“Not many people think about victims, but they think about the ICC, Dominic Ongwen, Joseph Kony, these warlords. They think about people who have committed these terrible crimes but not ordinary victims who have suffered so much…International criminal justice must be two-sided; accountability and protecting the victims.” — Kevin Kelly, a member of the board of the Trust Fund for Victims and a former Irish ambassador to Uganda and the Netherlands, while speaking to Journalists For Justice.
On September 13, 2022, some 28 delegates from 14 states converged in Kampala, Uganda. The group was in the country to visit the projects of the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV). They were about to embark on a four-day whistle-stop tour of the projects in more than 20 districts. The aim of the visit was to enable the participating delegates to better understand the deeply rooted harm persisting in Northern Uganda 16 years after the end of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict and the need to redress this harm.
Another objective of the Joint Monitoring Mission to Uganda, organised by the Embassy of Ireland in The Hague and the TFV, with the assistance of the Embassy of Ireland in Kampala, was to see first-hand the work of the TFV in Northern Uganda, focusing on the impact of the conflict and the individuals and communities affected by the atrocities committed.
The participants included the President of the Assembly of States Parties, Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, and representatives from the governments of Australia, Belgium, Chile, Estonia, Germany, Ireland Liechtenstein, Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, Tanzania, Uganda, the United States, and the European Union.
Others were the legal representatives of victims in the Dominic Ongwen case and civil society organisations. Ugandan Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Norbert Mao joined the delegates.
At the end of the tour, members of the group agreed that it was an eye-opening experience. They were unanimous that the TFV’s Uganda operation was positively impacting the lives of victims.
Brendan Rogers, the Ireland ambassador to the Netherlands, attributed the success in Uganda to “the holistic series of actions including community participation, comprehensive support by NGOs who are experienced, the projects being locally driven, support from the government, and community-based support”.
The Trust Fund for Victims started its assistance programme in the Gulu region, Northern Uganda, in 2008. The assistance provided to victims of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government of Uganda includes medical rehabilitation, psychological rehabilitation, and livelihood support.
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The TFV has been implementing its rehabilitation programme in more than 20 districts of Northern Uganda. According to the fund, more than 60,000 Ugandans have been rehabilitated from injuries sustained in the war, and over 350,000 people have indirectly benefited from the programme.
This was the second visit to the TFV projects in five years. The delegates looked particularly at the impact of the projects, the TFV’s management of its implementing partners (mostly NGOs), and the road ahead in relation to the upcoming reparation order.
Between 2008 and 2021, the TFV contributed an estimated 12.5 million euros toward victim rehabilitation assistance programming across the conflict-affected region of greater northern Uganda.
In April 2019, the TFV initiated a new five-year programming commitment in partnership with its implementing partners.
Health Right International (HRI), is one of the organisations through which the TFV has been delivering integrated physical and psychological rehabilitation assistance for victims across 21 districts.
Through funding from the TFV, the HRI has been providing physical, psychological, and material rehabilitation support to LRA war victims. It receives funding earmarked for activities such as reconstructive and corrective surgery; pre-and post-surgical care and physiotherapy; and medical care for victims with chronic pain and injuries, including victims of sexual and gender-based violence. The NGO also provides mental health and psycho-social support for victims as well as livelihood support for the most vulnerable victims.
HRI identifies and trains community health extension workers and village health teams to conduct beneficiary identification, provide sensitisation, and map and trace referrals of victims for services. It does follow-up activities to ensure recovery.
The delegates visited Anaka General Hospital, one of the surgical camps in Nwoya district with which HRI has been working closely to offer physical rehabilitation services to victims.
Other surgical camps include Padibe Health Centre IV, Kitgum General Hospital, Lira Regional Referral Hospital, and Soroti Regional Referral Hospital.
According to HRI, its activities have directly impacted the lives of 8,157 people who have benefited through physical rehabilitation and 39,498 who have indirectly benefited as family members and relatives through physical and psychological rehabilitation. Some 1,386 survivors of the LRA war have benefited from reconstructive and corrective surgery.
The Transcultural Psychological Organisation, commonly known as TPO Uganda, is another one of the organisations working with the TFV, which has funded it for the past eight years to provide integrated physical and psychological rehabilitation assistance to war victims in Northern Uganda.
It operates in Agago, Gulu, Pader, Oromo, and Kitgum districts. According to TPO Uganda, it has empowered communities and strengthened their coping abilities to deal with mental health challenges and other daily stressors through holistic services to enable them to take control of their lives. It has recorded more than 30,000 beneficiaries.
In 2021, TPO Uganda recorded 3,820 direct beneficiaries of medical treatment and psychological rehabilitation programmes, including cognitive behavioural therapy and livelihood support.
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The organisation facilitates access to rehabilitative, surgical, and medical services, as well as provides mental health services and psychosocial support for victims.
TPO Uganda also empowers war victims to get access to household-strengthening economic support as well as strengthening coordination, promoting peaceful co-existence, and developing referral pathways among selected service providers in the districts.
It has recorded over 60,000 individuals living within the project catchment area who have attended sensitisation meetings and acquired knowledge about the physical and psychological services on offer.
