A researcher told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) attacks on three camps for internally displaced people (IDP) 14 years ago continue to have a negative impact on survivors of those attacks as well as their children.
Teddy Atim told the court on May 4 that survivors of the attacks on the Abok, Lukodi, and Odek IDP camps were generally worse off compared to other northern Ugandans who did not suffer similar attacks. Atim is a researcher with the Feinstein International Center of Tufts University.
Referring to research she conducted with others, Atim said there is a higher percentage of people with disabilities among survivors of the Abok, Lukodi, and Odek attacks compared to northern Ugandans not attacked by the LRA. She said because their parents are poor, many children of survivors of the three attacks were not in school.
Atim was testifying in the trial of a former LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, who has been charged for his alleged role in the Abok, Lukodi, and Odek attacks that occurred between April and June 2004.
Ongwen has also been charged with attacking a fourth IDP camp, sex crimes, and conscripting child soldiers. In total, he is facing 70 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Atim was an expert witness called by lawyers representing one group of victims in the trial. That legal team is led by Joseph Akwenyu Manoba and Francisco Cox, and they represent 2,599 victims. Atim based her testimony on May 4 on a report wrote she co-wrote with others.
She said some of the information in the report was drawn from a separate report the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium produced. The consortium, of which Atim is a member, produced the report earlier this year, and it is based on a survey of about 1,700 people in Uganda. Atim said for her report she relied on the portions involving 829 people in northern Uganda who were not attacked by LRA. She said her report was also based on a victims’ assessment survey she and her co-authors conducted of 396 people who survived the LRA attacks on Abok, Lukodi, and Odek.
Atim told the court that it was important to have the data from the two separate surveys to be able to compare the current situation of survivors of LRA attacks with that of people who were not attacked by the LRA attacks.
On May 4, Cox asked Atim about her findings on disability. She said in the reports they used the Uganda People With Disability Act as guide on how to assess disability. Atim said 67 percent of the survivors of the Abok, Lukodi, and Odek attacks had some level of disability. She said 21 percent of the general population had some level of disability.
“Also, what is important to note is … individual experiences does not only impact the particular person. It impacts the entire household,” said Atim.
“You will find at least two members of a household reporting some level of disability … it does affect the overall dependency of that household,” continued Atim.
She said most of the people they interviewed with disability told them nearby health facilities did not have the medicine they required or the specialized care they needed. Atim said for many of them the specialized care they needed was far away. She gave the example of a man with an artificial limb.
“For him … every time his artificial limbs gets damaged he needs to get a replacement, but the nearest health facility does not provide that. He has to travel every time to Gulu town where he gets the replacement done,” said Atim.
She said because of these difficulties, many people said, “We simply pain medicate.”
Cox also asked Atim what her research found out about the education of children of survivors of the attacks on Abok, Lukodi, and Odek. She said that because many of the survivors’ livelihood had been destroyed, they were not able to keep their children in school. She said instead they had their children stay at home to do chores.
“We conclude it’s clearly an aspect of the inter-generational effects of the attacks that they [the children of survivors] continue not to enjoy the opportunity to go to school,” said Atim.
Later on, when Abigail Bridgman, a lawyer for Ongwen, questioned Atim she asked about some of the details in Atim’s report relating to education. Bridgman then followed up on the question of children not being able to go to school.
“Again, still focussing on education, isn’t true that in Uganda, primary and secondary education is free or should be free to all?” asked Bridgman.
“That’s true,” answered Atim.
When Bridgman concluded her questions for Atim, Cox asked a question in re-examination because of the issue Bridgman had raised about free education in Uganda.
Cox asked Atim about a line in her report in which she noted one of the interviewees said that they paid 20,000 Ugandan shillings per child in school. He asked her to explain what the amount referred to.
Atim said education in Uganda is supposed to be free, but there are hidden costs.
“Some of these costs have to do with what we call development fund. Some parents have to pay for feeding their own children when they go to school,” said Atim.
Towards the end of his questioning, Cox asked Atim what her general conclusions were.
“Having said all that I have said, looking at access to services, education, to health, looking at household well-being in terms of wealth, looking at experiences of crimes during attacks, our conclusion is that overall they are worse off compared to the general population. They’re still struggling a lot,” said Atim.
A little later, Presiding Judge Schmitt asked Atim what the survivors told her they wanted done about what they had gone through.
“Do the victims want to forget about having been victimized or do they want to, on the other side, be recognized as victims?” asked Judge Schmitt.
“When I spoke to people, a lot of what I heard was about, ‘We need what happened to us [to be] recognized. We need the people responsible to be held accountable,’” replied Atim.
“And another question that has to do with the experience of crimes and being a victim, but now about crimes afterwards that had nothing to do with the alleged attacks, your report seems to suggest that the victim population experiences significantly more crimes nowadays even. Why is that so, if it is so?” asked Judge Schmitt.
“Yes, that is so, that is what we found, and that has to do with what I had explained earlier, the continued victimization, stigmatization, isolation that these people continue to experience that happens,” said Atim.
“Particularly for women it has to do with the pervasive gender discrimination that is extensive in most of northern Uganda and, you know, having a child, you know, out of sexual violence, what does that mean for you, everyday interaction with others in the community,” continued Atim.
“So, we do see a pattern of victimization, but also what that means, it seems to mean that this harm seems to multiply over, you know, into other violations or into other experiences of crimes in today’s community,” concluded Atim.
She concluded her testimony on May 4. The next witness, Daryn Scott Reicherter, testified on Monday, May 14.
A transcript of Atim’s testimony can be found here.