ICC has complicated the Juba peace talks

Jul 24, 2006

It is early morning and there is a downpour. I am standing next to Col. Walter Ochora. We are huddled with about 30 other people on the verandah of the Gulu Resident District Commissioner’s Office.


Nobert Mao

It is early morning and there is a downpour. I am standing next to Col. Walter Ochora. We are huddled with about 30 other people on the verandah of the Gulu Resident District Commissioner’s Office.

The close relatives of Joseph Kony and his top commanders are among us. They are
due to fly off to Juba and onward to Yambio from where they will enter the bushes to meet Kony and his top brass. My assignment is to give them a final briefing before they fly off. The RDC is to accompany them and he has been busy looking for them in scattered localities all over Uganda. We all sigh with relief that the people Kony has been demanding to see are finally here.

My pep talk included a revelation that on Sunday morning, Vincent Otti called me. Later Joseph Kony got the satellite phone and also spoke to me. They want to meet representatives of the community affected by the long conflict.

This is the whole background to the trip to Garamba. The second trip for over 100 people which we have dubbed the Community Peace Convoy, consisting of buses and trucks will come later. The LRA leaders holed up in Garamba are anxious to meet as many as
possible of the representatives of the affected community. This is the kind of meeting Kony first proposed to me in 2003. This is not peace talks in the strict sense of the word. The peace talks are in Juba. This is a confidence- building meeting which will strengthen and buttress the Juba talks.

But there is a major problem to be overcome. When the ICC indicted Kony and five others, it complicated matters because now they fear to come out of their hideout. No verbal guarantee can convince them to come to Juba for the talks. When I asked Otti for his viewpoint he asked me a
question. “Of Khartoum and Juba, which government is bigger?” he asked “Khartoum is the national government and therefore bigger,” I answered. “So if Khartoum says they will have us arrested and handed over to the ICC, do you think the government in Juba can overrule it?” he probed further. “There is no way we can come to Juba to attend the talks if the ICC warrant and indictment still stand,” he told me with a tone of finality.

I told him of the position of the Uganda government and of President Museveni and the possible role of the African Union. That meant little to him. “If Obasanjo who is one of the most powerful presidents in Africa was prevailed upon to hand over Charles Taylor, what can Museveni do if the
whole world gangs up on the side of the ICC?” he asked.

All I could say was that the matter of withdrawing the ICC indictment and recalling the warrant of arrest cannot be the first item on the agenda of the Juba talks. If the LRA and the government of Uganda reach
agreement and there is a draft agreement whose signing only awaits the withdrawal of the ICC, then the work can begin to ask the ICC to back off.

The procedures are clear under the Rome statute and it will have to be based on solid reasons that will convince the ICC that the objectives of peace and justice will be met. (And by the way, justice and punishment are not synonymous). This includes guarantees that the indicted individuals will be subjected to mechanisms that will ensure that there is no impunity.

The traditional mechanisms rooted in the Acholi culture can take care of that. Furthermore, under the rules of the ICC it is possible for an affected community to file its viewpoint in what is known as an ‘amicus brief’. This would entail an elaborate set of information to persuade the court to reach a decision that would satisfy the community demanding peace.

I have been holding discussions with legal experts in Uganda and abroad so that we can prepare and submit an amicus brief to the ICC. The ICC must not be left in doubt where we stand. We expect the ICC to be reasonable and listen rather than take a hard line.

Indeed, if Mr Moreno Ocampo’s mother was languishing in one of the camps of Gulu, I wonder whether he would pursue the LRA warrant with the same enthusiasm. It is one thing to live the life of war victims facing a humanitarian disaster and totally a different matter to sit in an office in The Hague and pontificate about justice and the prevention of impunity. What our community proposes does not promote impunity. It may not lead to the LRA leadership being whisked off to the Hague in handcuffs but at the same time it will not let them think anyone endorses the grave atrocities and suffering to which they have
subjected millions.

Again not all punishment is justice at the end of the day. If the ICC does not hearken to the community cry for peace then we can say all the people of northern Uganda have been indicted and sentenced to a life in turmoil! Is that justice? The ICC will then stand as a monument to horrors untold. We have to get our priorities right.

Furthermore, the ICC does not have an army to enforce its lofty writs. It depends on state parties. For now, the most enthusiastic one is Kony’s erstwhile sponsors in Khartoum. Furthermore atrocities are atrocities. It does not matter whether they are committed by a government or marauding rebels.

Lately, the ICC has been very quiet about the need to also investigate atrocities by the Uganda army! But healing a twenty-year old wound takes time.

Let us not give anybody any excuse to abort the Juba talks. And let the ICC not become the
scapegoat for continued conflict!

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