Monday, November 21, 2011

Amnesty for Rapists

Imagine the situation: by 1999, the war in Northern Uganda had been raging for over ten years. One of the primary tactics of the rebel forces was to abduct children and forcibly recruit them into their armies which mutilated, raped, and pillaged their own people.

In 2000, the government of Uganda decided to grant amnesty to all members of the LRA who disarmed. This move was considered part of the peace process, a step towards rebuilding the North and reintegrating former combatants, many of whom joined the rebel movement against their own will.

This weekend, I treated myself to a musical at the National Theater in Kampala, Uganda. The play, called Mama Obama’s Restaurant (Ugandans are second only to Kenyans in their love of President Obama), told the story of the aftermath of the war in the North from the perspective of a restaurant waitress who had been repeatedly raped by LRA militants. On stage, she suffers an emotional breakdown as she must serve her former assailants dinner. They mock her in the process, asking what she has done with the baby she conceived at 15, and the play ends with the young woman crippled on the floor, writhing from the distress caused by her memories.

The title, Mama Obama’s Restaurant, is a metaphor for the growing pains of democracy, something the playwright likened to the struggles President Obama’s mother must have faced as a single mother.

Like so many wars, the war in Uganda is typically told from the perspective of men. Who were the heroes? Who displayed courage? Who worked for justice?

But in all wars, the stories of women and children must also be told.

What happens when we grant blanket amnesty to all of the rapists, the mutilators, the murderers? Do victims deserve some kind of justice, or can war be written off in the books of history as a kind of sunk cost, where anything can be forgiven for the sake of peace?

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