Womens Rights In Northern Uganda Criminology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The twenty year old war between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and the government of Uganda witnessed the most egregious violations of human rights. There was massive destruction of property and lives, forcing over 1,500,000 people inclusive of women, children, the disabled and the elderly to live in internally displaced camps. [1] The LRA rebels established a pattern of 'brutalization of civilians' by acts including murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burnings of houses and looting of camp settlements. Abducted civilians, including children, are said to have been forcibly "recruited" as fighters, porters and sex slaves to serve the LRA rebels and to contribute to attacks against the Ugandan army and civilian communities. [2] 

More than 200,000 girls and women were brutally raped, forced into sexual slavery in order to provide relatively safe, cheap, and convenient sexual services to the fighters. [3] Those who remained in the internally displaced persons camps were subjected to domestic violence on a rampant scale. [4] In addition to the gross human rights violations they suffered women, were also burdened with new roles like heading households, with no social protection mechanisms in place. [5] 

Following the end of the conflict it remains to be seen whether the transitional justice mechanisms will effectively address the gender based violations that occurred during conflict.

Accountability for gender crimes is a critical challenge for most post conflict societies. [6] The pervasive violations that women experience during armed conflicts are rarely integrated in transitional justice processes, hence entrenching the existing inequalities and fostering a culture of impunity for gender crimes. [7] 

The patriarchal constructions of the transitional justice processes often privilege the experiences of men over those of women hence providing men with differential protection. [8] Many laws and policies, themselves a product of a patriarchal society, condone sexual stereotypes, of men's control over women's bodies and are grossly inadequate in addressing gender based human right violations . [9] Occasionally, gender issues are slotted into transitional justice mechanisms as an afterthought. I identify with Makau Mutua's argument that transitional justice mechanisms cannot simply "slot" gender-oriented notions of justice into existing processes, instead they need to be reconceptualised to make them more gender responsive. [10] 

The onus is upon Women rights organisation such as FIDA-U to take necessary steps to transform transitional justice mechanisms, to make them more gender responsive. This paper will reflect on the initiatives taken by Civil Society Organisations (CSO's) to shaping transitional justice processes in Uganda. It will also examine the advocacy strategies adopted to make them gender sensitive. Special focus shall be given to activities implemented by FIDA-U. To this end the first part of this paper gives a brief background to the conflict in Northern Uganda. The second part discusses the transitional justice mechanisms adopted in Northern Uganda. The third part examines the role played by civil society in transitional justice processes, and the challenges faced. The fourth part shall critically analyse specific activities under taken by FIDA-U and other civil society organizations to engender the transitional justice processes. The final part shall be the conclusion.

About FIDA-Uganda

FIDA-Uganda is a human rights organization that is the pioneer of legal aid and public legal education in Uganda. It enjoys a national reputation as a premier women's rights organization that has led the struggle for women's empowerment and access to justice for over 20 years. It has extensive experience in, public interest litigation, national and international advocacy for gender equality. FIDA-U has consultative status with UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and observer status with the African Commission on Human and People's Rights.

Background to the conflict

Since its independence in 1962, Uganda has had a violent military past which witnessed the ousting of the Milton Obote regime in 1971, Idi Amin Dada in 1979, Milton Obote's second deposition in 1985 and Tito Okello's fall in 1986. [11] The most protracted of these armed conflicts has been between the LRA and the government of Uganda. The twenty year war was initially started by Alice Lakwena [12] and continued by Joseph Kony, the self styled rebel leader of the Lord's Resistance Army. Kony and Lakwena claimed to have been endowed with spiritual powers to cleanse the people of Northern Uganda of their sins and to displace the government of President Yoweri Museveni. [13] Despite the absence of a clear political motive, the LRA engaged in widespread and systematic human rights violations and established a pattern of brutalization of civilians by acts including mass killings, rape, defilement, mass abductions of children, sexual violence, mutilations and the destruction of property on an unimaginable scale [14] .

