The problem of child soldiers in northern Uganda is well known. What’s less clear, and what U of T students Salvator Cusimano and Sima Atri are exploring, are the consequences – for the kids as they grow up, and the prospect of justice for the families of the people they killed.
Last year, the students – who are now in the final year of the program in peace, conflict and justice – spent three months fact-finding in the east African country, where a rebel group led by Joseph Kony had recruited thousands of children. Examining the issue for an independent study project, Cusimano and Atri surveyed nearly 700 people in 17 villages – some of whom were family and friends of loved ones who were killed – to determine how these former militants can reintegrate into society.
“Research has focused on what these kids experience when they return to their communities, but it’s important to know what community members and the victims want from the justice process,” Atri says, referring to family and friends of those killed by the militants.
“Many appreciated sharing their experiences, because no one in the government has asked them what happened,” Cusimano says.
Cusimano and Atri have completed a paper about their findings, which they plan to publish in academic journals. As well, they’ve produced a report that recommends, in part, a truth-and-reconciliation approach to justice, financial reparations for victims, and a renewed investigation into the complicity of Ugandan government officials and armed forces. They have presented their findings to NGOs and at the United Nations, who lauded their on-the-ground research.
Atri says while the Kony 2012 video “missed some important facts,” it refocused attention on the crimes of the Lord’s Resistance Army. What matters now, Cusimano says, is righting the wrong: “Something has to be done for those who suffered extreme hardships as a result of these harms.”
Read Globe and Mail‘s commentary on Salvator Cusimano and Sima Atri.