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Matsanga should not have been given amnesty

By Vision Reporter

Added 10th June 2010 03:00 AM

Over the last two decades Uganda has struggled on its path to end violent conflicts and impunity.

By Stephen Oola
Over the last two decades Uganda has struggled on its path to end violent conflicts and impunity.
To this end, the country has set up a wide range of institutions including commissions of inquiry, national human rights organisations, and established measures ranging from political to customary processes of accountability.

Uganda also joined several regional inter-governmental organisations like NEPAD and ratified many international human rights instruments of good governance, including the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court. This is evidence that Uganda has made progress in the justice arena. However, pardoning David Matsanga Nyekorach, a former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) spokesman and leader of the LRA peace delegation at the Juba peace talks is sad.

It is a contradiction in Uganda’s aspiration for good governance, transition to justice and national reconciliation.

This amnesty was granted to Matsanga when the ICC Review Conference was happening in Kampala and the media was dominated by talks of prosecutions and accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The grant with impunity ignored the perception of the victims of the LRA conflict, many of whom blamed Matsanga for frustrating the Juba peace talks.

Media reports during the Juba talks alleged that Matsanga and his delegates were more interested in financial packages and allowances, impunity rather than peace.

Over the last two years, following the Juba peace talks, the Government has offered blanket amnesty to several top LRA commanders and collaborators including high ranking members of its political wing in the diaspora like Dr. James Alfred Obita.

Matsanga has, for the last 10 years, been the face of the LRA, a rebel group that caused the death and suffering of over a million civilians in northern Uganda, Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The LRA is accused of having committed and continues to commit, war crimes and crimes against humanity despite five of its top commanders being indicted by the ICC.

Uganda hosted the ICC Review Conference because of the LRA and the politics surrounding its indictment. This amnesty offer to a key LRA member suggests to the ICC that amnesty will remain a key pillar of justice and accountability in Uganda.

The problem, however, is not just amnesty, but the type of amnesty.

There is a place for limited amnesty required as an incentive for Uganda’s transition into peace and stability, but such amnesty can be made to ensure accountability.

The amnesty offered to Matsanga is bad and defeats the interest of justice.

This blanket, unconditional amnesty offered under section 2 of the Amnesty Act 2000, pardons and forgives all persons who renounce rebellion against the Government.

It exonerates them of any criminal or civil liability for past actions during the rebellion, without requiring some explanation.

Given the outcome of the Juba talks, at least Matsanga should explain to the LRA victims the nature of his tenure with the LRA and what exactly happened in Juba before he could be granted amnesty.

A blanket amnesty at this stage of Uganda’s pursuit of transitional justice exhibits a dilemma to accountability and reconciliation signed at the Juba peace talks.

Uganda’s transitional justice dilemma can be overcome by expediting the national consultative process required for passing and implementing the proposed National Reconciliation Bill 2010.
This Bill appreciates the complexity of Uganda’s transitional justice goals.

It also harmonises the various proposed accountability mechanisms and paves way for their implementation without major conflict of interests.

The proposed national reconciliation Bill, if passed into law, would provide a platform on which to understand how the current accountability initiatives under alternative customary processes work. Processes like stepping on the egg (nyono tong gweno), drinking of bitter roots (Mato Oput), the special war crimes tribunal and the amnesty certificates will complement each other at different levels.

The absence of this platform is the reason many accountability mechanisms hitherto established like the special high court division, legal and institutional reforms have proven a non-starter.

Meanwhile, the victims continue to see justice elude them. They continue to languish in suffering without any measure of reparation or knowing what happened as key perpetrators or their allies like Matsanga, James Obita and many other top LRA associates are simply pardoned without verifying their stories.

Today what is needed to negotiate an amnesty deal with the government of Uganda is to do what Matsanga and the others agreed to do — denounce rebellion and tell the story right.

The current amnesty law is limited to insurgents against the regime from 1986 and the ICC jurisdiction is limited to crimes committed after July 1, 2002.

In fact, the intent and structure of the amnesty process, before and during the amnesty committee proceedings, is to elicit truth from both the victims and perpetrators. Other mechanisms to promote accountability before pardon include traditional justice processes like Mato Oput.

If the proposed reconciliation Bill is enacted, telling lies for political expedience, at the expense of victims would disqualify an applicant the grant of amnesty. It would promote accountability and end impunity.
The writer is a lawyer pursuing his masters degree in international peace studies and conflict resolution at the Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame, US

Matsanga should not have been given amnesty

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