Abducted civilians were forcibly "recruited" as fighters, porters and sex slaves to serve the LRA and compelled to contribute to attacks against the Ugandan army and civilian communities." [15] Sexual violence, particularly rape and sexual slavery, were methodically used as a tool of war and as an instrument of terror. [16] 

Transitional justice paradigm in Uganda

Transitional Justice has been defined as the "[C]onception of justice associated with periods of political change, characterized by legal responses to confront the wrongdoings of repressive predecessor regimes." [17] Transitional justice mechanisms take the form of truth commissions, trials indigenous justice mechanisms and reparation schemes. [18] They mainly provide post conflict societies with a holistic sense of justice; establish civic trust; reconcile people and communities and prevent impunity and future abuses. [19] Distinguished legal scholar Makau Mutua has referred to them as "… the midwife for a democratic, rule of law state," because of the key role they play in establishing foundations for sound constitutionalism, peace building and reconciliation in post-conflict societies. [20] 

Justice as envisaged under the various transitional justice mechanisms, connotes, fairness, and accountability for actions. It means that the rights of individuals must be protected and crimes of wrongdoers punished by processes which are fair and accountable and which protect the interest of the victim, the accused and society at large. [21] 

Having failed to put an end to the atrocities committed by the LRA, following years of military campaigns, the Government of Uganda in 2003 referred the situation of Northern Uganda to the International Criminal Court (ICC). [22] Subsequently the Pre-trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court unsealed warrants of arrest against 5 of the LRA rebel leaders [23] . In 2006 the, Government of Uganda and the LRA rebel commanders committed to high-level, peace negotiations, at Juba in Southern Sudan. [24] The agenda of the Juba peace negotiations included: Cessation of hostilities, a comprehensive solution to the conflict, reconciliation and accountability, a formal cease-fire, and a plan for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration. In 2007, pursuant to Agenda item no 3 of the peace negotiations, the Government of Uganda and the LRA rebels entered into an Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation. The Agreement and Annexure on accountability and reconciliation sets the architecture of the transitional justice in Northern Uganda by specifying the formal and informal accountability mechanisms to be adopted.

It provides for the establishment of the Special division of the High court which is meant to try individuals who committed gross human rights violations during the conflict. [25] It also provides for truth telling and truth seeking process aimed at promoting reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators. [26] Finally it provides for traditional justice mechanisms such as Culo Kwor, Mato Oput, Kayo Cuk, Ailuc and Tonu ci Koka. [27] 

In a last minute decision, the leader of the LRA Joseph Kony refused to sign the final peace agreement citing the failure by the Ugandan government to persuade the International Criminal Court to suspend the arrest warrants against the LRA leadership. The refusal by Kony to sign the final peace agreement has not deterred government from implementing the provisions in the Agenda No. 3 agreement.

Following the signing of Agenda Item no. 3 of the Juba Peace talks by the LRA and the GoU, the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) established a Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) which was tasked with the operationalizing of the transitional justice mechanisms contained in the agreement. The priorities of TJWG include: Reconciliation and re-integration of ex-combatants into the community; prosecution of the master minders of the conflict; individual and community reparations; institutional reform of the Justice and security sectors in order to re-build trustworthy public institutions; rehabilitation and development of new infrastructure. [28] 

Civil society and transitional justice mechanisms in Uganda

Civil society has been defined as: "The collection of organized interests that nominally exist outside the political sphere, yet often mediate between the public at large and the state. It includes, among others, NGOs and civic associations. The latter are primarily voluntary and membership based, whereas the former are ordinarily professional units." [29] 

Both national and international CSO's continue to play a critical role in the in the transition process of Northern Uganda. Organisations such as Isis Wicce and Refugee Law Project have collected data aimed at understanding the nature of the conflict and published reports on the human rights abuses that occurred during the conflict. The data collected has been used to influence policy and legislative change. The compiled reports provide a historical record of the conflict, which is necessary for the prevention of future of similar conflicts.

