African Youth Initiative Network
Creating powerful momentum for victims' participation in Transitional Justice processes
Conflict between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Government of Uganda, plagued northern Uganda for over twenty years, until 2006 when the majority of the LRA were driven from the country or captured. The conflict was characterised by the brutal murder and maiming of civilians. The LRA became notorious for their abduction of 60,000 children to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves, with tens of thousands still unaccounted for to date. In 2005, five LRA leaders were indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. As of 2018, one senior commander, Dominic Ongwen, is facing trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The population of northern Uganda continue to struggle to rebuild, after over two decades of near complete destruction, and the reintegration of former soldiers - many of whom were abducted as children - has remained an on-going struggle. Despite the promise of “justice” being delivered through the ICC, many victims of atrocities are still suffering and wonder if the focus on this form of “justice” ignores their more immediate needs and concerns. Their questions remain: will they receive the medical and psychological attention they require, livelihood opportunities they need and answers to what happened to their loved ones who remain missing.
African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), a Ugandan NGO founded by a group of young victims and survivors of war, aims to revitalise the post-conflict community. They believe community participation in Transitional Justice is central to attaining a peaceful, reconciled and just Uganda. For the last 13 years, AYINET has courageously raised the flag for peace and justice, promoting reconciliation in historically divided societies and has provided healing through surgical interventions for tens of thousands of war wounded. AYINET also works with young survivors to help them become compassionate and resilient problem solvers, promoting youth leadership for peace, justice, governance and human rights, making them the first generation to lay new foundation for national harmony peace and unity.
Seizing the crucial moment of the Ugandan government developing the National Transitional Justice Policy, AYINET organised the first ever National War Victims’ Conference in Kampala, Uganda in May 2014. This provided a platform for dialogue, the aim of which is to ensure that Transitional Justice processes reflect the interests of the victims, taking into account their needs, promoting their sense of dignity and supporting their rehabilitation. During the conference, AYINET provided a platform for many war victims to speak their truth.Many argued that what victims and communities most need after the conflict had been neglected in current post-conflict projects and reparations.
One woman questioned the fairness of traditional justice since it was run predominantly by men and difficult for women to access. “How can women who are not educated, are not able to read or write, get help?” one asked. Another said immediate concerns like the education and health of their children needed to be addressed before the question of justice was acted upon. One participant spoke passionately about the limitations of truth telling. “I was abducted and raped, that is the truth,” she said. “But what has been done? When my child, who I had in captivity, is hungry, what is the use of an amnesty?” Many also spoke about the need for healthcare, for both the physical and psychological trauma inflicted on them during the conflict.
AYINET identifies the needs of conflict victims by working directly with them, and respecting their wants and concerns. They have identified the need for free healthcare and psychosocial rehabilitation, youth reintegration and development, and the inclusion of victims’ voices in transitional justice processes as key. They continue to work on the ground towards the rehabilitation of all victims of the conflict, including those who were abducted and forced into the LRA, in addition to advocating for the nationwide process of transitional justice to be inclusive and respectful of victims’ interests and needs.