Home Institution

University of Wisconsin

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Uganda: Post-Conflict Transformation


In the wake of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict in Northern Uganda, both the local and international community struggle to define the “victims” and “perpetrators” of a conflict that transformed ordinary civilians into combatants. Made up primarily of child soldiers, the LRA forcefully abducted and conscripted children across Northern Uganda to fight in a guerilla war against the Ugandan government. LRA members were forced to murder their own families and terrorize their home villages in an attempt to disorient and desensitize them to lives of violence. Some became willing, even eager fighters; others struggled daily to live with their actions.

Nearly ten years after the guns went silent in Northern Uganda, various methods of transitional justice have been employed to resolve the ambiguity of victims and perpetrators. Most recently, the International Criminal Court indicted Dominic Ongwen, a high-ranking LRA commander abducted at the age of ten. As the date of his trial nears, debates over his victimhood and perpetrator-hood intensify. The stakes of the trial are high both for the affected communities promised reparations and for the future of child soldiers in international law; Dominic Ongwen is the first person to be tried for a war crime of which he is also a victim.

This research examines the complex victimhood and perpetrator-hood of former LRA members and how this complexity is constructed by members themselves, local communities, and the ICC. Data was collected over the period of four weeks from November to December 2016 in Gulu district and Kampala through case studies with former LRA members, focus group discussions, and interviews with local opinion leaders. This research concluded the following: (1) former LRA members exhibit overlapping factors of victimhood and perpetrator-hood, and thus cannot be categorized as solely victims or solely perpetrators; (2) most former LRA members construct themselves as victims when faced with the risk of punishment, but in risk-free environments recognize their complex victimhood and perpetrator-hood; (3) most local community members recognize the complexity of former LRA members, but their constructions are influenced by self-interest; and, (4) the ICC struggles to recognize the complexity of Dominic Ongwen’s victimhood and perpetrator-hood, instead constructing him as a perpetrator to legitimize its method of retributive justice. This paper concludes with recommendations to the International Criminal Court, the Government of Uganda, local opinion leaders, and future researchers based on findings.


African Studies | Child Psychology | Defense and Security Studies | International Law | Juvenile Law | Law and Society | Military and Veterans Studies | Military, War, and Peace | Peace and Conflict Studies | Sociology of Culture | Transnational Law

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