Justice and rape on the periphery: the supremacy of social harmony in the space between local solutions and formal judicial systems in northern Uganda

Abstract

In the Acholi sub-region of Uganda, historically and geographically peripheral since the colonial era and the epicenter of over 20 years of war, there is a peculiar manifestation of what appear to be contradictory phenomena: brutally violent retribution and extraordinary forgiveness. This article suggests that both responses to wrongdoing are motivated by the same supremely important value of social harmony.

The article focuses on one crime, rape, and examines what justice means for Acholi women in the vacuum of justice created by the decayed state of former local methods of responding to wrongdoing and the still inadequate role and legitimacy of Uganda's judicial system and the International Criminal Court. The research indicates that notions of appropriate punishment are oriented by the degree to which the perpetrator is seen as important to future social harmony. The various responses to rape are a product of dynamics in the justice gap, and, I want to suggest, are illustrative of responses to crime or wrongdoing more generally.

The article highlights the centrality of two integral aspects of lived Acholi reality: there is a profound value of social harmony, and a deep distrust of higher authorities to dispense justice in their interest. Women's experiences after rape in this study underscore the importance of an arbiter of injustice that has earned moral jurisdiction on a local level. When authority is recognized and trusted, parties typically accept the outcome of arbitration, restoring broken social harmony. However, without moral jurisdiction, outcomes of such processes are viewed with suspicion and usually exacerbate existing tensions.

Citation

Porter, H.E. Justice and rape on the periphery: the supremacy of social harmony in the space between local solutions and formal judicial systems in northern Uganda. Journal of Eastern African Studies (2012) 6 (1) 81-97. [DOI: 10.1080/17531055.2012.664705]

Justice and rape on the periphery: the supremacy of social harmony in the space between local solutions and formal judicial systems in northern Uganda

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