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Uganda: Calls for Peace, Justice

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 31, 2005 (051031)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The International Criminal Court has issued its first arrest warrants ever, against the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda. The group has conducted a systematic campaign of terror for almost two decades in a conflict that has gained relatively little international attention. But observers disagree on whether the indictments will help or hinder the search for peace as well as for justice.

A study for the International Center for Transitional Justice ( and the Center for Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley (, released in July and based on randomly selected interviews in northern Uganda, found extraordinarily high levels of exposure to traumatic events - including killings, abductions, mutilations, and sexual violations. Most respondents stressed the urgency of peace negotiations and supported amnesties to achieve peace, but also said that key perpetrators should be punished. Of the 2,585 respondents, 40 percent had been abducted by the LRA, 45 percent had witnessed the killing of a family member, and 23 percent had been physically mutilated at some point during the conflict.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from two recent IRIN news reports on the conflict, and a summary of the ICC action, by the American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins and additional background links on Uganda, see

Additional links include the following.

Gulu Walk
Features reports on international walk on Oct 22 to call attention to the conflict in northern Uganda and particularly the situation of child "night commuters" who must flee into the bush every night in an effort to escape abduction or death..

Uganda Conflict Action Network
Affiliated with the Africa Peace and Justice Network, this organization's site has both news and action alerts, as well as other informational links.

Africa's Peace Seekers
Profile of Uganda peace negotiator Betty Bigombe

Forgotten Voices Report on interviews in northern Uganda in April-May, 2005 with over 2,500 Ugandans on personal experiences of the conflict and their opinions on peace and justice.

International Crisis Group
Several 2005 reports with background and recommendations on accelerating the peace process.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Uganda: Relief agencies cut back operations following suspected rebel attacks

October 28, 2005

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

[This report may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

Kampala, 28 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Relief agencies working in northern Uganda have curtailed their operations following the recent attacks on aid workers by suspected Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.

The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Uganda, Stephen Lukudu, said agencies had suspended all non-essential field missions as precautionary measure until the situation was reviewed.

"All staff have been called back to towns, pending another security meeting that is going to take place on 31 October," Lukudu added.

Various relief agencies had also decided to limit their work to towns and protected camps for internally displaced people. These included Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontiers-Holland (MSF-Holland) and Christian Children's Fund (CCF).

However, President Yoweri Museveni, whose government has been fighting the LRA for nearly two decades, urged humanitarian workers not to "panic", saying the insurgency was almost ended.

"We are going to handle those robbers," Museveni told reporters at a news conference in the capital, Kampala, on Thursday. "Those (LRA) are very small groups, they are more or less like robbers."

Two aid workers were killed and four injured in three separate attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday on vehicles belonging to the Catholic charity, Caritas, and the British NGO, ACORD. Two of the injured worked for CCF.

"We have not withdrawn, but we have reduced the movement of both international and local staff," MSF-Holland Country Director in Uganda, Christine Schmitz, said.

Emma Naylor, Oxfam Country Programme Manager, told IRIN that despite the indictments of five LRA leaders by the International Criminal Court earlier this month, and claims by the government that the end of the war was in sight, safety and security in the region had remained "a distant dream".

"We are not moving outside towns. Like other agencies, we have reduced our field operations. We are assessing the security situation on a daily basis," Naylor said. "The government needs to take concrete action, but right now, we do not see that action on the ground."

She added: "We are very worried because the government of Uganda has been pursuing a so-called military solution whose side effect is that the people who have actually suffered as a result of the war are not getting properly protected.

"And the attacks of the last few days are unfortunate evidence that aid workers and civilians in northern Uganda are not safe."

On Thursday, the UN's emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland condemned the attacks as "vicious" and "unconscionable" and said they further threatened civilians in the strife-torn region.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.5 million displaced in northern Uganda since the LRA started fighting in 1998. The LRA has been accused of massive abuses of civilians including murder, mutilations and the abductions of at least 20,000 children.

