Uganda

Left to their own devices: The continued suffering of victims of the conflict in northern Uganda and the need for reparations

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1. INTRODUCTION

The conflict in northern Uganda between Government of Uganda's (GoU) armed forces and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) lasted nearly two decades from 1986. Since 2006, with the cessation of hostilities between the parties following a peace process, it has abated and an uneasy calm has returned to the region.1

During the conflict widespread human rights abuses were committed by the LRA against the civilian population. Amnesty International documented the LRA's abduction of thousands of children and adults, unlawful killing of thousands of civilians, the rape of thousands of women and beatings of men, women and children. The organization also documented human rights violations committed by the government's Uganda Peoples' Defence Forces (UPDF). These included unlawful killings, rape and beatings of civilians. There was general impunity for soldiers who committed human rights violations against civilians. Also documented as one of the most enduring effects of the conflict on civilians was, and remains, the massive displacement of about 1.8 million people from their homes into internally displaced persons' (IDPs) camps 2 in which living conditions were often dire for IDPs in relation to shelter, hygiene, health and nutrition.

Many years on, victims and survivors of human rights violations still bear the scars of these violations. Little has been done to ensure that victims and survivors have access to effective reparations which address their continued suffering and help them to rebuild their lives. The Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation signed between the LRA and the government of Uganda (GoU) in June 2007, and an Annexure signed in February 2008 (the Annex), make provision for reparations for victims and survivors of human rights violations. Under the Annex, the government will establish mechanisms to provide reparations.3 Yet this commitment is marked by significant flaws and falls short of ensuring prompt and effective reparations for victims.4 Furthermore, this commitment remains a pipedream and has to date not been backed by any concrete action plan to address the suffering of victims and survivors through a reparations program.

An Amnesty International delegation visited the northern Uganda districts of Gulu, Amuru, Kitgum, Pader and Lira in August 2008 and interviewed hundreds of victims of human rights violations suffered during the conflict. Amnesty International delegates also met with government officials and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including victims' groups. Victims expressed the urgent need for the government to put in place an action plan, in consultation with them, to provide reparations, which addresses their current suffering.