Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wa Winye II: The Complexity of Forgiveness

Forgiveness: the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offence, difference or mistake or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.

In northern Uganda, the idea of forgiveness has been put on a pedestal as the ultimate path to reconciliation. Since I started learning about this region in 2008, I’ve been told by various religious, political and community leaders that the community, seeing their children abducted to serve as fighters, porters and sex-slaves, wanted amnesty instead of punitive measures for crimes committed while in the bush. It was this popular sentiment that led to the Amnesty Act of 2000, which granted those who came forward and surrendered, a pardon for their role in the LRA insurgency. Because of its selective application, however, the Amnesty Act has been met with much controversy. Top level LRA commanders have received “amnesty certificates” alongside the very children they abducted.

What makes this problematic is that abducted children are placed in the same category of individuals as those that led the rebel movement. Victims thus are treated as perpetrators.

In a strange twist of events these young people (many now in their mid-twenties and older) literally sign a certificate that says they “denounce all rebellion against the government” … a rebellion that they did not start, but were forcibly recruited into. While some actors feel that amnesty is part of the Acholi culture and was initiated by the victims, others have contested this by saying that Amnesty is the government's forgiveness not the community’s and that is was first initiated by religious and political leaders. I have no official stance on this, but the concern that I want to express is at what stage does the government ask for forgiveness from abductees and survivors for failing to protect them?

I’m still working my way through this idea of forgiveness and how applicable it is to the northern Ugandan community in terms of what the community really wants and as a blanket method to resolve an issue that has many different players. The type of forgiveness that I believe the community wants to extend is one that will bring as many abductees back home as possible. However, dozens and dozens of communities have been destroyed by violence perpetrated by the LRA. Thousands of lives have been devastated in horrific physical and psychological ways, making peaceful co-existence that much more difficult or some would say impossible.

This is not to say that there are no punitive judicial methods being sought. There are numerous being pursued, not without their own criticisms though, by the International Criminal Court, the International Crimes Division and at the local level with traditional and transitional justice processes such as Mato Oput, Iluc or Ailuc, and Cayo Cuk.

It may be true that a significant portion of the Acholi community along with other groups such as the Langi and Teso do not regard abducted children as criminals, but it would be reductionist to assume that the whole does not. I have encountered many civil society organizers and workers who’ve suggested very strongly that the community is not ready to receive former soldiers. So if forgiveness and amnesty is not truly coming from the grassroots then the real benefits of its power cannot be harnessed by the public.

I’m a believer that forgiveness can create trust, restore broken human relationships and promote healing.But it is this very tough reality that needs to be confronted before real reconciliation and forgiveness can take place on the community level.

*Wa Winye is “let us agree” in Luo

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jay! Something I've noticed in discussions on this topic though is that there is a lot of speaking on behalf of "the community" by aid workers, religious leaders, political leaders, etc. about what the community actually wants. And I always wonder a bit where these opinions come from. I was told on most of my visits that people want forgiveness and acceptance and to just move on from their experiences, which I believe is true to an extent. But I think we forget in these discussions that everyone had their own individual experience of war, conflict, loss, death, mutilation, rape, etc. and there is no blanket solution that can cover all of this. I'm always left feeling that we've just brushed the surface of the issue and that there are deeper aspects to discuss. Ultimately it's up to individuals and how they want to approach their own unique situations. I'm not sure if there is any form of justice, be it mato oput or ICC, that can really satisfy everyone.