AS calm slowly returns to war affected northern Uganda, a new report suggests that focus should not only be on peace, but on reconciliation and justice which will come with that peace.
The Justice and Reconciliation Project, an organisation which works with marginalised and war affected communities in the districts of Gulu, Amuru, Kitgum and Pader says in its annual report released in January that strengthening locally owned approaches to the reintegration of ex-combatants, and involving communities in discussions on justice and reconciliation will help heal some of the wounds of the conflict and bring lasting peace.
In its report, "The Cooling of Hearts: Community Truth Telling in Acholi land”, JRP says a survey carried out involving 1,143 internally displaced people found that 97.5 percent of the respondents wanted the truth about what has happened during over 20 years of conflict to be known.
The LRA rebels have been fighting the government of President Yoweri Museveni for the last 20 years and as a result, over 1.7 million people are now living in squalid conditions in internally displaced peoples camps (IDPs).
Although peace talks that started in the Southern Sudan capital of Juba in July 2006 presented the best opportunity for peace in northern Uganda, the process remains fragile and the envisaged peace still hangs in balance.
But the 20 years of fighting have been characterised by gross human rights abuses including raping of women, brutally mutilating innocent civilians and forcefully conscripting children into rebel ranks and has left hundreds of innocent civilians dead.
It is issues like these that the affected population want addressed. They also want those responsible for heinous crimes to take responsibility and admit their mistakes.
This, the report says, will prevent future conflicts and move towards reconciliation especially through the Acholi traditional way of reconciliation commonly known as Mato Oput.
Besides the Mato Oput, local reconciliation mechanisms such as the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative have also been involved in reconciliation initiatives within the Acholi community.
The Amnesty Act of 2000 also provides a legal framework for and recognises the traditional justice mechanism system of Mato Oput among the Acholi to promote community reconciliation.
However, experts believe a comprehensive peace where communities will have to reconcile with each other is one way of addressing years of horrific suffering and human rights abuses.
The government has also indicated its readiness to plan a process of national reconciliation, though peace experts warn that national reconciliation is not possible without truth and justice.
According to the report, respondents also voiced fears including retaliation from perpetrators, fear of revenge against perceived perpetrators, which they say threaten to negatively affect the amnesty and peace process.
Most importantly, the report says survivors of this 20 year conflict want to be involved in establishing the truth themselves, and see this process as vital to moving beyond the conflict.
The report says that IDPs interviewed also showed desire to have certain massacres documented and their consequences discussed. Some of the most brutal mass massacres committed over the years by the LRA rebels include the 1995 Atiak massacre, Barlonyo and Abia massacres among others where in each of these massacres over 200 people were killed and others cooked in pots.
The report says that in these areas where massacres have occurred, definitive numbers and names of the dead and those still missing are not known, while those that are there only exist in memory and could easily be forgotten.
"However, what does exist is the testimony of survivors, partial informal records from NGOs, elders and government officials. Given proper attention and time, these could provide important evidence in providing a detailed account of what happened in northern Uganda during the course of the conflict,'' the report says.
Giving survivors an opportunity to present their views, the report says, will provide a partial record of hope of prompting the government to begin investigating the multiple massacres that have taken place in Uganda.
Source: The Monitor Online