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Uganda: Remembering the Missing in Kitgum


On 30th August 2015, the ICRC held an event in Kitgum to mark the International Day of the Disappeared. Over 800 people attended this first major event of its kind to remember those who went missing in Northern Uganda between 1986 and 2006. Since 2013, the ICRC has been running a program to help families of those who disappeared to cope with their pain and move forward.

Family member of a missing person participating in
‘Remembering the Missing’ event organized in Kitgum,
Northern Uganda
© ICRC, Camilla Matteucci

Northern Uganda is still coming to terms with its painful past. Many families live with the uncertainty of not knowing the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. This year, the ICRC held a number of events to commemorate the International Day of the Disappeared in Kitgum, Northern Uganda.

The high turnout of families of missing persons, local government officials, leaders from local organizations and the general public is indicative not only of a community who recognizes the need to address the legacies of its turbulent and painful past, but also of one that seeks to keep the memory alive of those that went missing during nearly two decades of conflict.

For many people in Kitgum, this day served as an important learning opportunity, as many were unaware of the difficulties facing families of missing people. Some were even surprised to realize the impact of disappearance among their friends and neighbors.

The following series of photos illustrate the numerous activities which were organized to mark the day.
These include a march by affected families around town, an exhibition of photos and items related to disappearances during the war in Northern Uganda organized by the Refugee Law Project, speeches, songs composed by local musicians John Oweka and Romeo Odong on the issue of disappearance, testimonies from families, a presentation on the ICRC’s work, a candle lighting ceremony and the screening of ICRC’s film "A Life on Hold" and Refugee Law Project’s film, "Parenting the Missing".

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The following quotes from former program beneficiaries and event attendees illustrate the overwhelming support they felt at the events. For many, the event represented an important public recognition and understanding of the suffering they had long felt.
“It is the first time that I realized others are concerned about us and care. They acknowledged us.”
“This pain will be with me until I die. It will never be silenced. But now, government officials and the public know.”
Others explained that the event allowed them to renew their ability to cope with their loss.
“Lighting the candle at the ceremony gave me hope that I can move on with life. It reminded me the person I lost was a living person.”
The event also provided a powerful space to preserve the memory of their loved ones, which some would like to repeat annually.
“Even if nothing else comes out of today, we should hold this event again next year to help us remember.”

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