Govt asked to implement transitional justice policy - Daily Monitor Supplement

Pre and post-independent Uganda has gone through periods of political instability characterised by armed conflicts, resulting in gross human rights violations.  The years of conflict disrupted development efforts, destroyed formal and informal justice institutions, and disintegrated the socio-economic fabric of communities. Consequently, various communities in Uganda have been faced with several post-conflict challenges. These include poverty as a result of limited livelihood options, negative perceptions towards efforts at enhancing peace, recovery, development, reintegration, and reconciliation, and dissatisfaction with the formal justice system. Despite the numerous attempts by the government to address these issues, there has been no overarching policy to deal with post-conflict situations. That calls for transitional justice mechanisms to address and prevent future conflict. Transitional justice refers to how societies respond to the legacies of massive and serious human rights violations to achieve reconciliation and foster sustainable peace. The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs through the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS), now the Governance and Security Programme (GSP), formed the Transitional Justice Working Group to steer the development of a framework for transitional justice for Uganda. The national transitional justice policy, which was adopted in 2019, is aimed at enhancing legal and political accountability, delivering justice to victims, promoting reconciliation, fostering social reintegra   BY SYLIVIA KATUSHABE

The Trial of Joseph Kony in Double Absentia: Too Little, Too Late?



In November 2022, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan implored the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to confirm charges against Joseph Kony in absentia. This came 18 years after the organisation failed to execute a 2005 arrest warrant against Kony and on the eve of the silver jubilee of the Rome Statute through which the ICC was established in 1998. Within this context, several questions are conspicuous. First, is the dubious timing of the Prosecutor’s request for confirmation of charges, and the choice of candidate. Former President of Sudan, Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir, also an indictee of the ICC and arguably a bigger fry, has been eloquently left out of Prosecutor’s considerations.  Why did the Prosecutor move on Kony and not Bashir or both of them, since they share the common trait of being elusive? More importantly, while the Prosecutor noted that a trial “would represent a meaningful milestone for victims of Mr Kony’s crimes who have waited patiently for justice for almost two decades”, it is unclear whether the perspectives of those very victims and those of communities in Uganda were earnestly considered.

It is imperative that victims’ needs are brought to the centre of any decisions about trial, and that, within the context of complementarity with Uganda’s own efforts (such as an International Crimes Division of the High Court, a Transitional Justice Policy, and everyday repair work by communities), processes of accountability include unambiguous commitments to comprehensive reparations. Short of this, the ICC will infinitely be accused of imposing justice by discounting the plurality of global accountability mechanisms, and disrupting judicial sovereignty around the world.

Annotated background

In December 2003, the situation in northern Uganda, involving a brutal conflict between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), was referred to the ICC. Shortly after, the Refugee Law Project (RLP), which had conducted extensive research in the region, cautioned the ICC about the futility of such a referral, and implored the Court either to investigate all sides to the conflict or to drop the case altogether. A “peace versus justice” narrative then emerged, pitting both Ugandan and international Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) against themselves, as though the divide represented competing priorities. Then as now, the ICC was aroused by the precedent-setting nature of the situation before it, and the profile-raising opportunities presented. Uganda’s referral was the first before the Court. But it was also partial in that it sought to investigate only one actor in the “situation”. A request for trial in absentia will be another first and equally one-sided enterprise. It does not explain how victims who are not witnesses will benefit from such an adversarial trial process, and is silent on reparations.

Curiously, public and civil society response to the ICC announcement has been muted in Uganda. Whilst a trial in absentia will propel both Joseph Kony and the ICC back into the spotlight, very few people in Uganda and internationally might be asking what happens to the nearly 2000 victims who participated in prior ICC investigations, and those who have been suffering silently. Some of these victims, for example, abducted children and children born when their mothers were in captivity have since become adults. They are forging new identities and livelihoods and assuming responsibilities in households and at different levels of their communities. The same survivors remain deeply disturbed and traumatised. Many of them will carry wounds of unrecognised belonging into generations. Indeed, many of those who qualified have died before receiving either symbolic or material reparations. This owes to the fact that reparations are in this case linked to the success of trials. This begs the question: who ultimately profits from such a trial and its associated publicity?


