Children’s Rites: Examining the Role of Local Justice in the Ugandan Transitional Justice Process through a Child Rights Approach
Building upon the recent increased attention to local justice mechanisms, and responding to calls for child-sensitive approaches to transitional justice, this study asks the following question: 'How, if at all, can the Nyono Tong Gweno (‘stepping on the egg’) ritual play a role in facilitating a child-sensitive approach to transitional justice in Northern Uganda?' Relying on semi-structured interviews with Ugandan NGO workers, primary legal sources and secondary literature, this study performs a detailed analysis of the potential of this ritual to implement children rights. Four core groups of children rights are identified: the rights related to social reintegration, restoration of culture, psychological recovery and freedom of expression in the justice process. This study concludes that, while not devoid of problems and shortcomings, Nyono Tong Gweno can play a fundamental role in enhancing children rights in transitional justice in Northern Uganda. However, the mechanism needs to be revised in order to fully meet its potential. Room for revision involves providing employment and educational opportunities to children returnees to fully ensure their social reintegration; ensuring that children’s participation in such rituals is voluntary and well-informed; encouraging professional psychologists to work side-by-side with elders during consultations to ensure children’s full psychological recovery; and giving children the possibility to engage in a dialogue with elders concerning the specifics of the justice process. Moving away from the elitist and politicised arguments that had characterised advocacy for the Mato Oput (‘drinking the bitter root’) ritual, this study suggests a holistic approach that combines local and international justice for the mutual benefit of both.