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Community Dialogue on the Future of the Amnesty Act

On 15-16 March 2012, the Justice Law and Order Sector in collaboration with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Women held a “Community Dialogue on the Future of the Amnesty Act 2000” in Kitgum. The purpose of this dialogue was to: Engage in a debate on the Amnesty Act in war-affected communities with a view to understanding community views on the current operation and future of the Act; Discuss the relevance of the Amnesty Act in light of the northern Uganda post-conflict situation and the implications on accountability, justice and reconciliation in Uganda; Reflect on how amnesty interacts with other accountability and justice mechanisms for crimes committed during the conflict in northern Uganda, particularly crimes involving sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

Specific objectives included, to:

1. Enhance dialogue between civil society, victims groups, local and religious leaders and Government representatives on issues surrounding the Amnesty Act in Uganda;
2. Increase outreach on amnesty, accountability and transitional justice issues to victims, affected groups and the broader community;
3. Provide concrete proposals to the JLOS Transitional Justice Working Group and other decision makers including Members of Parliament to inform their deliberations on the future of the Act.

A wide cross-section of stakeholders were represented, including members of the JLOS Transitional Justice Working Group, members of civil society, community-based groups, local government, traditional and religious leaders, academia, and victims’ groups. Community views and views from women’s organizations and victims groups featured prominently in the meeting.

Plenary discussions centred on the possible options for the way forward: the expiration of the Amnesty Act accompanied by the adoption of other transitional justice mechanisms, such as truth-telling and reparations to promote restorative justice; or the extension of the Act with amendments to strengthen the ‘reintegration’ mandate of the Commission and to harmonize the Amnesty Act with existing mechanisms, national laws (ICC Act) and international obligations and standards. While there was expressed support for both options, there was broad consensus amongst all stakeholders that amnesty alone was insufficient to address the rights, needs and conditions of victims and war-affected communities. While amnesty plays a role in peace building, it must be accompanied by additional measures to promote justice, truth-telling and reparations for victims and their communities, as well as social reintegration of former combatants.

Resolutions

The meeting generated rich debate on the possible options for the future of the Amnesty Act. Key considerations included an evaluation of the current role and impact of the Act and the Amnesty Commission; the national and regional context; community views and the experience of victims; amnesty within Uganda’s transitional justice process to achieve justice and reconciliation; as well as implications on Uganda’s national and international law obligations. Recommendations from the plenary discussions and focused group discussions focused on two possible options: expiration of the Act or extension with Amendment.

A key outcome of the conference will be the publication of a conference report with concrete proposals on the way forward. This report will be presented to the JLOS Transitional Justice Working Group for its consideration during its review of the Amnesty Act. The report will also be used to inform key stakeholders and decision-makers on a recommended way forward on Amnesty in the context of Uganda’s transitional justice process.