In 2019, the Government of Uganda approved the National Transitional Justice policy, as a commitment to address the country’s history of conflict and the yearning for peace, justice, reconciliation, accountability and social reintegration. Transitional justice provides redress to victims and creates opportunities for the transformation of the governmental systems, conflicts and other conditions that may have been at the root of human rights abuses.

The challenge has been to demonstrate the policy in practice with transitional justice and post-conflict recovery responses in Northern Uganda. The effects of war still linger with unaddressed human rights violations, structural imbalances, gaps in justice, law and order as well as unattended concerns of the victims.

As Uganda slowed down for the festive season in 2020, ASF Uganda embarked on a media campaign to reinvigorate citizen enthusiasm, response and shared experiences on the road towards truth, reconciliation and justice. ASF partners involved in the campaign included the Refugee Law Project (RLP), Foundation for Justice and Development Initiatives (FJDI), and Uganda Victims Foundation (UVF)

The TRJ media campaign ran on the backbone of TRAC FM infrastructure of poll design and radio partners aimed to promote TRJ across the sub-regions of Acholi (Mega FM), Lango (Radio Wa) and West Nile (Radio Pacis). It was an effective programme in which citizens participated through interactive radio talk and their views were collected. The campaign advanced the capacity of radio stations to effectively use data driven and issue-based programming which empowered staff in their roles as station managers and hosts. Besides, TRAC FM designed targeted packaging of infographics which broke down the statistics into understandable and usable information for radio hosts, guests, civil society partners to explain TRJ issues to wider audiences.

10,020 listeners responded to the polls in the TRJ media campaign thus contributing to the creation of the linkage between political structures and transitional justice to ensure that the Transitional Justice debate is not lost and continues to thrive within political spaces.

TRJ is about establishing an account of past wrongs, compensation to victims, fair distribution of public goods and opportunities and restoration of what was lost during the chaos of conflict and war. It is also crucial that institutions are reformed in order to build fair and equitable access to justice, law and order and safeguard against the recurrence of human rights violations. The Uganda Human Rights Commission is one such institution - borne out of the Truth Commission: Commission of Inquiry into Violations of Human Rights between 1966 and 1986. The commissioners then heard from both victims and violators of human rights in past regimes in which many civilian lives were lost under Idi Amin from 1971 and 1979 and under Milton Obote from 1980 to 1985.

Regarding what the government should emphasise in the implementation of the National Transitional Justice policy, most (55%) of the respondents said truth and reconciliation; 27%, reparations while 18% were of the view that perpetrators should be held accountable. The latter results mirror the view of Yasmin Sooka when she said that ‘it is essential to ensure that peace and justice are seen as mutually reinforcing imperatives, and not replaced by erroneous notions that peace must come first before accountability.’

However, there were some regional variations in the audience responses in Lira where 68.4% of respondents hose truth and reconciliation compared to 44.7% in Gulu and 45.6% in West Nile. Relatedly, reparations to victim families formed 25.1% in West Nile; 36.4% in Gulu and 18.7% in Lira.

In the second poll, of the 3,257 listeners who responded most (35%) said that provision of economic and financial support would be most effective for victims of conflict and war; 31% chose resolving land issues that are as a result of war; 20% said the government should provide free medical and mental healthcare support and 14% chose provision of free legal support. 

 Still, there were regional differences in the poll data as most (45%) listeners in Lango sub region said that resolving land issues that are as a result of war was most effective; while public opinion was split at 42% between the West Nile and Acholi sub-region who chose provision of economic and financial support.

For poll three, 4,088 listeners responded with the majority (31%) saying that lack of documentation was the reason as to why land wrangles were still so rampant in post conflict areas. This was followed by 30% who pointed to corruption and other challenges with the justice system; 21% chose stigma and marginalisation of widows, orphans, PWDs, unmarried women and young people and lastly; 18% selected the commercialisation of land for large scale farming.

The results varied by region with most respondents in Lango choosing lack of land documentation; 33% of respondents choosing corruption in West Nile; majority (34%) saying stigma in Lango while 22% of respondents from Acholi selected commercialisation of land for large scale farming.

The ASF media campaign was timely for seeking to realise consolidated data on citizens views and perspectives on the selected topics of discussion. The campaign increased the understanding of citizen perspectives on transitional justice and the national transitional justice policy. It also shone light on everyday peoples’ perspectives and opinions on what their leaders have done in regards to transitional justice.

Lessons from the polls

What we learn from the TRJ campaign is that stakeholders have to respond to community needs in more local ways that are relevant to them. The polls indicate that both traditional and formal justice systems should be applied where they are most valued in the communities.

While mato oput - the alternative traditional justice - seemed successful through truth telling and reconciliation, communal land systems had not solved the land wrangles in the communities. It was also apparent that despite the big budgets dedicated to legal aid, respondents selected it last in terms of effectiveness of the reparations program for victims of conflict in Northern Uganda.

Therefore, land documentation and financial reparations are deemed most critical by victims of conflict in Acholi, Lango and West Nile.

To Rebuild Lives, Suffering Must Be Acknowledged, Justice Done - Michelle Bachelet

Lessons for current affairs

Even as the country reels from an imperfect election cycle, Ugandans have to reckon with the reality of angst and premonition that things are not too well for optimists and could not be any worse for pessimists today. The Inter-religious Council of Uganda and others have called for open dialogue about the future of Uganda. On 3 March 2021, the Mufti of Uganda spoke of the ‘need to re-embark on the Uganda National Dialogue course [because] the challenges and emerging issues are as compelling today as they were in the preceding post-election periods.’’ 

Kathryn Sikkinki observes in her book, The Hidden Faces of Rights on transitional justice, that human rights advocates should be forward-looking in order to provide solutions that focus on doing instead of the backward-looking descriptors of naming, blaming and shaming those involved on both sides.  

Mohles Kalule Segululigamba
Advocacy Communication Consultant