Alexa

Backing reconciliation over trials

Backing reconciliation over trials

As peace talks between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army continue, a debate is swirling over whether those accused of having committed terrible war crimes should be allowed to escape international justice for the sake of peace.
Over the past 20 years, Joseph Kony's LRA has been blamed for the death or displacement of millions. Thousands were killed, raped or enslaved as child soldiers.
But since the LRA reached a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement with the Ugandan government earlier this year, more than 1,600 rebel fighters have laid down their arms - prior to full-scale peace negotiations.
For the first time in years, it appears that peace is a real possibility.
But as a condition for participating in full peace talks, the LRA has insisted that the International Criminal Court drop arrest warrants issued against 33 of its leaders on a variety of charges, ranging from crimes against humanity to war crimes.
Museveni's about-face
It was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who initially asked the international court to intervene on behalf of his country. But now, to the consternation of the court's prosecutors, Museveni has changed his mind.
Museveni has unilaterally offered amnesty to the LRA in return for an initial cease-fire and an eventual comprehensive peace deal. He has promised that none of the rebel leaders will be sent to The Hague for trial.
Some ICC officials and non-government organizations are furious at Museveni, accusing him of undermining the court's credibility. They contend that 102 countries, including Uganda, that agreed to be bound by the international court entered a solemn and binding agreement and cannot simply opt.
"Museveni is acting in contravention of international law," said Judge Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor of both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
A decision for the locals
But Ugandans argue that after two decades of war, there is at last a real chance for peace. They argue the international community has no right to force them to choose between peace and justice.
In fact, many Ugandans reject the entire notion of a war-crimes tribunal.
Instead, they point to a traditional reconciliation process, long used in the area, as the best way of reuniting perpetrators and victims.
The reconciliation process, known as "mato oput," (which in Acholi means "to drink a bitter potion from the leaves of the oput tree") involves a series of symbolic acts to restore the unity between the injured and offending parties. Prodigal sons and daughters can receive forgiveness and be welcomed back into their communities.
"Mato oput involves the man or woman accepting responsibility for their actions and repenting for their crimes against their brothers and sisters," said Bishop Bake Ochola, an Anglican prelate in northern Uganda who is also a passionate advocate of the local peace-making route.
Ask and you shall receive
"They then ask for forgiveness of their community and pay reparations to those they have wronged. Finally they rejoin their community without cruelty or victimization."
"The situation where the crimes are brought into the open is important, so that suffering is acknowledged and perpetrators sincerely apologize," said Simon Simonse, of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi International, an adviser at the negotiations between LRA and Ugandan government.
Vincent Otti, Kony's deputy, told a Ugandan newspaper recently that he is ready to ask forgiveness and that he is willing to submit to their justice system once a peace agreement is reached. But Otti described the international court as "just like a landmine or thorn ahead of me which I will not accept to step on."
Though it is still early, there are signs are that the cease-fire is holding.
"Peace is gradually becoming a reality in this region," said Ugandan army General Aronda Nyakairima. "But if the talks fail, we will go for the LRA. It will be a free-for-all."
Katy Glassborow is a journalist in
The Hague.


Updated : 2020-12-03 14:52 GMT+08:00