Victims Experiences

It is clear that the ICC and its backers are disinterested in solutions to intractable political problems that have left legacies of violence in Uganda, and given rise to different rebellions, including that of the LRA. Yet this is the backdrop against which human rights crimes and violations are committed. The “liberal” form of justice that the ICC proliferates is incapable of addressing those legacies, and remains inadequate in reconciling communities. In many cases, not all survivors of conflict can have their voices elevated through adversarial criminal trials. Nevertheless, victims are best placed to talk about the violations they experienced or witnessed and how these continue to impact their lives and communities. They must speak within the rooms where decision affecting their lives are being made. One credible way is to amplify their power and agency in their quest for healing, freedom, rights, and justice through robust public and community engagements.

Self-Serving Trials

Yet, the Prosecutor’s application is principally focused on Joseph Kony and his arrest. By its own admission, the ICC seeks to increase the international community’s efforts and commitment to apprehend Joseph Kony. The Prosecutor justified his confirmation request by adding that “…These proceedings would also provide an opportunity to present the depth of evidence supporting the allegations of his criminal activities and allow for witnesses and survivors to provide their accounts to the Court.” An additional intention is to add more charges to the existing 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, if the hearing is granted.

There is no doubt that justice—in its different iterations—must be done. Moreover, it must be seen to be done, a principle that will likely be absent in the said trials. In other circumstances, the efforts of the Chief Prosecutor would be exalted. However, returning the ICC’s first and longest-standing suspect, Joseph Kony, back to public consciousness, while saying little about reparation for victims, smirches of a self-serving motive. The Prosecutor’s intentions do not appear to be aligned with the needs of victims, and the well-being of affected communities. These goals and needs include public acknowledgement and truth telling, reparations and memorialisation. Furthermore, the risks of re-traumatisation through the proposed trials are high. There are dangers of reviving memories not healed or elevating expectations that were never met, and will never be met.  Whose life will therefore be positively affected by the proposed hearing—that of the Prosecutor or the lives of victims of conflict? Moreover, the lack of a restorative component makes trial justice ill-suited for rebuilding communities. The latter requires experiential and liberative truth (that victims of mass violence can relate with) as opposed to truth proven in courts of law, which is selective, individualised and disruptive to communities.

In March 2023, the ICC, which is headquartered in Europe, issued arrest warrants against Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova for crimes allegedly committed in Ukrainian-occupied territory. At the same time, Europe, the primary backer of the ICC, is obsessed with generating resources, disproportionately aimed at arming Ukraine and not to respond to the victims of that conflict. It is not our intention to draw parallels between the situation in Uganda and that of Ukraine. It is nonetheless striking that the Office of the Prosecutor is pursuing people it may never apprehend, leaving unattended the victims they have already identified and can easily reach.

Too Little, too late?

In November shortly after the request was made, the Office of Public Counsel for Victims, demanded for extra time to hold consultations on the Prosecutor’s request for confirmation of charges. Ostensibly, the extension was needed to “re-establish contacts with the victims concerned” which had “progressively diminished” due to the “inactivity of the case”. We have been unable to trace evidence of any meaningful public discourse relating to the demand to re-establish contact with victims, or any civic education that would prepare witnesses for such a trial. If indeed there are overtures to engage victims, they are being conducted in the same opaque fashion as the initial investigations.

Additionally, it has been established that only a handful of victims are being considered for participation in the trial and that there is limited appetite for wider consultations. This hesitancy to include a broad spectrum of victims and to consult widely points to the ICC’s perfunctory approach to justice, and its reluctance to recognise Uganda’s culturo-judicial sovereignty.  Such an approach minimises the experiences of victims, limits participation to individuals chosen through a misty process, and denies communities the right to shape the contours of accountability for egregious crimes. Above all, communities will no longer own the outcomes of justice, pre-empting efforts at reconciliation. For justice to be meaningful, it is important but not sufficient to put faces to the victims of Kony’s atrocities but to undertake the widest consultations possible.

