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Human Rights in Uganda

Dave Koenig: Civil Conflict and the Search for Justice

Hollander and Pollard
Dave Koenig, center, meets with IDP camp leaders in Northern Uganda.

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Contact: Rob Seal

There has been almost continuous civil war and conflict in Uganda since it became an independent nation in 1962.

The current struggle, which has been going on since about 1986, is between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony.

The fighting between the two groups has displaced about two million Ugandans in the northern parts of the country, according to second-year law student Dave Koenig. A tenuous peace has been in place since 2006, but plans to put a formal peace treaty in place fell through last week when the LRA backed out.

In January, Koenig travelled to Northern Uganda and researched the peace process and the effects the war has had on the population.

“The rebels’ tactics are absolutely horrifying,” Koenig said. “Most of their soldiers are acquired by abductions, usually of children. They are forced to witness and even commit horrible atrocities.”

Koenig focused his research on the justice process and tried to identify “the proper mechanisms for achieving some sense of justice for the people of northern Uganda for everything they’ve suffered over the past 20 years.”

Despite the fact that an international criminal court has issued warrants for Kony and his top leaders for war crimes, many Ugandans are less concerned with criminal prosecutions than they are with simply being able to return to their homes and end the fighting, Koenig said.

“Almost the entire population has been in these camps for the past 10 to 12 years,” he said. “That has had terrible effects on their society and their culture.”

Criminal prosecutions could also be counterproductive, because government soldiers also committed many atrocities, he said.

“Most people said they want compensation for specific abuses that individuals have suffered. Those things are much more central to achieving a sense of justice in northern Uganda than prosecutions of leaders of the LRA.”