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New Report Highlights Uganda’s Struggle to Overcome Civil War

By Andrew Cohen

A new Berkeley Law report on post-war conditions in northern Uganda describes significant progress in the region, but warns that major challenges to lasting peace remain.

Prepared by the law school’s Human Rights Center (HRC), the report—entitled “Transitioning to Peace” and available here—outlines how violence in the area has subsided. Most residents have returned home just a few years after 90 percent of the region’s population was removed and forced to live in displacement camps as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) ravaged the area.

Although the LRA has withdrawn from the region and the camps have been dismantled, HRC’s report cautions that peace is tenuous and needs are high. “The progress in northern Uganda is remarkable,” said Patrick Vinck, co-author of the report and director of HRC’s Initiative for Vulnerable Populations. “But only 4 in 10 people believe that peace will last.”

This past fall, Vinck and Phuong Pham, HRC research director and lead author of the report, led a team of researchers who systematically interviewed nearly 2,500 individuals in northern Uganda. It is the third such survey by HRC, which documented the conflict’s effects through similar studies in 2005 and 2007.

Researchers spent nearly an hour with each of the individuals surveyed and found that more than half of the area’s population lost a household member within the two decades of conflict. Two-thirds had witnessed violence such as killings, beatings, and rapes.

“Priorities are no longer peace and security as our previous surveys in 2005 and 2007 showed,” Pham said. “Rather, the people in the affected region are struggling to meet their basic needs for food, education, and healthcare.”

hrc uganda survey chart

The HRC survey was funded by the United States Aid Agency through its Northern Uganda Transition Initiative. Vinck and Pham presented their findings December 1st in Kampala, Uganda's capital, to help launch the report.

Last week, the Obama administration released a 32-page paper, “Strategy to Support the Disarmament of the Lord’s Resistance Army,” which called the LRA “one of the most brutal armed groups in Africa.” There has been no formal cessation of hostilities, and LRA representatives walked out of the last round of negotiations.

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for LRA’s top leadership, but the rebels remain at large and are active in neighboring nations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Sudan.

The HRC report argues that a reparations program that addresses survivors’ needs is required to achieve lasting peace. Most Ugandans prefer individual reparations, but would be willing to accept reparations at the community level. “It’s essential,” said Pham, that reparations be clearly perceived as such and not as just another assistance project."