National Solutions

The arrest and trial of Joseph Kony whether in person or in absentia constitutes only one element of national unity and in the long-term recovery of northern Uganda. The decision on the confirmation of charges must consequently be complimentary and aligned with wider national and continental transitional justice frameworks. After a painstaking process of development, the Government of Uganda approved a National Transitional Justice Policy in 2019. This Policy makes wide-ranging recommendations on trials, traditional justice, reparations, and even a nation-building process. The current Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Uganda, Hon. Norbert Mao, has hinted at his intention to spearhead a national dialogue and reconciliation process, that will include transitional justice components. At minimum the posture of the Minister indicates unambiguous political interest to carry forward the operationalisation of the national Transitional Justice Policy. An ICC trial will compete with and detract from such a process, and potentially destabilise any dialogue and reconciliation initiatives.

Communities in Uganda are doing the everyday repair work of several generations. They must be given a platform to express their hopes for remedy and recovery. The preparations for a hearing in absentia must not undermine measures that are needed to mitigate against the escalation of tensions within and between communities, including conflict-related land wrangles and cross-generational divisions.  A revived focus on atrocities committed by Joseph Kony must not emasculate the progress that has so far been achieved. This is unless the Court has safeguards to foolproof communities from relapsing into violence, which we are aware it does not.


From the precedent-setting nature of the original referral to the precedent-setting nature of a trial in absentia, the ICC would do well to recall prior caution against proceeding recklessly. As the RLP did before, we are again high-lighting the short-sighted and one-sided nature of such a trial process. There are many psychological, cultural, national and international complexities and symbolisms which must be accounted for during such a trial. At a minimum however, the ICC will need to share power and control in determining the justice agenda in Uganda, with Ugandans.  A good starting point would be to share any resources earmarked for the trial with Ugandan authorities, to establish mechanisms for ensuring that victims directly benefit from such processes, and to support the reintegration of recent returnees from the Central Africa Republic (CAR). Or else, the trial in absentia—and the referral before it—look, on the face of it, like promotional campaigns for the Court and the presiding Prosecutor.

The authors can be reached through the email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Authors: Pius D Ojara, PhD, Director Refugee Law Project, School of Law, Makerere University and Moses Chrispus Okello, Senior Researcher and Head of Research and Advocacy Department (2005-2012), Refugee Law Project School of Law, Makerere University.

Access to the digital environment for children: Building safer and inclusive digital spaces for refugee children with special needs and disability.

Refugee Law Project (RLP) joins the rest of the world to commemorate the Day of the African Child (DAC) 2023 under the theme ‘Protecting and Promoting Children’s Rights in the Digital Era. The DAC was instituted in 1991 in honor of the 1976 student uprising in Soweto and serves as a platform for recognizing and addressing the challenges faced by children in Africa. It calls for reflection, commitment and action towards upholding the rights of children across the continent. As we commemorate this day, RLP celebrates all children especially those in the most vulnerable situations including but not limited to; children living with disabilities and other disabling conditions, refugee children, unaccompanied and separated minors for the effort they are making to enjoy and promote their rights and the rights of others as they exercise their child appropriate responsibilities.

2023 World Refugee Day Statement

THEME: HOPE AWAY FROM HOME – “A World Where Refugees are always Included”

 Every year, on June 20, the world comes together to commemorate World Refugee Day. A day designated by the United Nations to remember and honor refugees around the world. As we mark this important occasion, Refugee Law Project stands in solidarity with the millions of displaced individuals and families, particularly those who have sought refuge in Uganda from the Great Lakes region, including from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia and a few from beyond.

