Survey highlights impact of war in northern Uganda

December 2, 2010
By: Human Rights Center

Just a few years ago, nearly 90 percent of the people living in northern Uganda had been forced from their homes and were living in displacement camps as the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorized the countryside. Today, the LRA, an armed group led by Joseph Kony, has withdrawn from the region, the camps have been dismantled, and most people have returned home, according to a report released today by the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. However, the report cautions, peace is fragile and needs are high in the region.

“The progress in northern Uganda is remarkable,” says Patrick Vinck, director of the Initiative for Vulnerable Populations and the Human Rights Center (HRC) and co-author of the study. It’s a rare example of a positive story for Vinck, who, with HRC research director Phuong Pham, has documented conditions in the Central African Republic and examined attitudes toward former Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia. But, Vinck cautions, absence of violence should not be confused with a lasting solution to the country’s problems. “Only 4 in 10 people believe that peace will last. Most believe it is only temporary, or are unsure.”

They have reason to fear. The Lord’s Resistance Army has withdrawn from northern Uganda but there has been no formal cessation of hostilities, as LRA representatives walked out of the last round of negotiations. The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Kony and LRA top leadership, but the rebels remain at large and are still active in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Sudan.

This fall, Pham and Vinck led a team of researchers who systematically interviewed nearly 2,500 individuals in northern Uganda. It is the third such survey by UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, which documented the effects of the conflict through similar studies in 2005 and 2007. For the study, the research team spent nearly an hour with each of the individuals surveyed, documenting their experiences, needs, and wishes. By using population-based survey methods developed for epidemiological research, the researchers were able to put numbers to the priorities and experiences of the population.

The findings are chilling. Over half the population lost a household member to the two decades of conflict, and sixty-seven percent witnessed violence such as killings, beatings, and rapes. However, unlike in earlier surveys, where respondents listed achieving peace as a top priority, needs have shifted as violence subsided.

“Priorities are no longer peace and security as our previous surveys in 2005 and 2007 showed. Rather the people in the affected region are struggling to meet their basic needs for food, education and healthcare,” says Phuong Pham, lead author of the study. One in three people surveyed see improving services such as health and education as necessary to build a lasting peace, and twenty eight percent mention reducing poverty. Thirty-two percent also highlight the need for more unity and reconciliation among the people of Uganda.

The report, “Transitioning to Peace,” argues that a reparations program that addresses the needs of survivors is required to achieve lasting peach. Ninety-seven percent of the population wants reparations for the victims of the conflict, not only to address their needs but also to acknowledge their suffering. Most Ugandans prefer individual reparations but would be willing to accept reparations at the community level. “However, it’s essential that reparations be clearly perceived as such, and not as just another assistance project,” notes Pham.

Highlighting the need for a national dialogue and truth-seeking process on the violence that affected northern Uganda for two decades, respondents called for more information about the conflict and why it had happened, and they wanted those responsible for the violence to be held accountable.

The results presented in “Transitioning to Peace” show the importance of a continued effort to establish security for northern Uganda and the region, and addressing cross-border security threats such as the LRA. This should include strengthening existing collaboration with the Congolese and Central African Republic governments to apprehend Joseph Kony and his commanders, say the researchers.

Last week, the Obama administration released a 32-page document, “Strategy to Support the Disarmament of the Lord’s Resistance Army.” The paper, which called the LRA “one of the most brutal armed groups in Africa,” was required by the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, a bill signed into law last May.

“Transitioning to Peace” was made possible by grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Northern Uganda Transition Initiative, Casals and Associates, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Humanity United.

More Information:

“TRANSITIONING TO PEACE” is available for download here. Hard copies are available by request at