Sunday, June 5, 2016
Greetings from Gulu and reflection on Transitional Justice
After a smooth flight to Brussels, a quiet layover, and another smooth trip to Entebbe, we arrived in Uganda safely last Tuesday night. A quick run, some Nescafe, and a day-long journey by car – made longer than typical, incidentally, because President Erdoğan of Turkey’s official visit to Uganda caused some road closures – finally found us in Gulu.
Since arriving here late Wednesday evening, Hugh and I have been fully immersed in the Institute for African Transitional Justice (IATJ) conference, hosted by the Refugee Law Project in Gulu. We have heard from a diverse group of academics, activists, survivors, elected officials, and others from over a dozen countries about the complexities of realizing Transitional Justice (TJ) for people and spaces violated by atrocities.
Much of Northern Uganda was ravaged by war between the central government and the Lord’s Resistance Army from 1986 until 2006. As part of the IATJ conference, we spent Thursday traveling to Kitgum to meet with an Acholi chief and many survivors of the conflict whose children are still missing. The chief highlighted the importance of incorporating traditional practice and culturally relevant traditions into TJ work. The survivors there (nearly all women) had constructed a memorial hut where the names of 416 people still missing are displayed, and where the community has gathered to perform rituals calling those missing to return. It was at once both an inspiring and devastating thing to behold. While I was deeply impressed by the community’s commitment to self-organize and pool resources for the endeavor, it was also a sobering reminder of the lingering wounds still felt by this community. A quote from one of the conference participants and a survivor of the war lingered in mind all day: “The fact that the guns are silent does not mean peace is here.”
We also visited the National Memory & Peace Documentation Centre in Kitgum where RLP has, in collaboration with the local government, created a space for archiving and publicly memorializing the history of conflict and efforts toward reconciliation that Uganda has endured. It, like our visit to the Acholi chief’s compound and the conference as a whole, left me feeling somber yet hopeful. I feel so honored and privileged by the opportunity to work alongside and learn from these amazing people doing such important work this summer. I know it will be a transformative experience for both my professional and personal development, and I look forward to sharing more of my journey with you all here.