Viable Justice: Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and/or Torture Amongst South Sudanese Refugees Living in Settlements in Northern Uganda

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The aim of the research was to listen to refugee survivors of SGBV and/or torture and explore what justice meant to them in exile. We argue that what the survivors who participated in this research wanted was ‘viable justice’. The research was funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust.


Using a survivor-focussed justice lens combined with a trauma informed approach, narrative interviews were held with 41 women and 20 men refugee survivors living in refugee settlements in Northern Uganda. The researchers also conducted semi-structured interviews with 37 key informants including from refugee welfare councils, UN, civil society, non-government, and government organisations. Thematic analysis of the data resulted in the following themes being identified: No hope of formal justice for atrocities that occurred in South Sudan; insecurity; lack of confidence in transitional justice processes in Ugandan refugee settlements; abuse and loss of freedom in refugee settlements; and lack of access to health and justice services in refugee settlements.

We argue that what the survivors who participated in this research wanted was ‘viable justice’. That is justice that is survivor-centred, and includes elements of traditional and transitional justice, underpinned by social justice. By including the voices of both men and women survivors of SGBV and/or torture and getting the views of service providers and other stakeholders, this paper offers an alternative form of justice to the internationally accepted types of justice, which offer little relevance or restitution to refugees, particularly where the crime has been committed in a different country and where there is little chance that perpetrators will be prosecuted in a formal court of law.
Research limitations/implications

The research findings are based on a small sample of South Sudanese refugees living in three refugee settlements in Northern Uganda. Thus wider conclusions should not be drawn. However the research does suggest that a ‘viable justice’ approach should be implemented that is gender and culturally sensitive and which could also be trialled in different refugee contexts.

Practical implications

Improvements in refugee survivors’ dignity, resilience and recovery is dependent upon active engagement of refugees themselves using a ‘survivor-focussed approach’ which combines formal and informal health services with traditional and transitional justice responses.

Social implications

The provision of a ‘viable justice approach’ ensures those who have experienced SGBV and/or torture, and their families, feel validated. It will assist them to utilise their internal as well as cultural and traditional resilience and agency in the process of recovery.


The research findings are original in that data was collected from men and women survivors of SGBV and/or torture, as well as service providers. The empirical evidence supports our recommendation for an approach that combines both formal and survivor-focussed approaches towards health and justice services to meet the needs of refugees living in refugee settlements. This is a response that listens to and responds to the needs of refugee survivors in a way that continues to build their resilience, agency and restores their dignity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-Press)
JournalInternational Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care
Early online date6 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher: Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited
'This author accepted manuscript is deposited under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC) licence. This means that anyone may distribute, adapt, and build upon the work for non-commercial purposes, subject to full attribution. If you wish to use this manuscript for commercial purposes, please contact'


This work was supported by British Academy/Leverhulme funding (grant number: SG170394).


  • SGBV and torture
  • South Sudanese refugees
  • Northern Uganda
  • Viable justice
  • trauma-informed approach
  • qualitative methods


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