Lunch Seminar Prof. Tim Allen 6 July 2016

Humanitarian Impunity, Criminal Justice and Invisible Children:
Social Consequences of the War with the Lord’s Resistance Army

Humanitarians rely on rules and norms – from laws or principles, to religious and biomedical values, to best practice and ethical guidelines. The rules and norms create apparently coherent and predictable spaces. For humanitarians in the field, they establish locations in which the horrors they sometimes witness can be observed from a distance, or even set aside. The latter tendency is reinforced by life in compounds and aid towns in which a strange semblance of life at home is replicated. Humanitarians always need to balance empathy and self-preservation. They need to institutionalise engagement and, in-effect, excuse disengagement. However, there are obvious dangers, notably cognitive dissonance and humanitarian impunity.

Cognitive dissonance and humanitarian impunity in the war zone of Acholiland in central northern Uganda are the focus of this lecture. The region has been affected by conflict for decades, with more than 30,000 young people being abducted or joining the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Many of these people subsequently escaped or were captured by the Ugandan army; and they passed through reception centres on their way 'home'. The reception centres were managed with the support of international humanitarian agencies, but no-one knows what subsequently happened to most of those passing through them (including traumatised children). Many were left in internal displacement camps where conditions were appalling, and they had live with relatives who were aware they had spent time with the LRA, and had probably been required to kill or maim victims. They have been much more invisible than the so called ‘invisible children’ that have been the focus of media campaigns about the situation in the region. What has happened to these formerly abducted people is symptomatic of wider developments. There have been local consequences of the LRA war, and also ones that are of far reaching global significance, because it is here that the International Criminal Court focussed its first investigations, and it was the situation in this region that resulted in its first arrest warrants. 
Where do humanitarians fit in to the upheavals that have occurred, and the attempts to impose accountability for terrible crimes? The lecture will draw on long-term anthropological fieldwork from periods before, during and after the war. In particular it will present findings on what has happened to people who spent time with the Lord’s Resistance Army, based on interviews with 234 people (who were selected by taking a 10% random sample of records at a reception centre in Gulu). Aspects of social integration and exclusion in the post war setting of northern Uganda will be highlighted. One problem that many encounter is cen, a kind of malevolent emanation from those that have experienced or perpetrated violence. It can make social healing a fraught process. Another issue is the relative insignificance of local reconciliation rituals that have been a prime focus of those advocating traditional justice. There are big discrepancies between the lived experiences of those who have been caught up in the war and the normative assumptions of those purportedly helping them. Meanwhile, most of the humanitarian agencies that were active during the war have withdrawn, and media interest has shifted elsewhere. The International Criminal Court is prosecuting one of the Lord’s Resistance Army commanders, but the process is largely being ignored, and the accountability of others (including aid agencies) for what was described by a senior UN official in 2003 as amongst the worst of all humanitarian crises, is simply forgotten. 

Professor Tim Allen is Director of the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa and Head of the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has carried out long-term field research several African counties, mostly in East Africa. His publications include the bestselling textbook, Poverty and Development (Oxford University Press 2000), as well as books and articles on ethnic conflict in Europe, media coverage of wars, links between culture and development issues, mass forced displacement, and global health. His latest books have been Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lord's Resistance Army (2006), and The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality (2010). In recent years his research has focussed on justice and accountability in African war zones, and social aspects of Neglected Tropical Disease control. He has published extensively on the latter in collaboration with Dr Melissa Parker of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine, focussing in particular on mass drug administration in endemic populations of East Africa. In addition to academic work, he has worked as a consultant with numerous international organisations, including UNDP, UNICEF, UNRISD, MSF, LWF, Save the Children, World Vision and DFID. He is also a broadcaster and has presented or contributed to numerous radio and television programmes, mostly for the BBC. He has been elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

Date:     Wednesday, 6 July 2016
Time:     13h00 - 14h00 (lunch served from 12h30)
Venue:    Seminar Room, 4th Floor, New Economics Building, Middle Campus, UCT 
RSVP:    (for catering purposes):


Wed, 06 Jul 2016 -
12:30 to 14:00

Seminar Room, 4th Floor, New Economics Building, Middle Campus, UCT 

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