Lina Zedriga Waru Abuku is the Secretary of Uganda’s National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and All Forms of Discrimination and attended AIPR’s 2014 Raphael Lemkin Seminar, Global Edition. A former Magistrate, Ms. Zedriga is now a full-time activist working to end social exclusion and all forms of discrimination against vulnerable groups, especially women. Lina is also a practicing attorney, educator of trainers on alternative and transformative leadership, and mentor. And in addition to her role on Uganda’s National Committee, she is the Director of Women in Peace Building and Reconciliation and actively involved with the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), The Association of Women Lawyers Uganda (FIDA-U), Trust for Africa’s Orphans (TAO-U), and Kampala Quality Primary Schools (KQPS), among other organizations.
Why are you so dedicated to the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
Genocide and mass atrocity crimes gravely affect innocent communities and increase their vulnerability in a number of ways. There is absolutely no chance of going back to the way things were before. It can be prevented. The costs of genocide to humanity is so enormous: in development, in peace, and in security; In terms of lives, relationships, for generations to come. It is very inhuman, degrading, cruel.
What does a day or week in your current position look like? What does your work on the National Committee entail?
My day starts at 5:00 am with meditation before exercising and listening to the local news. Then I have a cup of black tea with my mother and I leave for the office. If it is a Tuesday, I go straight to Victoria University where I teach a module on Gender and Women’s Health until noon. On other days, I have a variety of program activities, meetings, and media appearances on talk shows.
My work as the Secretary to the National Committee primarily involves planning and initiating concept notes and holding meetings with members and stakeholders. Currently, we are implementing two projects. The first is the development of the National Policy on Genocide Prevention and Prohibition. We have already done initial training on the draft policy for members of Parliament and will soon embark on public engagements at the regional and local levels. We have also carried out the first iteration of our second project, the Regional Peace Forum, which took place in the town of Fort Portal in the Rwenzori region. Four additional fora in the northern, eastern, and central regions of the country are planned and our Focal Points in the Rwenzori region will continue with critical dialogues.
What actions and policies do you feel are most effective in the long-term prevention of atrocity?
The National Policy on Genocide Prevention and Prohibition should be put in place, robust consultations and sensitivity programs should to be carried out, and our Transitional Justice Policy should be finalized and made operational for purposes of accountability and healing. Also, the Peace and Security Policy should be implemented alongside the Equal Opportunity Policy, the Gender/Equal Opportunities Policy, among many others.
We need to continue initiatives that focus on the practical implementation of international standards and benchmarks like the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Pact on Peace and Security, the UN’s Framework of Hope for the DRC and Great Lakes Region, and the UN Security Council — especially as Uganda recently served as President of the Security Council in October of 2014.
I also believe that we should be setting up a Commission for Genocide Prevention and Prohibition, teaching genocide prevention in schools as a compulsory subject at all levels, developing frequently asked questions and answers with translations in all major languages, fostering large-scale community dialogues, creating a hall of fame and wall of shame at local, district, and national levels, and designing a check list or score card system for compliance. Finally, I think we should create Peace Gardens in schools and other institutions of learning.
Genocide prevention should be a lifelong learning journey. It needs to be mainstreamed and not just dealt with as it occurs or is about to occur. Budget allocations need to be given priority to work on prevention.
Who or what inspires or motivates you?
I am motivated by Mother Theresa, St Josephine Bakhita, Ambassador Swanee Hunt, the President of Liberia H.E. Johnson Sirleaf, and Hillary Clinton, as well as many other women of courage, passion and purpose. I’m inspired by women who have dedicated their lives and resources to making changes in other women’s lives and have lead their countries into peace, good governance, social inclusion, development, and prosperity. Grassroots women who stand their ground and make their voices heard motivate me. My children and my mother equally motivate me by giving me a touch of life’s purpose.
To a great extent, my life as a war-widow and single mother, since August of 2001, has a lot to do with my current passion for genocide prevention. In particular, my experiences with the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide and the West Nile Massacre of 1979 — where innocent people were indiscriminately killed in schools, churches, and in their houses — as well as the Kanungu Massacre in 2000 in the name of religion. My work in South Sudan and in Kenya have also shaped my focus specifically on the prevention of mass atrocities. I believe that through dialogue, full and equal participation, an embrace and celebration of diversity, inclusion of all stakeholders, social and personal accountability, and a respect for life and property, we can each prevent genocide and all forms of discrimination and mass atrocities in our countries.
What advice do you have to give towards effective work in genocide prevention?
Kidane Kiros, Director of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies, said that “shedding innocent blood is always wrong and no dispute or justification no matter how profoundly alleged can ever make it ethical. In fact, there is no religion on earth that tolerates the killing of innocent people.”
The work of genocide prevention can be very challenging and trying. It requires unquestioned commitment, consistency, teamwork, personal discipline, and an unquestioned belief that we can prevent genocide together. It is not a standalone activity. It is a lifelong journey that we must each live, both in practice and in inclusion. That’s why my personal motto is: “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US.”