As northern Uganda transitions amidst post-war recovery and reconciliation efforts, the issue of enforced disappearances and missing victims of mass atrocities during the war stands as a key obstacle in the process of healing, social repair, and advancement of transitional justice in the region. Working in collaboration with families of the missing, JRP has been instrumental in implementing The Right to Know campaign which spearheads efforts at documenting and promoting awareness of the plight of the missing persons and the anguish of their families.
Furthering its commitment to advocate for the marginalized needs of missing persons and their families and seek redress for their issues ahead of the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30, 2015, JRP has partnered with several key civil society organizations to undertake a series of focused activities in the last week of August, 2015. Seeking to embed advocacy at different levels of the society in northern Uganda, these activities open unprecedented spaces for dialogue and collaboration with diverse stakeholders including traditional and religious leaders, civil society organizations, community members, victims groups and local leaders across different sub-regions.
As part of these efforts, a community dialogue was facilitated in Lamogi sub-country, Amuru district, on August 26, 2015, by JRP in partnership with Refugee Law Project (RLP) and Justice and Peace Commission (JPC). The community dialogue brought together 150 community members, constituted primarily by families of missing persons, from across eight parishes in the region. It also witnessed the participation of prominent officials including LC-I, LC-III and members of Peace Committees in Parabongo. A group of professional counsellors offering psychological support services during the community dialogue were also mobilized by RLP. The objective of the dialogue was twofold:
- To elicit participation of families of missing persons to assess their current needs for redress and lay strategies to effectively advocate for accountability for the missing persons and raise awareness about their issues;
- To sensitize local leaders and sub-county-officials to the challenges faced by families of missing persons so that they are equipped to ably represent and respond to their needs and collaborate in advocacy for redress.
Creating a safe space for expression of repressed emotions and sharing of key issues by families of missing persons, the community dialogue addressed several pertinent questions. These included the families sharing the circumstances under which their loved ones went missing at the peak of the armed conflict and the subsequent effects on them which brought to the fore myriad unaddressed psychological, legal, administrative, social and economic challenges experienced by the families. Discussions around community-led search efforts highlighted their attempts to visit reception centers and use radio talk shows to urge the return of the missing persons. The role of other stakeholders foregrounded documentation efforts by sub-county officials at profiling the missing persons and updating the lists, although they were inadequate and required proactive follow-ups.
Echoing their demands for justice, the families voiced the need for livelihood and economic support for themselves, along with pressing for concerted efforts at documentation of the missing. They also expressed eagerness to form “Community Task Force” groups to raise awareness of their issues and advocate for redress. The need to make visible and prioritize the issues of families of missing persons in the national agenda, which has so far marginalized their concerns, also emerged as a key point as they charted the way forward.
Underscoring the need to synergize local and national efforts on this issue, the next event is a Sub-Regional Dialogue which will bring together families of the missing, civil society organizations, and religious and traditional leaders from Teso, Lango, Acholi and West Nile on 28 August for a procession demonstrating solidarity with families of missing persons and a multi-stakeholder dialogue in Lira.
Shilpi Shabdita is an intern with the Justice and Reconciliation Project’s Community Mobilisation team. She is pursuing a Masters’ degree in International Peace Studies with a specialization in Grassroots-level Conflict Analysis and Transformation at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, USA.