Saturday, June 24, 2017

Transitional Justice and Forensic Science

It's been three weeks since I arrived in Gulu, Uganda and its been an amazing learning experience thus far. I've met prime ministers, village chiefs (rwot), and community leaders who have openly welcomed me and the rest of the research team. The people of Gulu are some of the most hospitable I've ever met. I've been living in Lou House where we have a personal cook named Oscar who has made it his personal mission to teach me to speak Lou, the local language. I have learned a few words and I hope to build upon my vocabulary along the way.  I've had the privilege of meeting a singer who advocates for equality for children born with physical disabilities and uses his music as a tool to empower and educate their families. Then I encountered a female prime minister working toward youth development and gender equality so that women are protected against domestic violence. As an advocate of human rights and equality, it was inspiring to have an enlightened discussion on how they plan to address these issues within northern Uganda.

The research project has introduced me to the world of forensic science and anthropology as we conduct interviews and focus groups to understand the implications of the war in northern Uganda. The twenty year struggle between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda has resulted in thousands of missing and dead, and numerous mass graves and the need for exhumation and identification of unknown remains. In the context of transitional justice and the potential of forensic investigation, the team hopes to understand the perspective of the community members on what should be done to help the nation move forward from the atrocities committed in the Internal Displacement (IDP) camps. The people are accepting of scientific methods to resolve improper burials, and a national policy to provide support to survivors in the form of education, hospitals, and cattle for farming. At the same time we are not an NGO and do not have the resources to provide services related to excavation and reburial. We are only able to collect information and disseminate our findings to other agencies/organizations who do have the capacity to provide interventions to these communities. Most people we interview understand this limitation but it is also frustrating for some who believe that we are telling them that we have the solution to their problems but fall short of supplying the needed resources. An ethical dilemma, I'm sure, many researchers face while working in under-resourced communities.

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