There has been a lot of hoo-hah over the recent changes to the Amnesty Act. The 2012 decision to allow part 2 to lapse means that amnesty is no longer granted to new returnees. This decision makes new returnees liable to prosecution by Ugandan courts of law. Opinions are polarized around this issue; some believe this paves the way for accountability and reconciliation for Uganda. Some believe this flies in the face of what leaders in the North wanted when they pushed for the Amnesty Act in the first place. Amnesty as a peacemaker, amnesty in Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR), Amnesty in reconciliation.
Honorable James Baba released a statement explaining the decision to remove Part 2 of the Amnesty Law, stating justification based on provision in the Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation in terms of affording victims rights to accountability, as well as stating that ‘It was informed by a Justice Law and Order Sector review of the Amnesty law which revealed that the grant of unconditional amnesty was generally seen as problematic since it did not take into account the need for accountability for serious crimes committed during armed conflict or rebellion.’ I am intrigued by the ‘generally seen’. Whose perspective if this? I understand there is a push for accountability, one that though provided for before, was not being implemented. Is it a case of enough of helping the returnees and time to start helping the victims? Or is it a push to comply with international demands for ‘justice’.
For DDR, despite potentially scaring away new returnees, the changes in the Amnesty Act in theory means that every ex-combatant is entitled to reintegration support irrespective of whether they are registered with the Amnesty Commission or not. This is a positive step for returnees not liable to prosecution. However, how is this decided? Can you be guilty and receive reintegration support? I am wondering how prosecution and reintegration support will play out. How does being an abductee feature in these decisions?
Then there is the issue of reintegration support in theory versus what the reality is on the ground in terms of actual reintegration support. The review of the Amnesty Act comes at a good time a cynic might say. There is no money left to provide reintegration support, arguably the primary function of the Amnesty Commission (aside from providing a certificate exonerating returnees). The former is generally preferred by returnees. Looking at the Demobilization and Resettlement Team for the Amnesty Commission in Kitgum, which covers nine districts of northern Uganda, it has increasingly struggled to provide reintegration support. The DRT has 7,000 reporters on its books, and so far has managed to provide a reintegration packet, consisting of a cash allowance, home items including a mattress, blanket and basin, and garden items including hoes and seeds, to 1,000 reporters.
The track record shows a dismal story, reintegration assistance in the form of reinsertion packets has fizzled since 2011 when the Multi-Demobilization and Reintegration Program was completed. Arguable focus has changed from reception and reinsertion support to in-community development support. For financial year 2011 – 2012 the DRT for Kitgum provided three community-training sessions to 60 people, of which 40 were ‘formerly abducted’ and 20 were ‘from the community’. If you are looking just at reintegration support that means 120 returnees received some form of support for that financial year for northern Uganda. For the financial year 2012 – 2013 one dialog and sensitivity meeting has been held for 30 people. Eight months into this financial year, 30 returnees, assuming they are all returnees, have been talked to by Amnesty in northern Uganda. And how did the DRT change its expertise from a primarily administrative, information collection office to one that provides in-community livelihood training?
Formerly abducted people are still returning, by 31 so far in 2012, 16 in 2011, and 35 in 2010. These numbers are much smaller than numbers recorded by official reception services. GUSCO is recorded 94 female returnees in 2010, and 14 in 2011. (These numbers begin to show you how haphazard recording of returnees has been.) When added to the 20,178 returnees who have not yet received reintegration support from Amnesty, not to mention the returnees who did not report in to Amnesty Commission, you have a lot of returnees who have received nothing despite commitments by the Government of Uganda.
So what happened to Uganda’s pledge to help them, as evidenced by the Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation as well as the Agreement on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration? The PRDP has a line for Peacebuilding and Recovery, the budget allocated was 2.7% and fell as the years progressed, and now with the current OPM controversy, money is not coming. How will the unfulfilled reintegration commitments play out in this new climate of accountability and reconciliation?