 Refugees are forced to leave their homes due to armed conflicts, persecution, or other circumstances that place their lives at risk, making them in need of international protection. Uganda, as a signatory to the 1969 OAU Convention on Refugees, the 1951 Convention on Refugees, and the Optional Protocol of 1967, has an international mandate to provide assistance to refugees within its borders. Furthermore, Uganda has signed the Global Compact on Refugees and will co-convene the second Global Refugee Forum in December 2023.

 This year's theme for World Refugee Day, "Hope Away from Home: A World Where Refugees are Always Included," highlights the importance of ensuring that refugees find hope and inclusivity in their new surroundings. Refugee Law Project, with its 13 offices across Uganda, is committed to upholding this vision by providing vital services such as legal aid, medical assistance, counseling, capacity building, English classes, and advocacy for the rights of refugees. Notably, 30% of our staff members are refugees themselves, bringing their invaluable firsthand experiences, skills and expertise, and perspectives to our work.

 Meaningful refugee participation is essential in providing effective humanitarian support and international protection. It is crucial that refugees have a seat at the table where decisions about their welfare and project interventions are made, and that they are empowered to create spaces of their own. Refugee Law Project actively collaborates with refugee community leaders, establishing support groups to address refugee issues. Additionally, refugees serve as paralegals, acting as first responders to legal challenges within their communities. Moreover, 70% of our English for Adult class facilitators are refugees. Through basic video advocacy training, refugees have been equipped to amplify the issues faced by their communities. Indeed, it is imperative to further support refugees-led initiatives. The resounding message for refugee participation is "Nothing about us without us and do not leave us behind"

 To ensure the successful implementation of projects and decisions regarding refugee welfare, it is crucial to increase the representation and visibility of refugees in these processes. By actively involving refugees, we can influence policies and programs that better suit and address their needs. Currently, projects are often developed without proper and meaningful consultation with refugees, disregarding their diverse cultures, languages and aspirations. The Global Refugee Forum offers a unique opportunity for refugees to set agenda and engage in dialogues about their rights and needs. Historically, the exclusion of refugees from agenda setting and discussions on migration and policies that impact their lives and futures has resulted in the failure of many projects. As Refugee Law Project, we call upon the UNHCR, the Government of Uganda, and civil society organizations to commit to a minimum of 30% meaningful refugee participation in decision-making and project design and implementation to lift up their voices at the relevant fora

 On this World Refugee Day, let us reaffirm our collective commitment to creating a world where refugees are not merely recipients of aid but active contributors who shape their own destinies. It is only through inclusive and empowering practices that we can build a brighter inclusive future for all, where hope thrives, even away from home.

