Monday, September 24, 2007

Is this Communalism gone mad in Uganda?


In Uganda, hundreds of thousands have died at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Increasingly there have been calls for "communal healing" rather than "Western-style persecution". Since when is "justice" Western? Can there be justice with mato oput?

4 comments:

aditi said...

There are many forms of justice. Mato Oput, restorative justice, is merely one of them. �Mato Oput, which in the Acholi language literally means to drink a bitter potion made from the leaves of the �oput� tree" consists of the drinking of this bitter herb which symbolizes the acceptance of the bitterness of the past by the two conflicting parties and a promise to never taste such bitterness again. It doesn't aim at establishing whether an individual is guilty or not, rather it seeks to restore marred social harmony in the affected community.� Our notion of solving conflicts is by putting the perpetrator into prison or whatever punishment seems fit for the crime. However, this method is generally more successful when the crime in concern is confined to a particular person, or family, thus keeping them out of society and unable to cause more harm. However, when crimes are of a large nature, imprisoning some of the culprits does not always stop the crimes taking place as someone else merely fills their place. I am not trying to say that the system is flawed and that the criminals caught should not be met with severe punishment. I am merely trying to say that if mato oput helps cause emotional healing of both sides and helps resolve the conflict even momentarily, then where is the harm? If a particular culture has its own traditions seen fit by the people presiding there, who are we, as outsiders to say they are crazy and their traditions useless. The people of Uganda have chosen methods that they have deemed most fit for their situation, and if this helps them be at rest with the perpetrators and believe that they have found a solution, then so be it. After all they are the ones living there. They are the ones who have decided to opt for communal healing. They believe this is a solution to their problems. If they suddenly decided to kill anyone and everyone they thought was against them, then we would have a problem. But if there is a way that there can be a peaceful reconciliation then I�m all for it.

aditi said...

http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/37403

Kiki L. said...

While slightly different, Lancaster has its own version of Mato Oput called LAVORP (Lancaster Area Victim Offender Reconciliation Program.) As part of probation, juvenile offenders of non-violent crimes in Lancaster county meet with the victims of their crimes in order to discuss the harm that was cause and try to reestablish the relationship between offender and victim. As a mediator for LAVORP, I can tell you that it works. Not only do victims who go through the restoration justice process receive their full restitution 95% of the time compared to only 35% that only go through the court, offenders who go through LAVORP have a 17% recidivism rate compared to over 50%. This is because offenders are able to understand how their actions affected another human being and are forced to be accountable for what they did. Furthermore, the victims are given the opportunity to get the closure they need and move on. I believe restorative justice is a much more effective system than locking people up and then letting them lose after they have serve their time without addressing the harm. Even in Lancaster, restorative justice helps people more than the modern Western system and I think Uganda should stick to Mato Oput if they want to see results.

Nikki M said...

This is a difficult issue. Personally I feel like reconciliation is just simply not enough considering the horrific actions of the LRA. But I also think we need to keep WWI in the back of our minds whenever we are discussing punitive measures on a nationwide scale. Many would argue that the harsh conditions set out in the Treaty of Versailles were catalysts to WWII and eventually the Holocaust. Harshly punishing leaders of the LRA may only cause further retaliation by other members and cause this conflict to spiral on for years to come.

For the sake of the nation it may be more productive to pursue communal healing and to get about the business of restoring the country and pursuing developmental goals. While this may do justice to the overall country, I still believe that individuals are at a personal loss for justice in this system.