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Psychology :: Exposure to war crimes may stymie efforts to achieve peace

People who have been traumatized by exposure to war crimes have a tendency to choose violent means and reject nonviolent means to achieve peace, says a joint Tulane University/University of California-Berkeley study in the Aug. 1 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association.

Since the late 1980s, the Lord?s Resistance Army, a rebel group, has waged war in northern Uganda, killing and mutilating countless civilians and abducting tens of thousands of adults and children. Up to a million and a half people have been displaced in refugee camps.

The Tulane/Berkeley team of researchers surveyed 2,585 adults 18 years or older in villages and camps in northern Uganda in April and May 2005. The survey, conducted with questionnaires, was designed to assess the level of exposure to war-related violence and the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression symptoms, and to determine how these variables are related with respondents? views about peace.

War-related violence has had a major impact on the psychological well-being of the people in the region, the researchers found. About three-quarters of the respondents reported symptoms of PTSD and almost half met depression criteria. Researchers further found that respondents with symptoms of PSTD and/or depression were less likely to identify nonviolent means and more likely to identify violent means as a way to achieve peace.

The authors suggest that these results should be considered together with other factors when mechanisms aimed at promoting justice and reconciliation such as amnesties, criminal trials and truth commissions are implemented.

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