A Peace at the Price of Justice?

In openDemocracy, Tristan McConnell considers the price of amensty and impunity for the crimes of the Lord’s Resistance Army for peace in Uganda.

A conflict marked by horrendous atrocity – forced abduction, rape, mutilation and massacre – could be dying in the embers of the Opit fire and dozens like it across northern Uganda. For two months, the hot and dusty south Sudanese capital of Juba has hosted peace talks between the LRA and Yoweri Museveni’s Ugandan government. In two decades of war, this is the first time a significant third-party has been heavily involved in attempting to bring peace. South Sudan’s vice-president Riek Machar, fresh from the peace agreement that ended Sudan’s equally lengthy north-south civil war in July 2005, has been instrumental in pushing both sides to the negotiating table…

In December 2003, Museveni invited the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to launch an investigation into the LRA’s war crimes; the ICC announced the opening of its investigation in July 2004. In July 2005 the court arraigned Kony and his top four commanders (Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen), and now seeks their arrest and transfer. But this legal process has collided with the regional political one that seeks an end to the war, one that is now underpinned too by a local justice process of which the Opit meeting may be a foretaste.

For different reasons, both combatants in Uganda’s war are unenthusiastic about the ICC. Yoweri Museveni announced in July that if the LRA rebels lay down their arms he will protect them from prosecution; Joseph Kony has stated that we will not leave the bush until the indictments are withdrawn. These announcements have had the effect of making the ICC charges increasingly appear to be a barrier to peace.