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2012 | International Center for Transitional Justice, Report, Unredressed Legacy: Possible Policy Options and Approaches to Fulfilling Reparations in Uganda

This ICTJ report aims to contribute towards the design and implementation of a comprehensive Ugandan reparations policy. It does so by examining approaches for identifying and categorising victims and defining benefits and beneficiaries. It offers guidance in assessing how the needs of the most vulnerable victims can best be met and what long-term capacities must be put in place to implement a comprehensive reparations programme. It also highlights anticipated challenges and offers recommendations.

The report argues firstly that the Government of Uganda has an obligation to take formal responsibility for human rights violations arising from the actions of state actors and the failure to exercise due diligence to protect victims from violations committed by non-state actors. This forms the legal basis for a Government responsibility to provide reparations for all victims of the conflict between the GoU and LRA. Even though the GoU committed itself to providing reparations during the Juba Peace Talks, unfortunately it has up to now only provided a few nominal payments on an ad hoc basis.

In the report, ICTJ analyses the existing legal framework in Uganda to determine whether a broader reparations policy is necessary and appropriate. It finds that: “Given the history and length of the conflict in the north and the impossibility of determining and allocating blame in every case, the state should adopt a policy that embraces not only responsibility for commissions and omissions, but that also prescribes as a matter of right reparations derived as a matter of solidarity where no state responsibility can be established.” Without a clear policy, reparations can easily become politicised.

Defining who are possible beneficiaries of this policy is important. According to the report: “A definition that allows the government to provide symbolic acknowledgement to as many victims as possible, but which offers specific material forms of reparations and prioritizes those who need them more than others, may be the most-prudent approach.” The ICTJ does not find that a reparations policy should be limited to only northern Uganda but considers that beginning with the north could serve as a pilot programme for a nationwide programme.

As in most other reports, the ICTJ finds that, as a long-term policy is developed, urgent reparations need to be provided as soon as possible. Categories of victims that are in need of urgent reparations are: those suffering from ongoing health concerns and disabilities due to physical injuries, victims of sexual violence, those suffering from severe psychological trauma, girl (child) mothers, families of the disappeared, child-headed households, orphans, street children, unaccompanied minors, traumatized children, widows, female-headed households, persons with disabilities (PWDs), persons living with HIV/AIDS and the elderly. Categories of reparations that can be provided to these victims are: rehabilitation of those who suffer psychological harm, psychosocial support, education, provision of individual material and financial support, apologies and memorialisation. For the proper administration of a reparations policy calls for an effective coordinating mechanism (at the very least) or a distinct government agency (at most) that has the political and administrative mandate to ensure cross-sectoral coherence among different agencies and commitment from political leaders.

The ICTJ foresees a number of challenges in the implementation of a reparations programme: 

  • the legacy of internal displacement with complex issues on continuing unmet needs, 
  • the economic cost that will have to be met by a Government with a limited budget, 
  • the precedent of reparations in northern Uganda and expectations by people in other parts of Uganda who have as much right to reparations, 
  • the sometimes blurred line between perpetrators and victims and the fact that some perpetrators may also qualify for reparations, 
  • ensuring that victims (who now complain they are excluded from consultative and decision-making processes) are consulted and heard throughout the reparations processes.

The report concludes with an elaboration on the following list of recommendations:

1. Develop a coherent approach that defines both legal and policy frameworks. 
2. The Government should adopt a broad-based policy providing as a matter of right reparations to victims even where state responsibility cannot be established as a matter of law. 
3. Immediate steps should be taken to agree on a timetable and coherent plan for implementing symbolic measures both nationally and locally that are consistent in content and approach. 
4. Establish an urgent reparations program for victims in northern Uganda. 
5. Implement comprehensive reparations program and truth seeking. 
6. Establish a Fund for reparations. 
7. Create an effective and politically supported mechanism for reparations implementation. 
8. Integrate traditional justice mechanisms. 
9. Incorporate reconciliation and define the role of individual perpetrators. 
10. Ensure victim participation at all stages of the process