Women participating in a mato oput ceremony in Acholi

Women participating in a mato oput ceremony in Pajule, Pader. Copyright Erin Baines/Justice and Reconciliation Project.

JRP was founded in 2005 as a partnership between the Gulu District NGO Forum (GDNF) and the Liu Institute for Global Issues (LIGI), University of British Columbia (UBC). From 2005 to date, JRP has been funded with generous support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands, Gulu Walk, the Compton Foundation and the RNE. More recently, the USAID SAFE project has begun to support community truth-telling activities in Atiak, a community in Acholi sub-region in northern Uganda. With its initial funding, JRP worked with local communities in the Acholi sub-region of northern Uganda to document traditional justice practices in order to contribute to national and global debates on accountability and reconciliation. As a result, in 2005 JRP published its flagship report titled, Roco Wat i Acholi: Restoring Relations in Acholi Land. The report captured the opinions of cultural leaders, Acholi elders, clan leaders, religious leaders, and opinion leaders in conflict-affected communities. An important finding of the report was that the local mechanisms for resolving conflict could be a strong contributing factor to restoring social harmony and reconciliation among conflict-affected communities in northern Uganda. During the launch of this report officiated by the then-Chief LRA Mediator, Mrs. Betty Bigombe, and the Paramount Chief of Acholi, Rwot Onen David Acana II, with the attendance of a number of dignitaries, elders and traditional leaders in the region, a resolution was made to pursue further action for addressing the justice and reconciliation needs of conflict-affected communities. JRP was tasked to take up this challenge, after which a number of research and advocacy issues were identified through local consultations with cultural leaders, elders, communities in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and other stakeholders.

In July 2006, when the Juba Peace Talks between Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda (GoU) were initiated by the government of South Sudan, JRP was invited to bring local voices to the table in order to inform discussions on Agenda Item Three on Accountability and Reconciliation. Through this opportunity, JRP participated in the talks as part of an entourage of accredited observers comprised of religious, cultural and civil society organisation (CSO) leaders. JRP provided expert information on traditional justice and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes. In 2007, the landmark agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation, plus its Annexure, was signed, paving way for a series of consultations, in which JRP played an active part. For instance, JRP mobilised cultural and religious leaders in north and north-eastern Uganda to participate in a series of consultations on local justice mechanisms in Uganda, which led to a number of joint resolutions. In 2008, JRP mobilised CSOs in Uganda to form and participate in the Northern Uganda Transitional Justice Working Group (NUTJWG).

By 2010, a number of development partners had become increasingly interested in JRP’s model of actively consulting and mobilising conflict-affected communities. As a result, the RNE provided substantial funding amounting to over $3.5 million USD spanning five years to support the creation of an independent JRP NGO in Gulu, Uganda. A large office space was rented at Plot 50 Lower Churchill Drive in Gulu’s Senior Quarters. JRP adopted a mission to empower conflict-affected communities to participate in processes of justice, healing and reconciliation, and a vision to promote a just and peaceful society.

In the last five years (2010-2014), JRP’s work on local-level TJ has revolved around three principle work-streams:

  • Community Documentation (CD) conducts documentation of conflict-related experiences and memories of individuals, communities and victims’ groups (e.g. women, children, families of the missing [FoM], the disabled, young men) in order to promote the preservation of history, acknowledgement of loss and promotion of reconciliation and healing;
  • Community Mobilisation (CM) works with individuals, communities and victims’ groups to identify what needs to be done to promote community-level justice and reconciliation.  It involves engagement at a grassroots level through capacity-building and training, community-led initiatives, and dissemination of TJ information;
  • Gender Justice (GJ) pays special attention to the TJ needs and concerns of vulnerable groups that have been uniquely affected by the conflict because of gendered experiences, such as formerly-abducted men and women, victims of sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) and children born in captivity. This unit has assisted JRP in furthering its value that gender equality is both an aim of, and precondition for, sustainable peace and development. 

JRP’s key activities through these work-streams have involved research and documentation, advocacy, community outreach and engagement, grassroots TJ dialogues, policy workshops and seminars, trainings, stakeholder engagement, gender-based mediation and media engagement.

In its initial years as an NGO, JRP, through its new programmes, continued to play an active role in ongoing civil society and GoU efforts to pursue accountability and reconciliation. For instance, JRP supported the domestic passing of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Act in 2010, which provided legislation to back the 2009 formation of the International Crimes Division (ICD), formerly the War Crimes Division (WCD), of the High Court of Uganda to try war crimes and crimes against humanity in Uganda. To date, this court has provided an important impediment to impunity in Uganda, such as the trial of former LRA leader Thomas Kwoyelo and subsequent ongoing investigations. JRP, together with other stakeholders, successfully consulted on and later advocated for the reinstatement of part two of the Amnesty Act in May 2013, pending the implementation of holistic TJ policies and programmes in Uganda. In 2013, JRP presented a petition to the Gulu District Local Council (GDLC) calling for affirmative action towards formerly-abducted women and children born in captivity. This resolution was later unanimously adopted by the council and presented to the Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG). In February 2014, the petition was presented to the Parliament of Uganda through the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association (UWOPA), which led to the adoption of a resolution in Parliament on 9 April 2014 calling for affirmative action by the GoU to implement reparations for victims of conflict in northern Uganda. Throughout all of this, JRP has continued to work closely with the GoU and CSOs in trying to address the TJ gap in the country in bid to promote healing and reconciliation among victims, most notably through our ongoing participation in the drafting of the TJ policy for Uganda.