Mzee Julius Okwera
Survivor, ACTIVIST, and COORDINATOR OF 'MEN OF COURAGE'
Born in 1938 in Bwobo Manam, Alero Sub County, Nwoya County, Nwoya district, Julius Okwera was the only child of Mr. Alphonse Agwok and Mrs. Alveria Abalo. The 1980s were a time of great conflict and upheaval in Uganda. One morning in April 1987, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) fighters camped at Julius Okwera’s homestead against his will. His children and other family members had all ran away, and only he and his pregnant wife remained at home. One morning, he awoke to soldiers from the National Resistance Army (NRA) at his door, searching for the LRA. Julius was wrongly suspected of offering shelter to the LRA and he and his wife became targets for extreme violence. In the days that followed he and his wife both experienced horrendous sexual violence and rape at the hands of the NRA soldiers. Three weeks after this ordeal, Okwera’s wife suffered a still-birth of dead twins and she also died thirty minutes later after delivery. “It was a very traumatising moment for the whole family”. Okwera recalls, he blames the death of his wife and twins on the rape of his wife.
In the years that followed, Julius and his family endured great struggles and hardship. “It was a hopeless situation, tek-gungu was widespread, people knew about it (tek-gungu or male rape) but never talked about it nor pointed fingers at the soldiers, except in a local song”. When the region regained stability, the civilians went back to their villages and struggled to put the past behind them and resume normal lives, but the wounds, scars and skulls were all over. The affected communities are yet to open up and speak out publicly about the atrocities committed. Many victims remain highly stigmatised. In 2008, he harnessed his courage and met with staff from the Refugee Law Project, and his journey from survivor to activist gained momentum.
Today, Okwera is a leading advocate for justice for male victims of sexual and gender based violence during armed conflict, and his experience has richly informed The Refugee Law Project’s advocacy for combating Sexual and Gender Based Violence and Persecution (SGBVP) in armed conflict. He coordinates the Men of Courage support group based in Nwoya district in northern Uganda. The group has about 35 members and continues to grow. In his advocacy roles, Okwera has articulated SGBV survivors’ justice needs in different foras. He participated in the first ever South– South Institute for Sexual Violence against Men in Armed Conflict, held in Kampala in April 2013, and travelled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in May 2015 to speak at the second SSI event, where his presence had a profound impact on those present. His story is also told in the groundbreaking documentary film, 'They Slept With Me', made by RLP in 2013. To learn more about the life of this remarkable man, please click on the link below.