UNDP supports Transitional Justice Working Group on learning missions to Kampala and Gulu, Uganda

Jun 10, 2016

Participants from over 20 countries came together in Uganda for a 5-day programme on the timing of transitional justice.

On 29 April 2016, four representatives of the civil society Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) travelled to Gulu, Uganda to attend the Institute for African Transitional Justice (IATJ). The IATJ is an annual week-long residential programme about transitional justice with a focus on issues and challenges in the African context. Under the theme of this year’s institute, ‘Too little too late or too much too soon? The time and timing of transitional justice’, participants discussed when transitional justice processes should begin and end, how long such processes should last and what this means for mandates of transitional justice institutions. Participants came from 20 countries including Zimbabwe, Kenya, Burundi, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The attendance of members of the TJWG marked the first South Sudanese participation at the Institute.

Over the course of five days, the members of the TJWG discussed timeframes for transitional justice and what this means for addressing matters such as providing medical attention to injured victims, generational trauma, prosecution of crimes, memorialisation initiatives, and the importance of being sensitive to victims’ perceptions. Amidst these discussions, the programme allotted time to reflect on South Sudan as a case study. The participants discussed the implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) and shared their TJWG experiences.

Amongst the lessons learned that the members of the TJWG have brought back to South Sudan are the importance of documentation in the early stages of the transitional justice process and its relevance for memorialisation, reconciliation and prosecution; the recognition that transitional justice processes should not be rushed and should reflect the needs of the victims; the lesson that generational trauma needs to be addressed in order to mitigate the generational impact of conflict; and the need to work together with the government and legislative assembly in a constructive and transparent manner. It was resolved to continue exchanging ideas and experiences with the Refugee Law Project and the Africa Transitional Justice Research Network to learn from regional experiences.

“The conference was a learning experience for me,” said Lily Akwero, representative of the Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance (FODAG) and member of the TJWG, upon her return to Juba. “The Ugandan experience and the work of the Refugee Law Project has taught me that transitional justice is a lifelong project. Even though the peace agreement in South Sudan focuses on a specific transitional time period, the processes necessary to deal with the past will require long-term commitments from all stakeholders.”

She continued by explaining that she learned about mato oput, the traditional ritual in justice processes to bring reconciliation in Acholi communities. Applying lessons from the Ugandan experience to the South Sudanese context, Ms. Akwero explained that “transitional justice is not only about formal prosecutions. There are other crucial mechanisms that are relevant to securing justice and reconciliation. Preference should be given to mechanisms that are locally generated, not imported from abroad, and suitable to address the needs and grievances of the victims of the conflicts in South Sudan.”

The participants visited two memorial sites. One in Acholibur where a grass hut has been constructed by the Paibwore clan in Pader district to call back their missing loved ones, and another in Kitgum. The National Memory and Peace Documentation Centre (NMPDC) in Kitgum contains, amongst others, news archives of media coverage of the conflicts in Northern Uganda and life stories of survivors. Having interacted with survivors, Amanya Joseph, Acting Executive Director of the Human Rights Development Organization (HURIDO) and Coordinator of the TJWG, declared that “victims and witnesses in Northern Uganda are very interested in telling their stories about the atrocities and feel that a platform should have been created for telling their side of the stories earlier. They were very grateful for the Refugee Law Project’s initiative and felt that it is better late than never.” He continued that “civil society organisations in South Sudan can learn from this and work together to provide people affected by the conflict with a platform to tell their stories now.”

The participation forms part of several regional experience-sharing events attended by members of the TJWG. On 17 and 18 May, 2016, a core team member of the TJWG spoke on two panels at an international conference on transitional justice organised by the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). Regional practitioners gathered together, reflected on the common challenges that they encountered in pursuing transitional justice, and shared valuable lessons learned. Mrs. Paleki Obur, Executive Director of the South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network (SSWEN), shared her experiences as a civil society actor and spoke about the role of the international community in South Sudan’s peace and transitional justice processes.

The TJWG aims to coordinate civil society organisations working on transitional justice in South Sudan so that they can play a crucial role to represent citizens’ voices, act as a platform to support the peace agreement, and provide interface between transitional justice stakeholders and the official transitional justice processes in South Sudan. UNDP has provided technical advice and material support throughout the establishment of the TJWG including the development of a strategic plan.

The IATJ was organised by the Refugee Law Project of the Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda in cooperation with partners from the African Transitional Justice Research Network (ATJRN). The participation of the TJWG members was made possible with support from the Refugee Law Project and UNDP South Sudan’s Access to Justice and Rule of Law project.

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