Transitional Justice in Uganda: Dilemma of Children born of war

Uganda's National Transitional Justice Policy was approved by the Cabinet on 17 June 2019.

 

As Northern Uganda continues to recover from a brutal and mass conflict, there are perplexing experiences that hinder its post conflict recovery. A fascinating aspect relates to the way in which vulnerable victims are reintegrated within the communities.

 

Northern Uganda was engulfed in a civil conflict in 1987, that went on for a duration of more than a decade. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel movement under the command of Joseph Kony often attacked civilian locations, causing massive devastation and gross human rights violations. These included acts of sexual violence, murder and recruitment of children as soldiers.

 

Response to victims of sexual violence ​

 

Unfortunately, victims of sexual violence in Northern Uganda have hardly received the deserved attention and medical assistance needed for them to regain their dignity. Yet, sexual and gender-based crimes were a key defining feature of the two-decade armed conflict between the LRA and the Government of Uganda in Northern Uganda. The LRA systematically abducted young women and girls between the ages of 10 and 18 years and awarded them to LRA fighters as “bush wives” and domestic servants, known as “ting ting.”

 

Most of the formerly abducted women and girls returned to their communities with children born out of forced marriages.  According to International Center for Transitional Justice(ICTJ), formerly abducted women and girls, with children face innumerable challenges such as stigma, discrimination and social rejection.

 

It is nearly 14 years since the cessation of hostilities and the restoration of peace in Northern Uganda, however very limited attention has been given to addressing the challenges faced and justice needs of formerly abducted mothers and children born of war. If the challenges and violations remain unchecked, they threaten to spill over to the next generation. One of the goals of transitional justice is to ensure non-repetition of the injustices and pave the path for addressing inequalities among people groups to allow for peace, accountability and reconciliation. The spill over effect being observed here, is likely to be with the children born of war.  

 

Children born of war: A spill over effect

 

A pilot study by the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) on birth registration of children born of war in Northern Uganda, using Acholi sub region as a case study carried out in 2018 established that there are approximately 4,000 – 6,000 children born of war (CBW).This shows how potentially the number of these CBW would be even much bigger should the study have been carried out all over the country. 

 

To further compound this challenge, the majority of the CBWs have not had their births registered. This means that they are almost legally non-existent, since they do not have any paper work about their birth. They face numerous human rights abuses such as illegal adoption, child labour, sexual exploitation, early marriages, military recruitment and human trafficking and the lack of specific protection as per the juvenile justice systems such as unnecessary detention stigmatisation at school, health facilities and other public facilities where a national identity card is required. This is because they are denied an opportunity to register for a national identity card.

 

CBWs are a vulnerable group of people that is also at the danger of becoming stateless.This is because their births are almost never registered, as noted above. This non-registration could be attributed to not knowing the importance of birth registration and lack of adequate details about their parents, dates of birth and places of birth.  This, coupled with fear and possible trauma of revealing the circumstances of the birth, makes these people or their parents or caretakers fear to register them. Without a national identity card and birth certificate, these children find themselves locked out of almost all the social and economic spheres of life. This could lead them to become stateless as they are nearly non-existent legally. 

 

The recently adopted National Transitional Justice Policy does not specifically make mention of CBW as a vulnerable group in need of special attention. It, however, in its outcomes, refers to the rehabilitation and reintegration of affected persons. Further to this, in reference to the use of traditional justice mechanisms, it refers to their importance in being useful in family tracing, parentage and identity of children born as a result of sexual violence in conflict. This generalization of vulnerable groups could lead to the likelihood of them missing out on the much-needed assistance that has been long overdue. 

 

The consequences of the children becoming stateless would be that they are prevented from participation in the socio-economic and public affairs of life which could create alienation of entire population groups. 

 

Way forward

 

Long term approaches linking transitional justice to development initiatives of government are key going forward. It is recommended that the National Identity Registration Authority (NIRA) revise its policy and legislation such that discriminatory tendencies that would deny CBW an opportunity to be registered are replaced with more inclusive practices. In May 2019, there were some state initiatives  to register CBW, however, there are still a lot of funding challenges.

 

CBW should be made a priority group that deserves immediate assistance from state and development partners. In the process of designing national programs, the opinions of CBWs should be included to ensure that the planned outcomes respond to the needs of the CBWs. 

 

Mugero Jesse is a lawyer and researcher. 

Tonny Raymond Kirabira is a lawyer and a PhD researcher, University of Portsmouth, UK. He can be contacted here.

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