A new research has found high rates of symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression among residents of northern Uganda where a civil war has been raging for twenty-one years. The research also found that those with such symptoms favor violent, rather than peaceful means to resolve the conflict in Uganda.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkely’s Human Rights Center and Tulane University’s Payson Center for International Development. Its findings were published Tuesday in the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Patrick Vinck was the mean investigator on the research. From Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he told VOA the study was conducted to assess the level of exposure to war-related violence and the impact on people’s perceptions toward peace.
“What we found was that exposure to violence was very high, and as a result psychological trauma as well was very high, and that means PTSD which is post-traumatic stress disorder and stress disorder were highly prevalent among the population. And we saw that people who had those symptoms were more likely to support violence as a means to end the conflict,” he said.
Vinck said the study was conducted in four districts in northern Uganda – Gulu, Kitgum, Lira, and Soroti.
“We focused on four because they were representative of a variety of ethnic groups and one of the groups and exposure to the conflict. One of the ethnic groups, the Acholi, was generally considered the most exposed, and then we also looked at other groups,” Vinck said.
He said nearly 80 percent of the respondents cited displacement as the most traumatic thing they have experienced during the war.
“Over the course of the conflict, virtually the entire population of the north has been displaced in IDP (internally displaced people). The group who has been active in the north is called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and one of the techniques they have been using is forced recruitment. That means they abduct people, and that can be children or adults and force them to join their ranks. And we found that many people reported being abducted much more than what was usually said,” he said.
Peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA have been taking place in the southern Sudanese city of Juba.
Vinck said that while 66 percent of respondents in the study said they believed in non-violent peace, 27 percent said peace could be achieved through violent means.
“One of the reason we did the study is very often people assume that what the victims want is just peace…we found that some people indeed do want just to go back home and be able to live a peaceful life again. However, we also saw that for some people it’s not that straight forward. For some people it’s very important to either hold the people who committed the crime accountable and even punish them. And what we found when we looked at attitudes toward peace is that we had some people, when we asked them, how do you think peace should be achieved, they would use violent means, meaning killing of the other to continue waging the war. And that’s what’s associated with psychological trauma,” Vinck said.
He said the current peace process and the ceasefire associated with that has made it possible for people to return to their homes in northern Uganda. However, Vinck said protecting the people is crucial.
“Despite the fact that those people were living in camps, they were not at all protected. And so the first thing that we found out is protecting the people should be the priority in the ongoing conflict,” Vinck said.
He also said any failure to address the psychological impact of the war might undermine any efforts toward social reconstruction.