Lillian Kobusingye currently serves as a Program Officer at the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers – FIDA-Uganda – a national women’s organization that advances the rights of women with the use of law as a social tool. An alumna of the University of Wales in the United Kingdom, she devotes her time as an activist toward issues concerning the rights of women and children in Uganda. Ms. Kobusingye attended the 2017 Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar held in Poland.
Which actions, policies, and/or approaches do you feel are the most effective in the long-term prevention of mass atrocities and their effects?
The approach to be taken to prevent mass atrocities and their effects is monitoring the use of hate speech without causing tension with the state’s obligation to freedom of expression. This can be done by increasing the number of independent media voices, raising awareness, educating media workers and using technology to create alternative platforms. The documentation and reporting of human rights violations during or after conflict is very key in atrocity prevention because it combats a sense of impunity by perpetrators, can deliver justice and a renewed sense of social inclusion for victims, as well as serving as an early warning network for instability.
Addressing legacies of mass human rights abuses reduces the likelihood of conflict and potential future mass atrocities from (re)emerging by providing official recognition and redress to victims, establishing historical truth, and achieving accountability for human rights violations. Where transitional justice processes already exist, they can potentially be utilized in a crisis situation to deescalate tensions or to provide informational inputs to early warning systems. Policies and laws relating to post conflict reconstruction should prioritize interventions pertaining to children born of war and their mothers, such as those for transitional justice. There is need for national legislation to address mass sexual violations occurring in the context of conflict or violence.
Could you tell us about FIDA-Uganda and the type of work you do with the organization?
FIDA-Uganda is a membership organization for women lawyers that was established in 1974. It was created by a group of women lawyers with a vision of working towards the attainment of a just and peaceful society where women’s rights are realized and enjoyed in all spheres. The stated mission of FIDA-Uganda is “to lift the status of women using the law as a tool for social change”. As a result, the organization primarily addresses legal issues that affect women and children.
I am the head of the FIDA-Uganda’s transitional justice unit and have worked with them for 6 years now. I am currently coordinating a 5-year project on accountability and redress for victims of sexual violence in post-conflict Uganda within a transitional justice framework. The project is based in the Acholi sub-region in Northern Uganda, which is an area deeply affected by over two decades of armed conflict between the Government of Uganda and the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). Women were particularly victimized during this war and post-conflict recovery efforts have not sufficiently been gender responsive or achieved social justice.
FIDA-Uganda’s dual approaches are to work with state agencies to strengthen legal frameworks to support human rights for SGBV survivors and also take action to hold the state accountable in its duty to protect women’s human rights through strategic litigation and community capacity building. I believe that this project will strengthen the capacity of FIDA-Uganda to support the achievement of gender justice in conflict situations. As a program officer, my work also entails networking with the different stakeholders in government and non-state actors including social institutions.
What do you remember as the most important element of your visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and your time at the Lemkin Seminar? What lessons have you taken away from this experience?
The documentation, preservation, protection, and maintenance of archives created at Auschwitz-Birkenau form an important legacy that tells the story of all the victims and survivors. I believe that Auschwitz-Birkenau is an effective tool for teaching the world about the importance of protecting democracy and human rights, preventing racism, and promoting mutual respect between people of different races, religions, and cultures. The experience helped me appreciate, learn and understand human cruelty as well as violence and how to prevent it.
What brought you to work in the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention? Who or what inspires you in your continued work on the prevention of mass atrocities?
I am passionately driven to give back to my country specifically in the field of transitional justice. I derive the most meaning in life through seeing a victim or survivor of mass atrocity get justice. I was dramatically transformed and greatly enriched by working with sexual violence victims and assisting them in documenting their experiences while being held in captivity by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Interacting with them was amazing, rewarding, and meaningful.
The woman who inspired me in the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention was abducted at the age of eleven, spent nearly eleven years inside the Lord’s Resistance Army, including becoming a “forced wife” to the rebel leader and mother to his children. While in captivity she would console, counsel, and nurse the girls with lukewarm water who would have been defiled or raped. Her account unflinchingly conveys the moral difficulties of choosing survival in a situation fraught with violence, threat, and death. This lady was later freed following her capture by the Ugandan military.
Despite the trauma she endured at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army, she later joined a Ugandan peace delegation to the LRA and tried to convince the rebel leader to end the war that had lasted more than two decades. This extraordinary woman was also subjected to stigma when she and her children returned home as an adult. Her incredible experience reveals the complex ways in which war has affected women who navigated life inside the LRA.
I was inspired by this lady because, in her humble way, she was able to help the vulnerable girls in their most desperate moment. I resolved to myself that I, too, can contribute to the prevention of mass atrocities.