Moving Documentary Film on Children Born of War in Northern Uganda Released by ICTJ & MediaStorm

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A short documentary film depicting the devastating effects of stigma and discrimination against children born of wartime sexual violence, and their mothers, in northern Uganda was released today by the International Center for Transitional Justice and MediaStorm.

“I Am Not Who They Think I Am” narrates the story of Arach Janet and Lanam Stella, two women abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army as teenagers, who later were forced to become ‘wives’ of commanders and bore children while in captivity.

A short documentary film depicting the devastating effects of stigma and discrimination against children born of wartime sexual violence, and their mothers, in northern Uganda was released today by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and MediaStorm.

“I Am Not Who They Think I Am” narrates the story of Arach Janet and Lanam Stella, two women abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as teenagers, who later were forced to become ‘wives’ of commanders and bore children while in captivity. After eight years as hostages, they escaped the bush—with their children—and are trying to reintegrate back into society in Gulu. Since their return, they have faced profound stigma, discrimination, and rejection from their community because of their time with the LRA rebel group, led by the notorious warlord Joseph Kony.

As the film explains, the crimes committed against them have gone unaddressed and unacknowledged by the government. As a result, stigma and hardship have passed from mother to child, and sometimes even to grandchildren, in an intergenerational cycle of vulnerability and marginalization.

More than 60,000 children were abducted in northern Uganda during the Conflict in northern Uganda between the LRA and the Ugandan Government, and some 8,000 were born as a consequence of sexual violence. Without urgent redress, these children will continue on a path of marginalization, poverty and further abuse.

“They don’t have land, they don’t have identity, they are rejected, they are discriminated against,” says Janet, who is also Co-Director of Watye Ki Gen, a group made up of women and girls who were abducted by the LRA that organizes to uphold their rights and works for the future and welfare of their children born in captivity. “We have to stand together as a country for these children and their mothers.”

Seeing the need, Janet and Stella have become leaders of women’s groups in their Gulu community, raising awareness about the challenges faced by the children and their mothers and calling for reparations and other measures to address the harms and violations suffered by this vulnerable group.

“The government of Uganda should acknowledge the harms that flowed from its inability to protect its citizens. That recognition will help de-vilify these women and children in their communities,” says Virginie Ladisch, Director of ICTJ’s Children and Youth program. “This needs to be followed by concrete action: that’s where reparations and redress come in.”

“I Am Not Who They Think I Am” was first screened for local communities in Kampala and Gulu, in October. The events brought together victims, cultural and religious leaders, policy makers, local politicians, donors, media, civil society representatives, professors and students for discussions on how to combat stigma these women and children are facing and bring the Uganda government to establish measures that would provide for their redress.

“Our decade-long experience has shown that in the hands of the right partner, film has the power to move people to action. We co-created this film to inspire, inform, and activate, and ICTJ has been able to create the kind of impact that every documentary filmmaker aspires to have,” says Samia Khan, MediaStorm’s Director of Partnership Development.

The film is part of ICTJ efforts to promote acknowledgement and accountability for victims of gross human rights violations in Uganda. In 2015, ICTJ assessed the needs of victims of the conflict in the Acholi, Lango, Teso and West Nile regions and found that the absence of redress has poisoned the atmosphere in some communities with recrimination, resentment, and stigmatization, a problem that particularly affects children born of conflict-related sexual violence and their mothers. The report, which came out in 2015, provides recommendations based on the priorities these women and children identified for justice, including the chance for children to go to school by paying their school fees or for the mothers to complete their educations.

Following the film’s screening in Uganda, its two protagonists, Janet and Stella received an award from the French and German embassies in Uganda for their contribution to peace and reconciliation.

The film’s online release will be followed by a premier event in New York, featuring Abigail Disney, documentary filmmaker and producer of the Women, War and Peace series; Lauren Wolfe, director of Women Under Siege; Tatyana Karanasios, deputy program director at WITNESS; and Sarah Kasande, head of ICTJ’s office in Uganda. The discussion is expected to begin at 6:15 PM EST and will be livestreamed via http://www.ictj.org

Media representatives are invited to attend. Due to limited seating, please reserve a place by e-mailing rsvp(at)ictj.org

Background
The two-decade conflict in northern Uganda between the LRA and the Government of Uganda was the most long-lasting and arguably the most brutal war in Ugandan history. It was characterized by widespread and egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including murder, mutilation, rape, sexual slavery, destruction of property, and mass abductions. Approximately 1.5 million people were displaced and forced to live in congested and squalid internally displaced people’s camps as a result of the violence.

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