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Building Forensic Capacity Post-Conflict: Lessons from Uganda - Archival
This presentation introduced research conducted in Uganda at the nexus of forensic science and transitional justice, highlighting a large-scale forensic investigation and human identification capacity-building workshop for Ugandan stakeholders.
Original Live Webinar took place on 03/28/2019

Since gaining independence in 1962, Uganda has experienced a series of internal conflicts over control of the government. As a result, tens of thousands of people have been killed or have gone missing. Currently, Uganda is in the process of establishing a National Transitional Justice Policy, aimed at fostering reconciliation between former warring parties and restoring trust between its citizens and the government. In order to reach these goals, the transitional justice policy is to be victim-centric and focused on truth-telling. This is where forensic science can play a role serving the victims of mass-atrocity as part of a transitional justice process.

In light of this victim-centric approach, and with experience working in other post-conflict contexts, our team of cultural and forensic anthropologists has been conducting research in northern Uganda with community leaders and survivors of the 1986-2006 Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Government of Uganda (GoU) conflict. This ongoing research seeks to understand if surviving victims and affected communities desire transitional justice processes or forensic investigation, and if so, in what capacity. Consistent with a victim-centered approach, we seek to understand the social, cultural, religious, and political implications of a potential forensic investigation. Should mass graves be investigated? Are recovered remains to be identified, or are proper burials of unidentified remains acceptable? Is it culturally appropriate to remove tissue samples for DNA purposes? Are prosecutions necessary to establish a lasting peace? What cultural traditions are compatible with transitional justice mechanisms?

As forensic practitioners, we see the value in our work and actively promote its application; yet, we rarely ask the victims if they see, or understand, this same value or even desire the application. In transitional justice processes where the goal is lasting peace and reconciliation, victims’ perceptions, beliefs, and needs become paramount. As forensic practitioners who work in transitional justice processes, it befits us to understand what the “recipients” of our services want, which necessitates finding out what they know about forensics and what they imagine in terms of its possibilities.

Our experience working in other post-conflict contexts tells us that multi-disciplinary approaches to forensic investigations and human identification processes is essential. Unfortunately, Uganda has limited capacity to conduct the large-scale forensic investigations that would be needed in a transitional justice-type truth finding process. The scale of their regular domestic case load can be overwhelming for them. Certain fields, such as forensic archaeology and anthropology are non-existent, and most laboratories do not have the equipment or funding to process evidence. 

Detailed learning objectives:

1.  Learn about modern Ugandan conflicts and the need to bolster forensic capabilities to meet the challenges of the forthcoming National Transitional Justice Policy.

2.  Learn about the challenges to articulate the application of forensic investigation with community needs in large-scale, post-conflict contexts.

3.  Learn about the forensic investigation and human identification capacity-building workshop conducted in Kampala for Ugandan practitioners, government officials, and non-governmental (NGO) members.

This webinar was recorded in its entirety at the time of the Live event in order to capture the one on one interaction with the presenter. Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence event has been provided by the National Institute of Justice.


Multiple Anthropologist Presenters
Hugh H. Tuller

Dr. Jaymelee J. Kim

Dr. Paul D. Emanovsky

Dr. Dawnie Wolfe Steadman