Assessing the role of NGOs in the domestic implementation of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework: perspectives from Uganda

Tonny Raymond Kirabira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract


This paper provides an overview of the means through which the African Union Transitional Justice (AUTJ) Policy Framework is translated into domestic policy, law, and practice. It examines the role of Non-Governmental Organisations(NGOs) in shaping the ongoing processes of Transitional Justice(TJ) in Uganda. More specifically, it focuses on the approaches various NGOs have taken regarding two key constitutive elements of the AUTJ Policy: criminal prosecutions and traditional justice. The paper uses the unique case of Northern Uganda as a prism through which to examine the implementation of these two elements. More specifically, it explores the ways in which NGO narratives and work have shaped the local people’s understanding of the criminal trials and traditional justice mechanisms, that are highly contested. While previous research has examined the role of NGOs in peacebuilding initiatives in Uganda, less attention has been given to the notion of TJ. In addition, there is a lack of scholarship on the domestic implementation of the AUTJ Policy in Uganda. To address these gaps, this socio-legal research addresses a key question regarding the role of NGOs in the domestic implementation of the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework in Uganda. Chesterman’s two-dimensional model of NGOs is used to shed light on their activities and drivers. This model helps to illustrate how the AUTJ Policy framework fits within NGO work and discourses.
The analysis rests primarily on an extensive study and review of secondary sources regarding the TJ process and the formulation of the Uganda TJ Policy of 2019. As a secondary source, it relies on qualitative interviews with a range of NGO representatives, victim representatives, prosecutors, judges, academics and defence lawyers. For the NGO representatives, the primary goal was to understand how their policies and interventions feed into the two key constitutive elements of the AUTJ Policy. It also aimed to identify the common themes that pervade their work. The findings were analysed systematically, to identify the discursive elements that relate to elements of criminal prosecutions and traditional justice. It also draws on reflections based on the authors experience as a legal practitioner in Uganda.

The Ugandan case illustrates how NGOs contribute to the legitimization of TJ mechanisms, specifically, criminal prosecutions and traditional justice. It is shown that the international NGOs assert a form of sociological legitimacy in support of international prosecution for atrocities. Finally, the AU TJ Policy Framework makes a unique and important contribution of the implementation of TJ, through the recognition of both formal accountability and traditional justice mechanisms.
The paper concludes that there is still a compelling case to be made for the involvement of NGOs in TJ. The impact of this research serves to link academic scholarship to the work of NGOs, uncovering their critical role in the domestic implementation of the AU TJ Framework.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-201
Number of pages22
JournalAfrican Human Rights Yearbook
Volume5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021

Keywords

  • African Union (AU)
  • transitional justice
  • NGOs
  • Uganda

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