Uganda: ICC indictments to affect northern peace efforts, says mediator

October 10, 2005

[excerpts only. For full report see]

Kampala, 10 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - The decision by the International Criminal Court's (ICC) to issue arrest warrants for the leaders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has changed the dynamics of ongoing peace talks between the Uganda government and the rebels, the mediator said. ...

The ICC last week issued five indictments for LRA commanders - the first ever to be issued by the court. The ICC has, since 2004, been investigating war crimes committed in the 19-year-old conflict between the LRA and the Uganda government.

The LRA insurgency has devastated large areas of northern and eastern Uganda and driven up to 1.4 million people from their homes into internally displaced persons' (IDP) camps.

Bigombe managed to win some trust from both the LRA and the government as a mediator. Backed by the governments of Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United States, she pitched camp in the region to mediate the peace process that had been started by religious leaders in northern Uganda.

She came close to brokering a successful ceasefire agreement between the two sides late last year, when she organised the first face-to-face meeting in a decade between a senior government minister and a dozen LRA officials in the bushes in Kitgum district, some 450 km north of the capital, Kampala.

However, last minute hitches saw the attempt fail.

Bigombe said she had been trying to persuade the LRA leadership to end the rebellion and accept an offer of amnesty from the government. However, the ICC's move has scuttled the amnesty option for the leaders accused of a number of atrocities, including the kidnap and murder of children. ...

The LRA is notorious for abducting children for use as soldiers, porters or sex slaves. A recent report by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said out of an estimated 25,000 children abducted by the LRA since the conflict began 19 years ago, approximately 7,500 are girls, 1,000 of whom had conceived during captivity.

The report stated that over the past three years, the number of IDPs in the conflict-affected districts (Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Lira, Apac, Soroti, Katakwi and Kaberamaido) was estimated to have risen from 550,000 to 1.4 million due to insecurity.

The report added that the conflict had perpetuated a severe humanitarian crisis in the north, with the rights of children and women to access basic health services, water, primary education and security going largely unfulfilled.

First Arrest Warrants Issued for Lord's Resistance Army

The American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court: A program of the United Nations Association of the United States of America

For full version, including footnoes, see

October 17, 2005


On July 8, 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued sealed arrest warrants for five senior members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group in northern Uganda. The arrest warrants, unsealed on October 13, 2005, are the first warrants ever issued by the ICC. The five individuals under arrest are all senior LRA members: Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen. They are accused of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. The alleged crimes include murder, rape, enslavement, sexual enslavement, inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, forced enlisting of children, and pillaging.

The arrest warrant issued for LRA leader Joseph Kony lists 33 counts, including 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes. Vincent Otti, LRA Deputy Commander in Chief, is accused of committing 11 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes. Okot Odhiambo, Deputy Army Commander, is accused of committing two counts of crimes against humanity and eight counts of war crimes. Dominic Ongwen, a LRA Brigade Commander, who is believed to have been killed on September 30, 2005 during an LRA incursion into sub-region of Teso,2 is accused of committing three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes. The arrest warrant for Raska Lukwiya, LRA army commander, lists one count of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. The arrest warrants remained unsealed till this month to ensure the safety and psychological or physical well being of victims, potential witnesses and their families, and to prevent the disclosure of their whereabouts and their identities. After the Court made arrangements to implement measures to protect the victims and potential witness, the Pre-Trial Chamber II decided to unseal the warrants. They remain in a heavily redacted form to ensure the protection of victims and witnesses from reprisal attacks.


For the last 19 years, the LRA forces led by a self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Kony, have been fighting to oust President Yoweri Musevini and his army, the Ugandan People's Defense Forces. They claim to be fighting to free the Acholi people of the north by overthrowing the government and install a system based on the Biblical Ten Commandments. According to human rights groups, the LRA rebels are responsible for murdering, raping, maiming, torturing and displacing civilians. They are also accused of abducting, indoctrinating and physically and sexually abusing young children. Children make up 85-90% of LRA fighters, most of who are kidnapped between the ages of 11-15 and forced to join the LRA. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) approximates that 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA and forced to become combatants.3 The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) also reports that approximately 40,000 children are "night commuters," children who leave their rural homes at night to sleep in more populated urban areas.4 The war has caused thousands of deaths and the displacement of over 1.4 million people in northern Uganda.5

The Ugandan government, a State Party to the Rome Statute, referred its case to the ICC prosecutor in December 2003. Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo launched an investigation in July 2004. On May 6, 2005, the Prosecutor filed an application to the Pre-Trial Chamber to issue arrest warrants for key perpetrators of atrocities. The governments of Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan were all served with the warrants following their issuance.

Reactions to Warrants Effects on Peace Negotiations

The Ugandan government welcomed the arrest warrants while others expressed concern about their impact on peace negotiations and the security situation in Uganda. Betty Bigombe, former Minister of State for Pacification of the North and the leader of current peace efforts who has often been critical of the ICC, acknowledged that the arrest warrants changed the dynamics of the peace negotiations and will require her to change negotiation tactics. The government has been trying to end the conflict through negotiations with the LRA since 1994, but they have been largely unsuccessful. Bigombe came close to brokering a successful peace agreement earlier in 2005, but the LRA's lack of a political agenda and clear goals ended the talks.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo waited for several months to issue warrants, providing Bigombe additional time to engage in peace talks. Refusal of the LRA to surrender prompted the Prosecutor to seek arrest warrants. The Court remains sensitive to the interests of justice. If the ICC investigation is seen as a hindrance to the end of the violence, the Court can suspend the investigation under Article 53 of the Rome Statute. The Prosecutor needs to consider all circumstances, including the gravity of crimes and interest of victims if he decides to suspend the investigation. His decision is then reviewed by the Pre-Trial Chamber.

The fact that arrest warrants were issued does not mean that the Ugandan government is not committed to establishing peace in Northern Uganda. The government has expressed its commitment to peace and its full support for Bigombe. The government will continue talks with rebels who are willing to renounce rebellion, while the five named individuals must be treated differently due to the international arrest warrants levied against them.

Can the Court capture those under arrest?

Although the ICC does not have its own police force, State Parties to the Court under Article 59 agree to use their respective national authorities to arrest suspected perpetrators and transfer them to the Court. In September 2004, the Prosecutor concluded a cooperation agreement with Ugandan governmental bodies to facilitate investigations and execute arrest warrants.

In addition, both Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were served with the arrest warrants. DRC is a party to the ICC and is required to cooperate to apprehend suspected individuals on its territory. Sudan, however, is not a party to the ICC and is not required to cooperate. However Sudanese First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit said Sudan would turn Kony over to the ICC if he were found in Sudan. An agreement was signed between the Ugandan and Sudanese governments to cooperate in capturing Kony. The agreement, valid for a month from October 7, 2005, allows Ugandan forces to search for the LRA rebels in Sudan. Sudanese forces and Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) will aid Uganda in the pursuit. A small number of LRA rebels led by Vincent Otti crossed over to the DRC, but after facing a mounting deployment of Congolese and MONUC forces (UN peacekeeping force), returned to Sudan. Kony is believed to be in southern Sudan.

After the capture of an individual or the person's surrender, the Pre-Trial Chamber II will hold a hearing to confirm the charges (indictment proceedings). At this time, the Pre-Trial Chamber II can confirm the charges and commit the person to the trial; decline to confirm the charges; or adjourn the hearing and ask the Prosecutor to consider providing further evidence, conduct further investigation or amend the charges because the available evidence appears to show a different crime.6

If the ICC is unable to capture the individual, the Pre-Trial Chamber can also hold a confirmation of charges meeting in absentia, to confirm the charges on which the Prosecutor is seeking to try the person. The Prosecutor must demonstrate that the person fled or cannot be found and all reasonable steps have been taken to secure his or her presence before the Court. Counsel shall represent the person in absentia.7

Why only the LRA?

While the first five arrest warrants were only issued for LRA members, the Prosecutor has made clear that his investigation would be impartial and investigate all crimes committed under the Statute in Northern Uganda. The Prosecutor's first criterion for the issuance of arrest warrants has been gravity. As the crimes committed by the LRA were more numerous and of higher severity than those committed by the Ugandan army (UPDF), the Prosecutor decided to begin with these warrants. The Prosecutor has not ruled out possible prosecution of other groups involved in the conflict. The Prosecutor will continue to collect information and evidence concerning allegations of violence by other groups and if they meet the criteria specified in the Rome Statute, he may take appropriate steps to arrest and prosecute other individuals.

A more evenhanded approach is important for the Court's legitimacy. Investigation and possible prosecution of government forces will strengthen the Court's commitment to end all impunity and prosecute perpetrators of the gravest international crimes without any distinction based on official capacity.

Relationship to Amnesties

President Musevini historically preferred a military approach to end the conflict in the North, but after a long war with no end in sight, the Ugandan government introduced a new approach. The government passed the Ugandan Amnesty Act in 2000, which provides immunity to any Ugandan who at any time since January 26, 1986 engaged in or is engaging in war or armed rebellion against the government by actual participation in combat, collaborating with the perpetrators of the war, committing any crime in the furtherance of the war or assisting or aiding the conduct or prosecution of the war or armed rebellion. Amnesty has been given to a few rebels but the Act has not achieved an end to the rebellion.

Prior to the issuance of the arrest warrants, President Musevini in a speech to Parliament on June 8, 2005, stated that he would forgive Joseph Kony if he gave up fighting. Kony and the other LRA leaders under arrest did not accept the offer. It is unclear whether they can still receive amnesty. While the head of the Uganda Amnesty Commission (UAC), Peter Onega, said if his commission was to follow Ugandan law, the five indicted individuals would still be eligible for the blanket amnesty, the Ugandan Defense Minister, Amama Mbabazi, stated that the government will continue to provide amnesty to rebels who renounce the rebellion, but that those under arrest by the ICC will not be treated the same as before the warrants.

The Rome Statute does not explicitly address the issue of amnesty. As the Court is complementary to national criminal jurisdictions, if Uganda decides to give amnesty to the individuals under arrest, the Prosecutor will examine the issue and decide whether the actions taken by the Ugandan government satisfy the complementarity requirements under Article 17. If the Ugandan government disagrees with the Prosecutor and would like to uphold its amnesty decisions, the government has recourse through the Pre-Trial Chamber as well. If the Prosecutor is content with the Ugandan approach, he may present the case to the Trial Chamber and seek to withdraw the charges.

Increased violence?

Peter Onega, head of the Ugandan Amnesty Commission (UAC) and John Baptist Odium, a Catholic priest who set up a peace initiative to halt the violence, expressed concerns of increased LRA attacks on civilians after the issuance of ICC arrest warrants. Ugandan authorities have not reported an increase in violence or attacks however. The lack of response from the LRA may be due to several factors. In recent months, reports suggest that the LRA has only a few hundred rebels left in its ranks and may not be capable of further attacks. In addition, the senior leadership of the LRA is dispersed: Joseph Kony and some of his followers are reported to be in southern Sudan; Vincent Otti entered the Democratic Republic of Congo in late September, but after facing large numbers of Congolese and MONUC forces, fled back to Sudan; and Dominic Ongwen was recently killed in combat.11 With international warrants on their heads, the leaders of the LRA are among the most wanted and State Parties to the Rome Statute are required to arrest them and hand them to the ICC if they are found on their territory. As international pariahs, they can no longer command the forces and inflict the violence they once were capable of.

Researched and drafted by AMICC Professional Volunteer Associate: Eva Nudd

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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