Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Acholi Victims Don't Want ICC

But court insists traditional justice not suitable for LRA commanders.
By Samuel Okiror
Most Acholi victims of the Lord’s Residence Army don’t want Joseph Kony and his top commanders to be tried by the International Criminal Court, ICC, a Ugandan government official has told IWPR.

Ruhakana Rugunda, the lead negotiator at peace talks with the LRA, said the victims want Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odiambo and Domenic Ogwen to be tried using the local Acholi justice ritual, Mato Oput.

“During our consultations with the victims in the Acholi sub region, [they] want Kony and his indicted commanders to be tried under their traditional justice system,” Rugunda told IWPR during a phone interview

“The people’s view is that [the] ICC should drop indictments against Kony and his top commanders.”

On June 29, government and LRA delegations at the peace talks signed a crucial draft protocol that would allow rebels to be tried under traditional tribal justice systems, such as the Mato Oput.

Mato Oput is a process used in traditional Acholi society by which offenders are reintegrated into the community after confessing their guilt and begging forgiveness.

Rugunda, who is also Uganda’s interior minister, and his delegation are currently visiting the Acholi, Lango, Teso and West Nile regions to consult with victims of the conflict and others on how to implement the protocol agreement, titled “accountability and reconciliation”.

The deputy leader of the delegation, Henry Okello Oryem, told IWPR that “nobody in Acholi wants the ICC. They are saying ICC indictments against Kony and his commanders are hindering the progress of the peace process and the return of the peace they have been yearning for”.

Lawyer Norbert Mao, the chairman of a local council in Gulu, agrees that traditional justice - not the ICC - is the best way to try the LRA commanders. “It’s our culture. It can be supplemented by the formal and national justice system,” Mao told IWPR.

Kony and the other LRA leaders are charged by the ICC with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual enslavement, mutilation, the killing of civilians, abductions, rape and forcibly using children as guerrilla fighters.

While it might provide some closure to people involved in the long-running conflict, the Mato Oput - and analogous rites practiced by other ethnic groups in northern Uganda - does not impose formal sanctions. For that reason, its detractors say, it is ill-suited as a mechanism for addressing crimes of the magnitude seen in this bloody guerrilla war.

Beatrice Le Fraper du Hellen, who heads the ICC’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, JCCD, which secures government cooperation, said those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity must face international justice.

“They must be tried for the mass crimes and atrocities they committed in the region,” she said. “The court was created to investigate and prosecute the worst perpetrators of war crimes. The crimes that have been committed by LRA in northern Uganda can’t be forgotten. The rebels can’t go free. They must end up in The Hague.”

Lower ranking LRA rebels can be tried using the national and traditional justice process before being reintegrated into the community, she said, adding that she believes the victims are saying they favour traditional justice out of fear, because Kony and the others are still at large.

Okello agreed that many victims are concerned that if the ICC doesn’t drop the charges, the rebels might return from their hideout deep in Garamba National Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo to wreak more havoc in villages where people are now resettling.

Both Rugunda and Okello insist that the Ugandan government will ensure that the issue of impunity is addressed.

“We shall not tolerate or condone impunity. The purpose of the consultations is to seek views and find mechanisms that deliver justice and don’t condone impunity,” said Rugunda.

“We are working for a solution that will be accepted locally, nationally and internationally. We shall come up with a formal legal framework to handle the impunity issue.”

Okello added, “At the moment we are listening and collecting views from the victims and other stakeholders. After, we shall get a collection of judicial experts, human rights activist and other experts to analyse and come up with mechanism that conform to international standards.”

The conflict in northern Uganda has left over 1.7 million people displaced, hundreds killed and over 75,000 children and adults abducted.

IDPs have seen some relative peace following the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement between the LRA and government in the South Sudan capital, Juba, and the ongoing peace talks. Many have started to return and resettle in their villages.

The truce required LRA rebels who were operating in northern Uganda and South Sudan to assemble at Ri-Kwangba on the border between Congo and South Sudan.

Samuel Okiror Egadu is an IWPR contributor in Uganda currently reporting on international justice issues in The Hague.