The long walk: Uganda adopts a Transitional Justice Policy

UgandaNewsTransitional justiceVictim’s rights

On 17th June 2019, after a decade-long formulation and adoption process, the Government of Uganda finally announced the passing of the National Transitional Justice Policy (NTJP) and officially released it in September. The passing of the Policy is partly fulfilling the Government’s commitments on accountability and reconciliation that it made during the Juba Peace process, which started in 2006, as well as its constitutional obligations. The NTJP addresses the legal and institutional framework for investigations, prosecutions, trials within the formal system, reparations and alternative justice approaches. These matters are clustered into 5 key areas: The ultimate goal of the NTJP is to pave the way towards achieving peace, stability and social cohesion in Uganda. Why does a Transitional Justice Policy matter? The adoption of the NTJP raises hope in Uganda; especially for the victims who, for the past two decades, have been left with uncertainty on whether, when and how past violations committed against them would be dealt with. The text also provides an overview of how the relevant stakeholders can contribute to its implementation. The Policy specifically notes that whereas the Government will provide an enabling environment for its implementation, it will be implemented under a multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional approach that involves collaboration between various stakeholders. The necessary funding will not only come from the government itself but also from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), development partners and other non-State actors in the private sector. The long walk to adoption The development of the NTJP originates from a broad consultative, participatory and inclusive process based on studies and research undertaken by the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS), as well as consultations with and by CSOs. In the early stages of formulation, the JLOD garnered views and contributions from civil society through its Transitional Justice Working Group initiative. It was later transformed into a Plenary, limited to only Government officials and consequentially eliminating CSOs from the process. In order to keep the momentum of the advocacy, CSOs took initiatives to hold consultative meetings within their networks and provide feedback to JLOS. They advocated for the adoption of the policy through providing platforms for stakeholders, including Members of Parliament through the Greater North Parliamentary Forum, and pushed to fast track its development. What next? In order to achieve its objectives, the NJTP implementation should not be delayed any further and it is important that some of its areas be clarified. First, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which was entrusted to lead the implementation, should set up an effective coordination structure, able to implement policy directions across sectors and to coordinate the respective contributions of the multiple actors involved. In particular, the coordination structure should organize the participation of civil society organizations, as they have built strong and reliable interface with the policy’ beneficiaries in post-conflict areas, particularly with victims of human rights violations. Second, the policy, albeit a general framework, defaults a considerable part of its implementation modalities on the adoption of complementary legislations. Amongst others, the Policy makes the adoption of a Transitional Justice Act, and legislations on Witness and Victim Participation, Traditional Justice Mechanisms, and comprehensive reparations, preliminary requirements to its own implementation. Given the protracted process that led to its adoption, further bureaucratic delays could only add up to the general sense of fatigue among TJ stakeholders, victims in particular. Finally, the reparation area of the policy remains quite vague. The idea of a reparations fund, mentioned in earlier drafts of the policy, has now been left out from the final text, as the NTJP refers to a ‘consolidated fund’ without further details. The policy is further silent on the question of court-ordered reparations for victims of past atrocities and ignores the concrete avenues for victims to obtain reparations (including but not limited to financial compensation) through court processes. Overlooking the question of reparations would jeopardize the Policy’s objectives. Indeed, victims in Uganda have made it clear that they expect reparations above all other outcomes of their participation in accountability processes. The absence of a perspective on reparations is thus likely to take away victims’ main rationale to participate in criminal proceedings, a key element not only in fostering the fight against impunity but also in enabling criminal justice to fulfil its reconciliation and restorative functions.