Another partner is the Centre for Children in Vulnerable Situations (CCVS) and the Centre for Victims of Torture (CVT).
The CCVS was initiated in 2008 and has been in collaboration with the TFV since 2015. It provides psychological well-being assistance to war-affected persons, their families, and the communities they live in. It operates in Lira, Oyam, Alebtong, and Kitgum districts.
The organisation offers community sensitisation activities through local radio station programming called Healing Our Wounds. It also conducts mental health sensitisation and psychoeducational sessions within broader communities aimed at raising awareness about the signs and symptoms of trauma and response mechanisms.
According to the CCVS, in 2021 it sensitised 4,553 people on mental health through community meetings, radio shows, and psychological First Aid sessions. CCVS has supported 622 people (570 of them female) through group trauma counselling. Some 114 people were supported through individual counselling, and two families and eight couples were supported through family and couple counselling.
The CVT has been operational for over 12 years, providing torture rehabilitation to refugees and survivors of the LRA in Uganda. The CVT has been funded by the TFV since 2009 to improve psychological services for survivors through working closely with local NGOs. The goal is to address the mental health needs of victims of the conflict and strengthen the ability of local organisations to meet these needs.
The organisation operates in Gulu, Oromo, and Nwoya districts.
Through its capacity-building activities, CVT has recorded 279 hours of formal training in partnership with Makerere University in the trauma counselling diploma programme, 40 external clinical supervision sessions, and 274 internal sessions in 2021.
The TFV has also partnered with the AVSI Foundation, which has been working in northern Uganda since 1984, providing healthcare, education, and socio-economic and development services even during some of the hardest times during the war.
Due to the overwhelming need to respond to the large number of people who had become disabled due to landmine injuries resulting from the war, the organisation established the Gulu Regional Orthopaedic Workshop (GROW) in 1998 with the support of the Italian government.
Through the support of the TFV, victims have continued to receive mobility appliances and a variety of rehabilitation services. GROW has evolved into a regional rehabilitation centre, serving more than 400 war victims annually by enabling access to prostheses, orthoses, physiotherapy, counselling, and occupational therapy services.
It is the biggest orthopaedic workshop in Uganda and the only one providing services to war victims from the Acholi, Lango, Teso, and Adjumani districts.
The AVSI Foundation operates in 23 districts. In 2021, it had recorded 703 direct victim beneficiaries with assistive devices, trauma counselling, and livelihood support. Some 1,831 patients benefited from medical rehabilitation, 92 from plastic surgery between 2008 and 2022, with 87 post-burn contractures released and five facial reconstructive surgeries successfully managed.
Apart from Uganda, the TFV also operates in other parts of Africa.
Scott Bartell, the programme manager at TFV Uganda, said the fund has activities in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali, and Ivory Coast.
“Some of these places are still in the midst of conflict and that makes our work very challenging,” he said, adding that the fund is not able to go out to the affected locations and that it is difficult to engage the community the way it does in Uganda.
“Here, the shooting has stopped and we are able to engage the community and talk to people. People are able to speak openly and freely about their concerns and we are able to implement our rehabilitation activities without fear of violence or conflict erupting again.”
He said a delegation visited the TFV programme in Mali last year and that a small group is planning a tour to the DRC before the end of the year.
In DRC, civilians in the regions of Ituri, and North and South Kivu have borne the brunt of fighting between government forces and local militias – often backed by regional powers – for territorial control and rich mineral resources. This has resulted in years of grave international crimes including mass murder, the use of child soldiers, pillage, sexual and gender-based crimes, and the burning of houses since 1998.
TFV has been implementing its assistance programme in eastern DRC since 2008. It has launched projects ranging from physical rehabilitation, school assistance, income-generating activities, psychological rehabilitation as well as peacebuilding and reconciliation, allowing victim reintegration and protection in the DRC.
Under the assistance mandate, in the first phase (2008 -2017) 230,000 direct and indirect victims benefited. During the second phase, which started in July 2021, more than 50,000 direct and indirect victims benefited from projects implemented by the TFV’s 10 partners.
In September 2020, the TFV launched a pilot project under its assistance mandate in CAR. The project aims to support the most vulnerable victims and their families in Bangui, living in precarious conditions and suffering long-term harm as a result of sexual violence in conflict.
According to a notification filed before ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber II, the TFV is in the process of setting up a project to provide physical and psychological rehabilitation, as well as material support to the Kenyan victims and their families who were affected by the post-election violence of 2007/2008 that caused the death of more than 1,000 people and the displacement of thousands of others.
In 2002, the ICC and the TFV were created under the Rome Statute. While the ICC is responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminal cases involving genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes against aggression, the Trust Fund for Victims responds to the harm resulting from the crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC through the provision of reparations and assistance.
The TFV has two unique mandates – implementing reparation awards the court orders against a convicted person and assisting victims and their families through psychological rehabilitation, physical rehabilitation, and material support.
TFV works with local-based implementing partners, mostly non-governmental organisations, in the situation countries to provide services to the victims of atrocity crimes. The TFV is currently operating in northern Uganda, the Central Africa Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.