Uganda: ICC On Trial?

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(ICC chief prosecutor, Moreno-Ocampo. Columnist says ICC on trial as well).

As peace talks between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) continue in Juba, a debate is raging over whether those who have committed war crimes should be allowed to escape international justice for the sake of peace. It is also clear that the International Criminal Court (ICC) itself is on trial as my essay argues.

As reported by Reuters, October 15, 2006, Uganda admitted violating a landmark truce by deploying too close to a Lord's Resistance Army encampment in Owiny kibul and Ri-Kwangba. Uganda “said it was an innocent mistake," according to the news agency. This is not the first time peace efforts have been violated and the history goes way back.

Consider the 1985 Nairobi Peace Accords between General Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) guerrillas and the then Uganda government mediated by Kenya’s then President Daniel Arap Moi to stop violence and share power. Museveni participated in person, signed an agreement, and then violated it.

In June 1988, another agreement was signed, between Museveni’s then National Resistance Army (NRA—the military wing of NRM) and a rebel army, UPDA in Pece, Gulu—a few months later it was violated and some of the rebel leaders
like Maj. Mike Kilama were killed.

In 1989, the political wing of the Uganda People’s Army (UPDA) led by Akena Adoko signed another pact—he and others ended up escaping narrowly to exile. In the same year, the commander of the rebel UPA, Jesus Ojirot, signed another pact with NRM leaders. He surrendered with thousand of troops—weeks later his head was chopped off in Otoboi in Teso and his troops wiped out.

Today all eyes are directed at the effort being mediated for a peaceful settlement of Uganda’s 20-year conflict by government of South Sudan, led by men who were once allies of Museveni’s NRM regime. Hopefully, the mediators
will remain independent in their roles.

Yet, under the domination of their mentor Museveni, it is not going to be easy to act without his blessing or to bend to his thinking. Perhaps what the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement needs to do is declare their maturity and independence as Rwanda eventually did in 1999 in Kisangani in DRC. Tired of meddling by their once mentor, Museveni, Rwanda troops delivered a singular defeat to Museveni’s army during a brutal confrontation in that DRC city, once occupied by both countries.

Today, the major dominant aspect of the current Juba peace talks is the ICC’s warrants against the LRA leadership, including Joseph Kony, the commander. It must be recognized that the LRA rebellion was created by the indiscriminate atrocities meted on the populations of Acholi, Lango and Teso by Museveni’s NRA Army.

We must remember that an NRA Commander who captured northern Uganda, Colonel Samson Mande, now exiled in Sweden, has openly confessed that in 1986 when they captured the north, people were friendly. He encouraged everyone to come out and work together to rebuild Uganda. However, when about 2,000 former Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA—the army Museveni’s guerrillas ousted) gathered at Pece Memorial Stadium in Gulu, another NRA officer sent by Museveni, David Tinyefunza—who is now a general and the regime’s top enforcer—accused Mande of treating the Acholi with kids gloves.

The 2,000 who had surrendered were wiped out and genocide was triggered. Gen. Tinyefunza gave orders for homes and livestock to be destroyed—the genocide continues today. Part of the genocide strategy was the forceful herding of civilians in the region into concentrations camps. More than 1,000 people die each week according to various NGO reports—the camps have become an effective place for the Genocide Project. People were forced in these camps by the NRA and its successor, Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF)—anyone found outside these gazetted areas were indiscriminately targeted as rebels or collaborators. Civilians became classified as effective enemies of Uganda government.

These are the crimes that ICC does not even want to address. Even if the LRA rebels are to be held accountable for the crimes they meted, what of the NRA/UPDF? What of officers like Salim Saleh, Tinyefunza, James Kazini, and their chief, General Museveni? Should they too not be indicted in order for people to believe that the ICC is impartial?

Does the ICC not risk being seen as a proxy for the Uganda regime to continue genocide in northern Uganda? We have not yet even addressed the plunder of DRC and the genocide that left four million dead there.

Likewise, the leaders of South Sudan, including Vice President Riek Machar must also demonstrate their true independent positions and limit their reliance on the Kampala regime if they are to be trusted in the mediation efforts.

Kagwa, who lives in Sweden, was Chairman of Acholi Community in Scandinavia. He is a Ugandan human rights activist who has organized more than 20 peace and educational  conference in Sweden.

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