CSO's have made significant contributions in designing, implementing and monitoring the transitional justice mechanisms. [30] They have mobilised and empowered victims to demand for accountability from government. Significantly they continue to fill gaps of technical expertise that exist within the state institutions, by delivering services in areas in which the government is unable to deliver, due to resource constraints or laxity. There are numerous CSO's providing legal aid, health care, livelihood and psychosocial support to victims. In Northern Uganda [31] 

FIDA-U has also worked collaboratively with other human rights Organisations both at the national and international level. For example FIDA Uganda, FIDA Kenya and Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) held a consultative meeting in which they discussed how to effectively engage international and regional justice mechanisms. The three sister organisations reflected on the accountability mechanisms in place domestically and how women lawyers can effectively engage them to protect the rights of women.

Some of the positive outcomes of the advocacy and lobbying strategies of CSO's include the establishment of the War crimes division of the High Court by government and the domestication of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [32] .

In spite of their critical role, CSO's in Uganda operate within a restrictive policy and legal environment. Laws such as The NGO Registration (Amendment) Act of 2006 along with the draft NGO Regulations restrict the legitimate work of CSO's. The NGO Board, which regulates the activities of NGO's in Uganda lacks independence and holds excessive power and jurisdiction over the registration and running of NGO's. [33] The NGO regulations also grant significant power to the NGO board, notably the power to deregister, disband NGOs and impose conditions on areas of operation all of which threaten organisation's independence and existence. [34] Furthermore, the regulations limit interactions between NGO's and their beneficiaries by requiring them ( NGO's) to give seven days notice in writing, to the district authorities, before making direct contact with local people in rural areas. [35] Some CSO's, inclusive of FIDA-U, have been able to avoid the restrictions of the NGO Act by registering as companies limited by guarantee, under the Companies Act of Uganda Cap 110, which is less restrictive.

The disharmony and mistrust that exists between and civil society organizations and government, has frustrated positive recommendations from CSO's. For example the GoU has paid little regard to the Draft National Reconciliation Bill which was drafted by CSO's in Uganda [36] . The bill proposes to establish an organ for national reconciliation which would provide for a comprehensive and unfettered inquiry and clarification into Uganda's history.

CSO's in Uganda are also hampered by their failure to collaborate. Collaboration between different levels of civil society at local, national and international level is limited. This deprives them of the strength of collective action hence limiting their capacity to promote human rights. Funding limitations also undermine the work of CSO's. Most CSO's are entirely dependent on foreign funding with no alternative sources of income thereby making the Organisations vulnerable in case such funding is suspended.

Placing Gender concerns on Agenda of the Juba peace talks

Although women suffered the most egregious human rights violations during the conflict, they were excluded from the Juba Peace negotiations [37] . As a consequence Women rights organisations devised creative strategies of placing gender concerns on the agenda of the Juba peace negotiations. [38] Recognising the strength that lies in a collective action and having one articulate voice, diverse women organisations formed the Uganda Women's Coalition for Peace (UWCP). The diversity in membership served as a strength for the coalition by giving it legitimacy and credibility within the communities in the post conflict areas. The organisations in the coalition included: The Uganda Women's Network (UWONET), which coordinated the coalition activities; The Centre for Conflict Resolution (CECORE); (FIDA-U) which provided legal analysis to the process; and International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE), which documented women's experiences and concerns. [39] The coalition sought to amplify the voices of women to ensure that their interests were incorporated in the peace negotiations. The coalition also wanted to make certain that the most pervasive violations that women experienced during the conflict were not obscured.

To this end, UCWP organised consultative meetings with women at the grassroots in post conflict areas in which it solicited their views on the peace process and their priorities in terms of accountability and reconstruction. [40] The consultative meetings provided communities in Northern Uganda with a platform to critique and dialogue over the proposed transitional justice mechanisms. For example women at the grass roots were able to voice their concerns with the Traditional Justice mechanisms, which have a history of marginalising women. They noted that the adoption of traditional justice mechanisms under the transitional justice framework might reinforce the existing inequalities. They also questioned the effectiveness of the traditional justice mechanisms in addressing women's grievances, since they had not been used to resolve cases of gender based violence. The recommendations from the consultative meetings were transmitted to the mediators at the peace negotiations.

