Friday, May 19, 2006

Peace Versus Justice in Uganda

I've blogged several times before about the tension between peace and justice, especially when it comes to indicting war criminals when that indictment may result in protracted conflict. Now we have some evidence that this may in fact be a real problem. The vicious Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), has approached the Ugandan government to discuss ways to end the 20-year long civil war. The government has been receptive, but there's a problem: the 5 to leaders of the LRA are under indictment by the International Criminal Court for their brutal crimes. That indictment means that any legitimate government that is a signatory to the Rome Statue (which Uganda is) must arrest the indictees immediately.

Just in case you're not familiar with the Lord's Resistance Army, here's a quick primer from

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, operates in the north from bases in southern Sudan. More concerned with destabilising northern Uganda from bases in Sudan, the LRA has linked up with Interahamwe and anti-RCD rebels around the Bunia area.

The LRA continued to kill, torture, maim, rape, and abduct large numbers of civilians, virtually enslaving numerous children. Although its levels of activity diminished somewhat compared with 1997, the area that the LRA targeted grew. Insurgent groups in Uganda, the largest of which -- the Lord's Resistance Army -- receives support from Sudan -- harass government forces and murder and kidnap civilians in the north and west. They do not, however, threaten the stability of the government. The LRA seeks to overthrow the Uganda Government and has inflicted brutal violence on the population in northern Uganda, including rape, kidnapping, torture, and murder. LRA forces also target local government officials and employees. The LRA also targets international humanitarian convoys and local nongovernmental organization workers. Due to Sudanese support of various guerrilla movements, Uganda severed diplomatic relations with Sudan on April 22, 1995, and contacts between the Government of Uganda and the National Islamic Front-dominated Government of Sudan remain limited.

The LRA has abducted large numbers of civilians for training as guerrillas; most victims were children and young adults. The LRA abducted young girls as sex and labor slaves. Other children, mainly girls, were reported to have been sold, traded, or given as gifts by the LRA to arms dealers in Sudan. While some later escaped or were rescued, the whereabouts of many children remain unknown.

In particular, the LRA abducted numerous children and, at clandestine bases, terrorized them into virtual slavery as guards, concubines, and soldiers. In addition to being beaten, raped, and forced to march until exhausted, abducted children were forced to participate in the killing of other children who had attempted to escape. Amnesty International reported that without child abductions, the LRA would have few combatants. More than 6,000 children were abducted during 1998, although many of those abducted later escaped or were released. Most human rights NGOs place the number of abducted children still held captive by the LRA at around 3,000, although estimates vary substantially.

The LRA rebels say they are fighting for the establishment of a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments. They are notorious for kidnapping children and forcing them to become rebel fighters or concubines. More than one-half-million people in Uganda's Gulu and Kitgum districts have been displaced by the fighting and are living in temporary camps, protected by the army.

Forty-eight people were hacked to death near the town of Kitgum in the far north of Uganda on 25 July 2002. Local newspaper reports said elderly people were killed with machetes and spears, and babies were flung against trees. Ugandans were shocked by the brutality of the latest attack by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

As if all this wasn't bad enough, the LRA is also famous for hacking hands, feet, arms, legs, and even faces off of their victims and letting them live, as well as forcing their victims to kill and eat relatives. It's not surprising that these monsters would be under indictment.

But, as this story in The Australian points out, "the LRA's offer to talk highlights the dilemma of peace versus justice in the court. Those indicted lose any motive for negotiating and may be driven to fight to the death."

Which is more important: indicting these monsters and pursuing justice or negotiating with them so as to end the conflict as soon as possible? I don't know. I'm just not so sure that decision should be made by an international tribunal. Yes, Uganda is a signatory to the ICC. But, shouldn't Uganda be allowed to decide how best to meet the needs of its people? Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has promised LRA leader Joseph Kony immunity from international prosecution until the end of June to allow talks to proceed. But, both Great Britain and the US (the US is not a signatory to the Court, but has declared its general desire to comply when possible) have declared that the indictments must be enforced. US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said that all LRA indictees must be handed over to the ICC, while Britain's International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, agreed, saying, "The warrants for the arrest of the five would need to be enforced. They would need to come to The Hague to be tried." Is justice really served if, in order to avoid arrest and prosecution, the LRA breaks off the talks, resumes the war, and more Ugandans are maimed, killed, or forced to eat their relatives?

No comments: