Support Dr. Machar For Uganda Peace

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[Peace In Uganda: Commentary]

Confusion has enveloped the Juba Peace Talks, launched in 2006, under the mediation of Dr. Riek Machar, the Vice President of autonomous Southern Sudan, to end 22 years of warfare in Uganda. 

Dr.  Machar is a man of tremendous patience and deserves much accolade.

Any ordinary person would have long ago abandoned the process, given the unpredictability of the parties to the conflict, the Ugandan government of dictator Yoweri Museveni and the Lord’s Resistance Army, under the dictatorship of Joseph Kony. Both Museveni and Kony have made belligerent statements in recent weeks.

The intentions of these parties are not as clear, or as noble, as Dr. Machar’s.

Dr. Machar has experienced the pain and suffering in Southern Sudan, which is just emerging from decades of conflict with the ethno-Arabist regime in Khartoum; that war, or series of wars, cost the lives of millions of Sudanese, especially in the South.

Dr. Machar can relate to the pain of the suffering civilians in Acholi, in northern Uganda. That’s why he has demonstrated the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job, in nudging the parties, however reluctant they have been, to conclude a peace deal. He also doesn’t want the fighting to continue ruining the lives of Southern Sudanese.

Much of the blame recently has been directed at Joseph Kony, who did not show up to sign what was built up as a “final agreement” in April. 

But Juba has proved critical. A series of documents were signed, the most important one of which has been the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. This has largely been effective, until recent weeks when reports of clashes emerged between the LRA and Uganda government forces.

Only today, the LRA issued a release stating that the Uganda People Defense Forces (UPDF) had attacked its forces at Nimule; it also said it was still committed to the peace talks under Dr. Machar.

Reports of hostilities are disturbing and unwelcome development, since the Juba process remains the more serious attempt at ending the suffering of Ugandans, including more than one million Acholis who remain confined in concentration camps.

The confinements are crimes against humanity under international law, and will need to be eventually addressed, regardless of the outcome of Juba;  not only in terms of determining responsibility, and the chain of command that issued the confinement orders, but also to assess compensation and assure that such crimes never be repeated in Africa.

Kony does not bear sole responsibility and blame for the Juba stalemate. The U.S.-backed dictator Museveni was recently embarrassed when a new book, “A Billion Lives….” by a former top UN official, Jan Egeland, exposed that all along Museveni had been plotting a “military solution” for the LRA even when his ministers were already involved in the Juba process.

Who then could trust such men as Kony and Museveni?

But the suffering people of Uganda deserve peace and that’s why Dr. Machar knows he must continue working with Kony and Museveni. He must be supported in his determination to push forward with Juba.  He has put both the Uganda government and the LRA to shame by resisting their efforts to abandon the Juba process.

Of course, Dr. Machar also wants the deal to ensure that the conflict does not continue to affect Southern Sudan.  He reports of recent attacks against civilians in Southern Sudan by the LRA, including abductions; the LRA recently denied involvement in the attacks, claiming Ugandan troops may have committed them, to drive a wedge between the LRA and Dr. Machar.

The issue of the indictments by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the LRA leadership --many of whom have since been reported dead—including Kony, remain as an albatross over the Juba Talks. The ICC has insisted that the indictments will not be suspended and that LRA commanders be brought to trial. Other concerns may arise from the ICC in the future. The Court recently unsealed the indictment against Jean Pierre Bemba, a Congolese warlord once supported and financed by Uganda.

Coupled with a report in The Wall Street Journal on June 8, 2006, that the ICC is also investigating Uganda’s role in alleged crimes against humanity in Congo, there is a possibility that Museveni himself could also be indicted; much in the same manner that Charles Taylor was indicted for sponsoring genocide in Sierra Leone. Very few people would shed tears if Museveni and Kony both ended up in the Hague.

This brings us to another important point.

Uganda has proposed that it set up a domestic court to handle charges of serious crimes during its war with the LRA. Uganda’s proposal is inadequate, improper, and self-serving.  It proposes prosecutions of crimes committed by the LRA. It says nothing about  the war crimes committed in Acholi --that have been well documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch-- by the Ugandan military.  It’s a sham, to accept that possible crime suspects also serve as prosecutor, judge and juror.

A better solution, which would address the need to prosecute serious crimes committed by both the LRA and the Ugandan army, while also addressing the issue of impartiality and credibility, is to set up a Special War Crimes Court for Uganda, in an African country, much like the Special UN court in Arusha, which handled crimes committed during the Rwanda genocide.

This Special UN War Crimes Court for Uganda could then prosecute LRA leadership as well as Uganda Army officers, commanders, and political leadership involved. Both parties would have to accept the court’s jurisdiction; it could be established in a country such as South Africa.

If the parties don’t accept the Special Court, they are welcome to try their chances with Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s ICC.

Finally, Dr. Machar already has performed a Herculean task and deserves nomination for the Noble Peace Prize.  He needs the help of the rest of the International community.  This publication proposes that other eminent people like Jan Egeland, who is intimately knowledgeable with the Uganda conflict, come on board as a co-mediator.  Egeland would become an asset in terms of getting more committed involvement of the EU and the UN to the peace process.

As it is Juba still survives; but only barely.

All those interested in peace and in seeing an end to crimes against humanity with impunity in Africa must lend a hand to Dr. Machar’s efforts.


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