With the support from The United Nations Women's Development Fund (UNIFEM), UWCP created a peace caravan and a peace torch which were used as strategic tools to promote the participation of women in the peace process. [41] In November 2006 selected women representatives travelled to Juba to observe the peace talks and lobby the negotiators for gender responsive provisions in the final peace agreement.

Under the auspices of UWCP, trainings for leaders from various districts were organised aimed at enhancing their understanding and analysis of the conflict. The trainings also equipped them with knowledge on how to manage and resolve conflicts peacefully. UWCP also facilitated the establishment of community based organisations which offered a variety of services to the communities such as counselling, trauma management and support to formerly abducted child mothers [42] .

There were several gains that were made at Juba following the successful advocacy strategies of the UWCP. For example The GoU added a woman on its negotiating team. Several gender responsive provisions were included in the Agreement and Annexure on Accountability and reconciliation. For example the Agreement urges the parties to the agreement to prevent and eliminate any gender inequalities that could arise as a result of the transitional justice processes adopted. [43] The Annexure to the Agreement on accountability and reconciliation further stipulates that the special needs of women and children need to be taken into account especially in connection with the payment of reparations. [44] It also provides for an of accountability process that protects the privacy and dignity of women who have been subjected to gender crimes. Finally it calls upon parties to the agreement to ensure that the experiences, views and concerns of women are taken into account and women are not merely protected as victims but also empowered as agents. [45] 

UWCP faced a number of challenges in its work. Cultural biases were used to delegitimize the coalition's involvement with the peace process. Women who went to observe the peace talks were discredited as immoral women. [46] Limited resources prevented the coalition from having a permanent presence at the negotiations. Furthermore, the diversity in membership that once served as strength to the coalition also led to its disintegration. Organisations with different mandates wanted their program areas prioritised, when fundraising for the coalition. This led tensions within the coalition and forced some organisations to break away.

legal and institutional reform

There have been several developments in International Law which provide for the prosecution of gender based crimes as crimes against humanity and war crimes. [47] There are several procedural protections in place in relation to evidentiary rules for prosecuting gender crimes [48] and safeguarding the physical and mental well-being of victims of and witnesses to those crimes. [49] 

In spite of the numerous developments in International Law addressing gender crimes during conflicts, the national legal and institutional frameworks have serious limitations which hinder victims of gender crimes from accessing justice. Save for the recent Ugandan Penal Code Amendment Act of 2007, [50] the bulk of the laws on sexual offence are colonial laws which were enacted in 1904 at the beginning of the last century. They were tailored to perpetuate discrimination by maintaining male dominance and female subordination. [51] Therefore to expect the same laws to effectively address gender based violations is a "fraught endeavour." [52] For instance the laws on sexual assaults limit the 'sexual acts' to penile vaginal penetration [53] , thus ignoring a wide range of sexual assaults, which are more harrowing. [54] Furthermore the classification of sexual offences as offences against morality and not offences against the person, trivializes the impact that sexual violence has on its victims

In order to advance gender justice in post conflict Northern Uganda, FIDA-U devised advocacy strategies to reform the law. Gender justice entails women's authentic access to justice and full participation in the justice sector. [55] The strategies employed included, organising sensitisation seminars for policy makers to inform and educate them on the proposed laws or amendments. Fact sheets, position papers, articles in the newspapers were published to sensitise the public about the proposed laws which would enable them lobby their members of parliament to pass the laws. FIDA-U has also held dialogues with legislators and other policy makers on how to effectively protect the rights of victims of gender crimes especially child mothers in Northern Uganda.

