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Justice in Transition? : Transitional justice and its discontents in Uganda

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis explores the construction, implementation and experience of transitional justice at both the state-level in Uganda, and within the Acholi sub-region, the epicenter of the twenty-year war between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army. It takes 2006 as its starting point, when peace talks began between both sides in Juba, southern Sudan. Conducted against the background of the ICC’s first ever arrest warrants for leading members of the LRA, these talks provided the empirical context for the major theoretical debates that dominated the nascent field of transitional justice. These included normative disagreements about the relationship between peace and justice and the relative merits of international versus indigenous approaches to justice. At Juba, an Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation was signed and purported to address and resolve these dilemmas. To date however, we know remarkably little about the political and socio-legal dynamics and trajectory of transitional justice in Uganda since Juba. This thesis aims to bridge that gap, providing an in-depth, empirical study based on extensive fieldwork involving 106 semi-structured interviews, 25 focus group discussions and participant observation.

Two major dissonances are identified in the promotion, practice and experience of transitional justice in Uganda since 2006. The first highlights the dilemmas surrounding contemporary donor approaches to transitional justice in the absence of a substantive domestic political transition. The interaction of a technocratic and apolitical donor approach with a reactive, procrastinatory and occasionally opportunistic GoU approach, created a stasis which prevented the emergence of a transitional justice policy for Uganda. The second area of dissonance identified was between the ‘local’ as imagined in transitional justice narratives and the local as lived experience in post-conflict Acholiland. Rhetoric around particular ‘Acholi’ approaches to transitional justice, focusing on values of forgiveness and reconciliation, has obscured both the complexity of post-conflict local justice practices and the extent to which these processes and their outcomes were highly contingent on the wider, post-conflict socio-economic context, including poverty, physical and spiritual insecurity, and other quotidian strains. Finally, in its treatment of the northern Ugandan case, this thesis contributes to broader theoretical debates about how transitional justice is constructed and practiced, particularly in contexts where there has been no substantial political transition.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2016


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