundi.  In addition, the conference programme featured a variety of local, national and international experts.

The conference provided an opportunity for all who were present to learn from each other, share perspectives and draw conclusions about post-conflict justice processes and policies. Highlights include:

  • A Welcome speech from AYINET Director Victor Ochen who mentioned that while participants come from different regions of the country, speak different languages and practice different customs, “We have all experienced the bitter taste of conflict.  We are convening here to learn, plan and rebuild our lives together.”  He encouraged participants to use the moment generated by the conference to “demand that your human rights are respected, as well as the rights of every other victim and of every other fellow countryman.  As division breeds conflict, understanding and unity breed peace and prosperity.” 
  • An official opening to the conference from Uganda Honorable Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Kahina Otafiire.
  • TrustAfrica’s Board member, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana offered a moving and inspiring discourse that acknowledged African’ difficult past but encouraged Ugandan citizens and all war victims to develop Transitional Justice mechanisms that attempt to be “victim-centered, age-and-gender-sensitive, comprehensive, transparent and broadly inclusive.” He concluded with the words “God bless Africa! Guard her children! Guide her leaders, and give her peace!” 
  • An opportunity from conference participants to learn more about Uganda’s Transitional Justice Policy from Margaret Ajok of the Transitional Justice Working Group.
  • Former Chair of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave a video speech to the attendees at the conference.  Among the many powerful messages he offered participants, he exhorted young people to “be the vanguard of change.”  He suggested that they could be the generation of peace and that their children “will one day marry someone my generation might have regarded as an enemy.  There is much reason for hope.”  You can watch the video here.
  • Christian Correa from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) compared the process for Transitional Justice to “an icebreaker…a ship that breaks in one point and makes a crack…it starts with the ice which is weak and you push forward, and you’re going in the right direction according to where the crack goes, then you crack again.” 
  • In a discussion on missing persons, Jeremy Sarkin, Professor of Law at the University of South Africa and Member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, offered riveting statistics regarding the numbers of missing persons after various conflicts, including 25 million missing after WWII, 14,000 people missing after the Spanish Civil War and even the 700,000 who go missing in the United States every year (though not necessarily from armed conflict).
  • A discussion with Justice Peter Onega from the Amnesty Commission who gave a presentation on the current Amnesty law and discussed its strengths and weaknesses with participants.
  • Helen Acham from the Working Group on Transitional Justice offered her perspective that “the current state of Amnesty is obsolete.  It doesn’t cater to victims’ needs at all.  It came into place from a dire need for families whose children were in captivity to have them back.   It should be amended to conform to international standards.” 
  • A panel discussion with Jimmy Otim from the International Criminal Court, Scott Bartell of Trust Fund for Victims and Joan Kagezi, Head of Prosecution at the International Crimes Division of the High Court addressing the need to protect victims while bringing justice, reparations and the need for free legal representation for victims.
  • Justice James Ogoola (Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission and Former Principal Judge) discussed prospects for a revived Uganda and justice for victims.
  • Jane Frances Adongo, JLOS Secretariat, Uganda Law Reform Commission, discussed the issue of reparations.

Also attending the conference were representatives from the International Center for Transitional Justice, International Criminal Court, United Nations, Alliance for Peacebuilding, Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, Fund for Peace, REDRESS and many others.

To see images from the conference, please visit the TrustAfrica image gallery here.  You can also view live tweets from the conference on the TrustAfrica Twitter page.  More conference coverage can also be found on the AYINET Website.  And to learn more about the legislation and policies in Uganda around transitional justice, visit the Justice Law and Order Sector Website.

The International Criminal Justice Project in Uganda

TrustAfrica is working on building an effective advocacy movement to advance international criminal justice (ICJ) in Africa.  The project focuses on five countries:  Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda.  Within these five countries, we have two central strategies:

  • Strengthen the capacity of human rights organizations to contribute to transitional justice policy making at the national level; and
  • Develop informed and concerted advocacy strategies to promote accountability at the regional and international levels.

In Uganda, the Justice Law and Order Sector is finalizing a National Transitional Justice Policy that is intended to be victim centered. It is against this backdrop that TrustAfrica grantee AYINET embarked on a project to mobilize victims for more effective engagement in the national transitional justice processes. The conference represented the first time victims from around the country would come together and address issues that are of particular importance to them, including:

  • Solidarity with and between victims, national reconciliation and Uganda’s future;
  • Physical and mental health of victims (covering what the issues are, how the Government plans to address victims’ needs, what CSOs can contribute);
  • Missing relatives (explaining the situation in Uganda, including an international law perspective);
  • Education (how is recent history taught in school, non-violence part of the curriculum);
  • Commemoration (how victims commemorate, why it is important, how can the Government assist);
  • Reparations (an update from the Uganda Law Reform Commission, who is mandated to come up with a comprehensive reparations policy);
  • Amnesty legislation (some clarifications and updates from Uganda Law Reform Commission); and
  • Criminal prosecution of war criminals (including the international commitment to bring perpetrators to justice and practical issues of witnesses’ support and security by the International Crimes Division of the High Court).


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