FIDA-U has also been instrumental in the formation of coalitions with other likeminded organisations, in order to advocate for the enactment or adoption of laws and policies. The Coalitions have successfully lobbied for the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 2010, the International Criminal Court Act 2010, the Penal code Amendment Act 2007, and the Anti Trafficking in persons Act 2010 and the Female Genital Cutting Act 2010. Some of the pending bills still being advocated for include the Marriage and Divorce bill, and the Sexual Offence bill. The Coalition on the Domestic Violence Bill successfully lobbied parliamentarians to enact of The Domestic violence Act. Spearheaded by FIDA-U and the Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP), the coalition consisted of a wide spectrum of civil society organisations which ranged from women right's NGO's, religious groups to organisations of persons with disability. The coalition held nationwide consultations and collected views from the public, which were reduced into a petition. The Petition was presented to the legal and parliamentary affairs committee during the parliamentary hearings of the bill.

FIDA-U has also forged alliances with members of the judiciary, who have the capacity of transforming the through jurisprudence based on principles of equality and human rights. In collaboration with the Judicial Studies Institute FIDA-U organised sensitisation workshops for judges and magistrates in which they were trained on the latest developments in international law, such as the broad definition of rape as contained in the Akayesu decision which recognises the seriousness of rape and other sexual offenses in the context of conflict and war, as an element of genocide war crimes and crimes against humanity [56] . The Judges and Magistrates were sensitised on the protective measures that they could adopt to shield victims of gender crimes from stigma and trauma during trial.

Reforming the Justice and security sectors

Nurturing a structured institutional collaboration with the Justice Law and Order Sector ( JLOS) has been one of the effective strategies adopted by FIDA-U to bring about institutional reform, to enhance their capacity to adequately investigate and prosecute crimes against women.

As a member of the JLOS transitional justice working group FIDA-U has provided JLOS with recommendations on how to make the justice and security sectors gender sensitive. FIDA-U has also organised gender trainings for the Police, judges, magistrates and prosecutors, to unpack the underlying factors and the social cultural contexts within which gender based violence occurs. The purpose of the trainings was to bring about attitudinal changes within the justice and security sectors, in order to provide victims of gender crimes with access to compassionate avenues for justice. As a consequence of the close collaboration between FIDA-U and the justice sector, the Magistrates court in Gulu district situated in Northern Uganda, have set aside two days per week to hear cases of rape, defilement, domestic violence, child support and succession disputes.

Addressing the needs of victims of sexual and gender based violence requires a multi-sectoral approach, including the police, courts, corrections, civil society, health care, mental health and policymakers to ensure that victims are restored and offenders held accountable. Drawing from the experiences of other post conflict countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone in addressing SGBV, FIDA-U in collaboration with UNIFEM facilitated and convened consultative meetings for professionals from the health sector, justice sector, local government, security sector and members of civil society which resulted in the creation and adoption of a national referral pathway. The referral pathway is meant to strengthen collaboration between the relevant sectors that interface with victims of gender based violence in Northern Uganda. Increased collaboration between the stakeholders enhances victim's access to justice, psychosocial support and health services. Regular review meetings are held by stakeholders to assess the effectiveness its effectiveness.

The national referral pathway will require vast investment for it to be fully operational and participatory. While FIDA-Uganda facilitated the creation and adoption of the referral pathway, it is not within its ambit to enforce its implementation.

Engendering traditional justice mechanisms

The Constitution recognizes culture as one of the mechanisms of enhancing the dignity and well-being of the person. The National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, XXIV outline the Cultural objectives. Accordingly, "cultural and customary values which are consistent with fundamental rights and freedoms, human dignity, democracy and with the Constitution may be developed and incorporated in aspects of Ugandan life." [57] The Constitution recognises the right to enjoy, practise, profess, maintain and promote any culture, cultural institution, language, tradition, creed or religion in community with others. [58] The Constitution however prohibits any laws, cultures, customs or traditions which are against the dignity, welfare or interest of women or which undermine their status [59] .

