Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Rebels May Confront Disfigured Victims

Senior LRA members could be required to meet their maimed victims as part of a traditional justice process.
By Joe Wacha
The government has begun to register disfigured victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, as part of preparations for possible traditional justice proceedings against rebel leaders.

The move also seeks to document those who lost limbs and other body parts either by landmine or other causes during the two-decades-long insurgency in the north of the country.

With both sides - the LRA and government - still engaged in peace negotiations in the neighbouring Sudanese town of Juba, there are plans the register will be used in dealing with rebel leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders should the negotiating parties endorse traditional justice mechanisms in place of International Criminal Court, ICC, prosecutions.

The peace talks are viewed by many as the best opportunity for ending the insurgency, which prompted the ICC to charge the LRA’s top five commanders with war crimes committed during the conflict.

President Yoweri Museveni ordered the registration of

maimed war victims as the LRA peace delegation seeks to start consultations within and outside Uganda on alternative justice mechanisms. A similar process by the government peace delegation has just been concluded.

During the government’s consultations on accountability and reconciliation, the majority of LRA victims said they would forgive the rebels in the interests of peace, says a official report.

Richard Todwong, the presidential advisor in charge of the war affected northern Uganda, says Museveni directed him to conduct the registration so that disfigured victims of the LRA could be paraded before top rebel commanders should the negotiating parties adopt the traditional justice mechanism known locally as Mato Oput.

“This category of people, we feel, are very important because, as we pursue the Juba peace talks, if we take the Mato Oput approach, then Kony would have to seek reconciliation and forgiveness from the people who have been physically damaged by the war,” said the presidential advisor.

The traditional justice mechanism, if adopted, is expected to take the place of the ICC prosecution of LRA leader, Joseph Kony, his second in command, Vincent Otti and two other commanders.

Todwong says so far, 1800 disfigured war victims have been registered in the Acholi sub region adding that the exercise would now be extended to the neighbouring Lango, Teso and West Nile regions; the other

areas that were hardest hit by the rebels.

Those being registered include people who have lost their limbs, lips, eyes and ears or have been scarred by burns inflicted when they were thrown into grass-thatched huts which were then set alight.

Some disfigured LRA victims who spoke to IWPR feel such enmity towards the rebels that they are in no mood to forgive them anytime soon. Charles Odongpiny, whose left eye was gouged out by the LRA, said “those who want the rebels forgiven just like that have not gone through this pain”.

Other victims are enraged that the international community and the government are meeting the costs of LRA calls to local radio stations, as part of confidence building and reconciliation efforts.

“I just can’t understand how things happen. The same people who caused us all the suffering are now being paid in dollars while we the poor victims are left to ponder our fate and die in pain here in the villages,” said Concy Abalo, who lost her leg in a landmine explosion.

Todwong says the government also plans to provide plastic surgery, artificial limbs and other medical operations

for the victims depending on their individual needs.

That maimed victims of the LRA are in need of support is not in doubt, especially in cases where marriages have broken up when the able-bodied partner has abandoned their disfigured spouse.

Joe Wacha is an IWPR journalist in Uganda.

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