International Human Rights Day 2022

Dignity ,Freedom And Justice For All December 10th, 2022 marks the 75th commemoration of the celebrated Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), being the day the milestone document was brought to life. Human Rights  are universal, meaning that they ordinarily should be applied to and enjoyed by all human beings without discrimination. Decades since 1948, there has been much progress in human rights observance and protection. However, just like any pursuit, nations which have since committed to uphold it aren’t without their shortcomings in the ever continuing fight to ensure that all human beings enjoy their rights without discrimination world over. Nations have since 1948 continued to struggle with issues of resource, cultural settings, beliefs and practices among other challenges. The UDHR has nevertheless over the past 75 years continued to be the yardstick by which many nations around the globe have shaped their own rights charters and the standard to which the entire world has been called to uphold. It has served as a foundation for a plethora of many rights old and new in a bid to protect humanity especially vulnerable groups that would otherwise undergo more inhumane suffering in the absence of special protections.   This year’s theme focuses on “Dignity, Freedom and Justice for all” and calls upon everyone to “Stand Up for Human Rights”. The UDHR in its preamble recognizes that freedom, justice and peace cannot stand without the foundation of equality and dignity among all human beings. As long as inequality still exists, there shall always be limitations to freedoms and barriers to justice which curtail peaceful co-existence between human beings. Currently, the world at large is still grappling with the social, political and economic impact that Covid-19 pandemic left in its wake. Its negative implications still plague many nations across the globe including Uganda. At its height, the pandemic exposed glaring gaps in the nation’s ability to provide necessary sustainable healthcare, food support and fiscal stimulus to struggling persons and bodies. The economy in turn receded as a result of several lockdowns, many people losing livelihoods and others, lives. More to that, the pandemic exposed human rights abuses such as arbitrary arrests, long detentions and further showed the indignity that poverty, discrimination and racism cause. The world looked to 2021 and 2022 to open a new chapter of recovery in all affected spheres of life. However, 2022 has since dealt the world the Ukraine-Russia armed conflict that has on its own had a ripple effect that has caused much world tension and further prompted questions on freedoms, justice and dignity of persons especially forced migrants as the world has witnessed. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has noted the wide range of human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity that have caused suffering and devastation with thousands of civilians killed and injured among whom are many children. Many actions during this armed conflict have set the international community back many years in the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals in the mass killings and torture that has been reported among other violations. According to UNHCR, the conflict has seen 7.8 million Ukrainian refugees scattered across Europe and another nearly 13 million internally displaced persons. This has created a breeding ground for even more human rights abuses especially against women, children, persons living with disabilities and the elderly. The same conflict goes further to affect the right to work, health, education, shelter and freedom of movement which are difficult to protect in the current context. To add, the same exodus has exposed discrimination with dehumanizing treatment being meted out against people from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East in effect redefining “human” and thereby deepening divisions among nations even in the face of armed conflict. Many people of “other” descent were reported to be barred from accessing humanitarian assistance and asylum on the basis of race and nationality in the presence of opportunities that were extended to other nationals. But more to that, the conflict has caused a shift in resource allocation from other long-standing humanitarian response initiatives towards the conflict which has been felt as far as refugees in Uganda with the ever reducing World Food Program’s food and cash ratios as well as the closure of several NGOs for lack of funding over the year due to a geographical shift in donor priorities. The fact that world economists are warning of a coming financial recession much like or worse than the 2008 financial crisis only spreads more fear regarding the welfare and livelihoods of vulnerable persons who strongly rely on external support and worries only rise regarding whether these vulnerable groups shall be able to live dignified lives should global economies crash further having an effect on livelihoods, healthcare, education, food etc. which in turn shall affect their rights to work, access healthcare and the rights of children which undermines the response of organizations and nations whose goal it is to ensure that vulnerable groups grow into self-resilience from national and global shocks. The world has also seen a wide debate on the freedom of expression captured under Article 19 of the UDHR which grants persons the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The debate has soared both nationally and internationally with the censure of many global leaders in politics, business, education and religion in the quarters of the world’s Third and Fourth Industrial Revolutions which involve the development of Information Technology and the Internet of Things. Uganda has seen the enactment of the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, 2022 that many argue curtails online freedom of expression and have come against the law for violations against the freedom of speech. The world over is also witnessing a new culture of stifling online speech with multinational organizations and governments banning and censoring free speech on online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook in line with divergent views. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated a digital migration in a time when people could not meet physically and the only recourse was the internet. The internet for a long time became crucial for education, work and sharing important information crucial to saving lives. It has since become a critical platform for ensuring Access to Justice through tele-conferencing, the freedom of expression and a vehicle for equality by becoming a means of sensitization of the masses on any matter. All these have made the internet an enabler for the enjoyment of human rights and in itself has increasingly become a basic right. It even goes as far as democracy and the exercise of civil and political rights as witnessed in various internet shutdowns across the world that have greatly undermined access to the service that many depend on for various needs. Censorship and internet shutdowns only work to undermine fundamental human rights of a political, social and economic nature and therefore should be stood against. Today, Refugee Law Project stands with all actors that have done and continue to do their part to ensure that human beings live dignified lives regardless of their nationality, race, religion, political association or otherwise and calls upon civil society actors, organizations and the government of Uganda to stand up and speak against the various human rights violations in our country and beyond and to protect survivors of violations to ensure that human rights are upheld and respected in all spheres of life.

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