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Social Torture

Social Torture: The Case of Northern Uganda, 1986-2006

Chris Dolan
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 338
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  • Book Info
    Social Torture
    Book Description:

    As Director of the Refugee Law Project at the University of Makerere, Kampala, Uganda, Dolan offers a behind-the-scenes, cross-disciplinary study of one of Africa's longest running and most intractable conflicts. This book shows how, alongside the activities of the Lord's Resistance Army, government decisions and actions on the ground, consolidated by humanitarianinterventions and silences, played a central role in creating a massive yet only very belatedly recognized humanitarian crisis. Not only individuals, but society as a whole, came to exhibit symptoms typical of torture, and the perpetrator-victim dichotomy became blurred. It is such phenomena, and the complex of social, political, economic and cultural dynamics which underpin them, which the author describes as social torture. Building on political economy, social anthropology, discourse analysis, international relations and psychoanalytic approaches to violence, this book offers an important analytical instrument for all those seeking entry points through which to address entrenched conflicts, whether from a conflict resolution, post-conflict recovery or transitional justice perspective.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-912-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    David Keen

    How to address a war as destructive and long-running as that in northern Uganda? Chris Dolan’s startling and original answer begins with the observation that this has not really been a war at all. Though typically portrayed as a military contest between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army and the government (the parties that signed a fragile cessation of hostilities in 2006), the conflict is better understood – Dolan argues – as a form of ‘social torture’ that has maintained local populations in a position of ‘subordinate inclusion’.

    The key instrument here has been the camps or ‘protected villages’ into which hundreds of...

  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xi)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  7. Map
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  8. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Why, when almost every concerned party says they wish it would end, does a situation of suffering such as that in northern Uganda continue and indeed worsen? When I first went to northern Uganda in 1998 it was already a pertinent question; by 2006, with ninety per cent of the population internally displaced or in exile, further thousands raped, killed or forcibly abducted, and the economy in tatters, it was still more so. Even as the two ostensible parties to the conflict, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda (GoU), stated their commitment to peace during two...

  9. 2 The Research Process
    (pp. 20-38)

    The majority of fieldwork on which this book draws took place in Gulu and Kitgum districts from May 1998 to March 2000 as part of a wider DFID funded research Consortium on Political Emergencies (referred to in this text as COPE). At the time, I was working full-time for ACORD (an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) with a long history of working in northern Uganda and other conflict-affected areas), and registered as a part-time PhD student. As the NGO member of COPE, ACORD had thematic responsibility for investigating the local impacts of complex emergencies and of interventions into them. Although it...

  10. 3 An Overview of the Situation in Northern Uganda
    (pp. 39-71)

    It is never easy to know when a war truly began (Azar, 1986; 36). Was it when deaths per year reached a certain level? Or the day the first shot was fired? Or before that, when conditions of structural violence (Galtung 1969) were created which would eventually lead to physical violence? Furthermore, what defines a particular period of violence as a war in its own right rather than simply one more in a succession of phases of violence? The so-called LRA war, after all, follows on from the violence of the Obote and Amin periods, violence during the establishment of...

  11. 4 Reconsidering the LRA–Government Dynamic
    (pp. 72-106)

    The situation in Northern Uganda is generally presented as a war between two actors, the LRA and the Government of Uganda. There is, though, little consensus on the nature of the two parties, particularly the LRA, or the reasons for their involvement. Under the various labels of ‘madmen’, ‘religious fundamentalists’, ‘messengers of God’, ‘criminals’, ‘bandits’, ‘terrorists’ and ‘dogs of war’, at least four characterisations of the LRA are discernible; the LRA as a an irrational organisation without political purpose (e.g. Bramucci, 2001: ii, Weeks, 2002: 9), the LRA as seeking to install a Christian fundamentalist government in Uganda (e. g....

  12. 5 Protection as Violation
    (pp. 107-158)

    Faced with a considerable gap between the Government’s stated intentions and its actual achievements in pursuing solutions to the situation in the north, many people sought to read its underlying agenda from its actions rather than its words. The most telling action was the Government’s ‘calculated enforcement of displacement’ (WFP 1999: 6) into internally displaced camps described as ‘protected villages’.¹ This began in October 1996, the same month as the LRA’s notorious abduction of 125 school-girls from Aboke School in Lira district.

    The exact number of camps which had a military presence and were therefore considered ‘protected’ fluctuated, as did...

  13. 6 Protection as Debilitation
    (pp. 159-190)

    The violation of a wide range of human rights resulted in such a ‘miserable life’ for those in the ‘protected villages’ that the question inevitably arises as to why people put up with it rather than returning to their homes at the earliest opportunity. For the number in camps always increased when security deteriorated, but when the security situation improved dramatically (January to late December 1999, for example), the camps remained congested. A baseline survey of Awach conducted in November 1999, after nearly a year of relatively good security, found that in one parish only ten households – all elderly people...

  14. 7 Protection as Humiliation
    (pp. 191-218)

    Up to this point I have talked about how, under the guise of ‘protection’, civilians in the war zone in reality experienced massive violation of rights, and resultant physical, psychological and cultural debilitation. I have also talked about how this debilitation, and people’s adaptive responses to it, militated against their return from displacement to their homes. This chapter focusses on how these dynamics of violation and debilitation affected men in particular. It argues that violation and debilitation were closely linked to a sense of humiliation, and a collapse of masculinities, and that men’s responses to this collapse further contributed to...

  15. 8 Social Torture and the Continuation of War
    (pp. 219-251)

    In Chapter 1 I argued that the situation in northern Uganda should be considered primarily as one of social torture rather than war. I proposed that the identification of torture, rather than hanging on the question of perpetrator intentions, requires an assessment also of impacts, actors, benefits and functions, and justificatory processes and mechanisms. I also proposed that although social torture shares key features with individual torture, it can be analytically distinguished from individual torture along a number of parameters. These include that it is low rather than high intensity, it impacts on society as a whole rather than being...

  16. 9 Conclusions
    (pp. 252-263)

    The mainstream discourse around today’s wars, which broadly speaking has shaped both interpretations of and interventions into the situation in northern Uganda, tends to see them as internal, irrational and driven primarily by greed. This case study of the LRA-GoU situation offers a counter-narrative; it suggests that war can in fact be a disguise for a more complex and far reaching process of social torture. In relationship to theConvention Against Torture,the model of Social Torture, by drawing on and integrating what I termed the ‘building blocks of a counter-narrative’, broadens the lens through which to identify and address...

  17. ANNEX A. Testimony of an LRA soldier who Returned Under Amnesty, October 2001. Recorded April 2002, Kampala
    (pp. 264-306)
  18. ANNEX B. An Account of the 1994 Peace Talks
    (pp. 307-315)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 316-324)
  20. Index
    (pp. 325-338)