Open Letter To LRA

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I also reject the notion that: If you condemn LRA atrocities, this means that you are pro-Museveni; and if you expose Museveni ‘s genocide and other crimes, then you must be LRA supporter! This is a cynical moral trap.

On Genocide And Accountability:


Black Star Publisher’s Note: This is the original version of an open letter submitted by the author to The Monitor (
www.monitor.co.ug), which published an abridged version on May 25. The author formerly was UN Under-Secretary General/Special Representative To The Secretary General of the United Nations for Children and Armed Conflict; he is also the 2005 recipient of The Sydney Peace Prize.


Dear Mr. Martin Ojul  (leader of Lord's Resistance Army delegation to Juba peace talks):

In a press statement on 26 April, Nyekorach Matsanga, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) delegate and spokesman, called for the removal of LRA from the list of “international terrorist organizations.”

Then, out of thin air, he gratuitously inserted my name: “People like Olara Otunnu want to come to participate in this peace process but they fear to be labeled terrorists.”

I am very shocked by this blatant falsehood and disinformation. No clarifications have followed this or previous disinformation. I see that LRA and the Museveni regime have now joined together in orchestrating this smear campaign.

The purpose of this vicious campaign of smear and vilification against me is to intimidate me  (and others who dare to speak the truth about Museveni’s Uganda), to silence and discredit my message and revelations.
 
As you know, I have never been a member or supporter of LRA. For a detailed discussion of all aspects of this subject, I refer you to my recent interview in The Weekly Observer (29 March).  On the contrary, I have always condemned in the strongest terms, massacres, maiming and abduction of children by LRA.  Similarly, I have exposed and denounced the horrendous crimes committed by the Museveni regime, specifically its genocide and trail of massacres.

Certain narratives have been carefully fashioned to promote disinformation. I reject, for example, the invidious narrative, which is vigorously promoted by the Museveni regime and bears a simple formula:  If you are ethnic Acoli, then, by definition, you are LRA.   By the same logic, LRA is portrayed as representing the Acoli! This is an integral part of the campaign of ethnic demonisation and the stratagem of divide-and-rule.

I also reject the notion that: If you condemn LRA atrocities, this means that you are pro-Museveni; and if you expose Museveni ‘s genocide and other crimes, then you must be LRA supporter! This is a cynical moral trap. It is a contrived dichotomy, a false choice, which has only comforted a deep culture of silence and impunity.

It is imperative that the leaderships of both the Museveni regime and LRA be held fully accountable for what they have done. In Lwo jurisprudence, there is no contradiction between accountability and reconciliation. Indeed, the two are aligned. Above all, impunity  (atimo nyong, do!) is never, ever accepted.
 
That is why I am very disturbed by Joseph Kony’s persistent denials of LRA atrocities and abduction of children. How painful for victims and families to hear these incredible denials.   I urge Kony to personally and directly level with the victim communities. I urge him to own up to the abductions and other atrocities committed by his men.


Kony needs to reciprocate the incredible magnanimity manifested by the victim communities. Although they have suffered unbelievably, they have chosen the painful path of dialogue and accountability, leading to forgiveness and reconciliation. With or without the spectre of ICC, Kony needs to respond directly and in kind to this extraordinary gesture. At a very fundamental level, this local reckoning is most critical and will define the future.


The much discussed (and much misunderstood) mato oput does not countenance impunity at all. On the contrary, mato oput is predicated on full acceptance of one's responsibility for the crime or taboo committed. In Lwo jurisprudence, redemption is possible, but it passes necessarily through this voluntary admission of wrongdoing, acceptance of responsibility, and the seeking of forgiveness, which then opens the way for healing and renewal.


The time has come for urgent soul-searching and response by the LRA leadership on this issue.  This will require real courage (amo coo kikome), the kind demonstrated by the victim communities.


The very conduct of the NRM / LRA war also calls for serious scrutiny.


UPDF easily mounted a massive invasion and occupation of DRC; it occupies southern Sudan; and is now in Somalia. It is simply not convincing to contend that, for over 15 years, with massive budgets, and significant military aid and hardware, UPDF has lacked the capability to defeat a struggling LRA, which enjoys no popular support and is composed mostly of abducted children.  This is a case of  ‘unwilling,’ not  ‘unable.’


It is also very striking that throughout this war, UPDF and LRA have rarely engaged each other, while both concentrate on committing unspeakable atrocities against civilians.


Most important, the NRM/ LRA war has served as pretext and cover for Museveni’s preconceived genocide project. There is a longstanding relationship (covert and overt) between the Museveni regime and LRA leadership.


It is now well documented that great ‘ facilitation’ has been at play for many years: monies have been secretly delivered directly from State House to LRA leaders; extensive satellite airtime has been provided; and families of some LRA leaders have been under direct support by Museveni.  LRA leaders, like Banya and Kolo, upon exiting the bush, have been accorded unusual VIP treatment, and all have become Museveni’s strong allies. During the Besigye treason trial, government produced, at the drop of a hat, a whole line of LRA operatives as state witnesses.  I ask you:  what has really been going on?
 
For the sake of the victims, full light must be shed on the nature, scope, and duration of this special relationship.


I strongly support the Juba peace process. I have great respect for the mediator, Dr. Riek Machar.  In this context, may I impress to your attention, some preoccupations.


First, the most urgent issue, barring none, is ending the genocide. Concretely, this must begin with the immediate dismantling (not decongesting) of all concentration camps.


This requires an organized programme of return to wii obur (long-abandoned homesteads), provision of resettlement supplies, international monitoring team, and adequate security arrangements.


With the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of LRA from Ugandan territory, following the government’s own logic, there is no longer any pretext for holding people in concentration camps. I ask you: why then is the dismantling of the camps not front-and-center of the Juba talks?


Second, the victim communities, through their legitimate representatives (not the Museveni regime or LRA) have the highest stake in certain critical issues—genocide and its aftermath; war crimes; truth- telling and accountability; resettlement and recovery; a ‘Marshall’ reconstruction fund and programme; Museveni’s apartheid policy of ‘two countries within one’; land; and reparations.  


There is need for a two-phase peace process, incorporating this broader agenda and participation. Only this can lead to an authentic and comprehensive political settlement.


Mr. Ojul, it would be helpful for you to clarify LRA thinking on the issues raised in this letter.


For my part, I will continue to press for full responsibility and accountability for the crimes committed by both the Museveni regime and LRA leadership. We owe this to the victims of Museveni’s genocide and LRA’s atrocities.



Olara A. Otunnu, former UN Under-Secretary General, is president of LBL Foundation for Children.


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