The traditional justice mechanisms which include Culo Kwor, Mato Oput, Kayo Cuk, Ailuc and Tonu ci Koka comprise a central part of the framework for accountability, in Post conflict Northern Uganda. [60] These indigenous accountability mechanisms enjoy popular support in Northern Uganda since they are premised on shared cultural practices and values. Importantly, they filled the gap when the formal justice institutions had been shattered by the conflict. [61] 

In spite of their popularity, the traditional justice mechanisms have several limitations. They unwittingly reinforce iniquitous practices which marginalise women. [62] Most often the traditional justice systems rely on male elders to make decisions on matters affecting women in the absence of the affected women. [63] 

However it is important to note that culture is a double-edged sword; while it can confine and constrain women, it can at the same time be wielded creatively and resourcefully to enhance women's rights. [64] The social legitimacy that culture enjoys in Northern Uganda signified to FIDA-U the need to engage cultural institutions to ensure that women's rights are protected therein.

In a consultative meeting between the Ker Kwaro Acholi and FIDA-U, the paramount chief of the Acholi expressed the desire to transform the Acholi culture into a tool for peace and justice as opposed to a tool to suppress women. [65] Consequently FIDA-U entered into a partnership with FIDA-U to document the Acholi cultural practices on gender relations with the aim of transforming Acholi culture to realign it with human rights principles of equality and non discrimination.

The Ker Kwaro Acholi is a cultural institution comprising of 50 traditional leaders of the Acholi people and is regarded as the custodian of Acholi culture. It was re-constituted in 2000 under Article 246 of the Constitution of Uganda as a legal cultural institution.

FIDA-U organised consultative sessions for the Acholi chiefs in which they agreed on common interpretation of cultural practices, and identified areas of contention warranting further probing and dialogue. The participatory process augmented the authenticity of the documentation. To counter the male dominance given that all chiefs are male, elderly women were included as part of the joint dialogues with chiefs. The participants were guided in indentifying cultural practices which infringed the rights of women and therefore needed to be abandoned and those which are positive and should be retained. There was consensus on the abandonment of a number of cultural practices which impaired the rights of women. These include domestic violence, disinheritance of the girls, child marriages, abductions and the sending away of child mothers who are regarded as infidels. [66] However there were controversial issues such as the recognition of the land rights of women and payment of bride price. The payment of bride price was widely supported by both men and women albeit for different reasons: To the women it is considered a form of honour and guaranteed respect within the community and to the men it cemented the relationship making it difficult for the woman to vacate the marriage at a whim. The final outcome of the process was the publication of the Acholi Cultural Principles on gender relations which were adopted by the Acholi chiefs. The exercise enabled the Ker Kwaro to redefine Acholi culture using human rights.

Legal rights awareness sessions and Mobile clinics

Institutional reform in post conflict societies is slow and difficult, therefore enhancing protection of human rights in post conflict situations requires investments in legal and human rights education. FIDA-U has conducted Legal and human rights awareness sessions in the communities in Northern Uganda, to equip them with basic knowledge on the law and human rights, and where to seek redress when those rights are violated. Possession of basic legal knowledge enables communities to resolve some of the legal problems they face amicably, without recourse to court or a lawyer. [67] FIDA-U has also trained paralegals on the basic principles of the law and procedures when engaging with the police or courts. The paralegals provide the communities with basic information on rights and procedures, mediate conflicts, and monitor the security and justice sectors.

Training of peace monitors

In order to ensure the effective participation of women in the peace processes, FIDA-U trained female peace monitors. The aim of the training was to help women gain knowledge, confidence and skills to maintain peace and identify likely causes of conflict. The participants were trained to appreciate the significance of peace monitoring, conflict resolution and peace building.


This paper has discussed the transitional justice framework in Uganda and the role played by Civil Society organisations such as FIDA-U in engendering transitional justice mechanisms. It emphasises the need to broaden the transitional justice discourse to incorporate gender concerns in order to "secure substantial material gains for women in transition." [68] CSO's need to continuously to monitor the implementation of the transitional justice processes to ensure that the gains made are realised at the grassroots. To effectively monitor human rights abuses and hold government accountable, there is need for more collaborative effort between CSO's. Cultural institutions need to be engaged further to enhance their capacity to advance the rights of women. Restorative justice should be given primacy in the transitional justice process, to enable full rehabilitation of the post conflict community. The reparation programmes such as the Peace and recovery development program in northern Uganda need to be engendered.