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A woman walking by a hut in a refugee camp in Uganda

Sexual and Gender-based Violence and Torture Experiences of South Sudanese Refugees in Northern Uganda: Health and Justice Responses


British Academy
Leverhulme Small Research Grants

Total value of project


Project team

Dr Helen Liebling, Professor Hazel Barrett

The British Academy logo


Isis-WICCE, Kampala and Mrs Faddy Gladys Canogura, Kitgum Women’s Peace Initiative, KIWEPI, Kitgum, Northern Uganda; Professor Lillian Artz, Director, Gender, Health and Justice Unit, University of Cape Town; Judi Emorut Erongot, Gender and Humanitarian Officer, UN Women, Gulu, N.Uganda; Refugee Welfare Councils, Adjumani and Bidi Bidi Refugee settlements


University of Cape Town; Refugee Welfare Councils; Adjumani and Bidi Bidi and Kitgum Women’s Peace Initiative, Uganda

Duration of project

01/09/2019 - 30/09/2019

Project overview

This British Academy/Leverhulme-funded research investigated the health and justice service responses to the needs of South Sudanese refugees living in refugee settlements in Northern Uganda who had been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and torture. It involved the collection and thematic analysis of the narratives of 20 men and 41 women who were refugee survivors of SGBV and torture, including their experiences in South Sudan, their journeys to Uganda and experiences in refugee settlements, in particular their access to health and justice services. Thirty-seven key stakeholders including international, government, non-government organisations and civil society organisations were also interviewed regarding their experiences of providing health and justice services to refugees.

All refugees had survived human rights abuses mainly carried out in South Sudan but some had also occurred on route to Uganda and within Uganda. Despite the significant impact of their experiences, the analysis indicated that there was limited service response in refugee settlements in Northern Uganda once the immediate humanitarian crisis ended. The thematic analysis indicated five main themes coming from the interviews. These included: the nature of refugee experiences of SGBV and torture, including domestic violence and child abduction and forced marriage; issues associated with service provision such as lack of adequate screening and under resourcing of health and justice services; a lack of gender sensitivity and specialist services, particularly for men; the sustained involvement of civil society organisations and local non-governmental organisations in providing counselling and offering emotional support and hope to survivors; and enhancing health and justice responses and services to improve refugee recovery, dignity and resilience. The authors recommend that integrated gendered and culturally sensitive service provision should be adopted, which brings together formal and informal health, justice services and survivor support programmes.

Project objectives

Specific objectives of the research were to:

  1. examine the experiences of refugees and impact of SGBV and torture on their lives;
  2. analyse reproductive and psychological health, and justice needs of refugees from their own and service providers’ perspectives; and
  3. evaluate responses to refugees by state justice, health services and key stakeholders.
  • - International collaborative links have been extended upon and consolidated and further research funding proposals have been awarded and submitted and further consultancies may arise from this project in the future.

    - The research project awarded is as follows: 8 / 11- Liebling, Barrett and Niyonkuru (2018-2019) Enterprise Research Funding of £20,000 to carry out follow up intervention and evaluation work entitled: Peer Group Micro-Projects for South Sudanese Refugees to improve livelihoods and health of participants who have suffered torture and/or sexual and gender-based violence: A Partnership Project with Local Non-Government Organisations and Civil Society Community Groups in Uganda. Completion date is end November 2019.

    - The social enterprise projects arising from the research were cited by UNHCR on their global compact for refugees, as an example of good practice at the following link:

    Social-Enterprise Groups for South Sudanese Refugee Survivors | The Global Compact on Refugees

    - Furthermore services with Interaid for urban refugees in Uganda together with the Medical Research Council, Entebbe and London School of Tropical Medicine are being extended and evaluated to further test the social enterprise and holistic model developed from the current project within an urban setting in Kampala (CLAMP project).

    - Dr Liebling was invited to participate in the Network for Dialogue: European Platform for Socially Inclusive Policies for Refugees, and assisted to drat three policy documents and participated in a working group to finalise policy on Inclusive Education for Refugees.

  • 1. The following articles were published in international peer-reviewed journals including:

    Liebling, Barrett and Artz. (2020) Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Torture Experiences of Sudanese Refugees in Northern Uganda: Health and Justice Response. International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care. October 2020.

    Liebling, Barrett and Artz. (2020) South Sudanese Refugee Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Torture: Health and Justice Service Responses in Northern Uganda. International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health, 17, (5), 1685;

    Liebling, Barrett, Artz and Canogura (2020) Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Torture Experiences Of South Sudanese Refugees In Northern Uganda: Health And Justice Responses. African Journal of Traumatic Stress, 5, 1.

    International Society for Critical Health Psychology published a summary blog entitled: Research Informed Social Enterprises with South Sudanese Refugees in Uganda: A Partnership Project. This presented some of the key findings and also summarised research related activities that followed from the current research from follow-up Enterprise Award research funding from Coventry University. This blog can be located at the following website: 

    2. The research findings were presented at the following international conferences:

    Liebling, Barrett, Artz, Canogura and Were-Oguttu. (2018) South Sudanese Refugees’ Living in Northern Uganda: Experiences of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Torture and the Health and Justice Responses. DAKAM Refugees and Forced Immigration Conference Istanbul, 12th-13th October 2018

    Liebling, Barrett, Artz, Canogura and Were-Oguttu. (2019) South Sudanese Refugees Living in Northern Uganda: Health, Justice and Social Enterprise. Midlands African Studies Hub (MASH) Conference 30th January 2019 Coventry University.

    Liebling, H. and Barrett, H. (2019) Social Enterprise Groups for South Sudanese Refugee Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Torture Living in Settlements in Northern Uganda: Culture and Cultural Heritage in Asia and the Middle East. International Annual Conference February 2020. Paper presented under the theme: Gender, Culture and Violence. British Institute of International and Comparative Law.

    Barrett, H. and Liebling, H. (2020) South Sudanese Refugees Living in Northern Uganda: Health, Justice and Social Enterprise Groups. The Inaugural International Conference on Geographical Science for Resilient Communities, Ecosystems and Livelihoods under Global Environmental Change (GORILLA), Makerere University, December 2020.

    Barrett, H. and Liebling, H. (2021) South Sudanese Refugees Living in Northern Uganda: Health and Justice Responses. International Geographical Conference 2021 August 2021, Istanbul University.

    3. A policy-relevant summary of the research will be disseminated to: relevant UN Agencies (UNHCR, UNDP, UN Women, WHO); Ugandan Government Ministries (Health, Justice, Gender, Social Justice); Ugandan District and local officials; IsisWomen’s International Cross -Cultural Exchange, Uganda; NGOs (e.g.TPO, WCC, DRC, LWF, Voice for Humanity, Tutapona) Gender, Health and Justice Unit, University of Cape Town; the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, SVRI, Johannesburg; and DFID.

    4. The executive summary report will be made available on the following websites: Coventry University; University of Cape Town:UN Women, Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health Research UK; Isis-WICCE, Uganda; and SVRI, and also to research participants.

    5. The recommendations supported by the research evidence will be circulated to NGOs, service users and providers of refugee services in N.Uganda, as well as those involved in health policy and legislation in East Africa in order to influence future refugee service provision and policy in the Great Lakes region.

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