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

Dead LRA Commander on ICC Wanted List

Indictment against senior rebel figure included ordering pillaging and attacks against civilians.
By Katy Glassborow
Lord’s Resistance Army commander, Raska Lukwiya, shot dead last week in a battle between Ugandan soldiers and LRA guerrillas, was one of five senior rebel figures indicted by the international Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague.

Lukwiya, whose death near the town of Kitgum was confirmed this week, had been the LRA's number three. He was wanted on four separate charges of enslaving civilians, cruel treatment, ordering pillaging and attacks against civilians.

So far, it seems that Lukwiya's death will not end fragile peace talks between Ugandan negotiators and LRA representatives in south Sudan, which were frozen at the weekend due to disagreements over the terms of the ceasefire. The LRA said talks would resume after three days of mourning.

The ICC published Lukwiya's arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and war crimes in July 2005, but he had remained at large along with LRA leader Joseph Kony, Kony's deputy Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen.

In September 2005, media reports indicated that Ongwen had died in northeast Uganda, and the government requested assistance from the ICC to carry out DNA tests on the corpse. In July 2006, the ICC said the body was not Ongwen's and that he was still at large, attempting to leave Acholi tribal areas of northern Uganda to reach LRA headquarters in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Together, the “LRA Five” are accused of crimes including widespread and systematic murder, sexual enslavement, rape and abducting and conscripting children under the age of 15 to fight as guerrilla soldiers.

The bloody conflict in northern Uganda has raged for two decades since President Yoweri Museveni took power in the capital Kampala in the mid-1980s. However, only crimes that took place after 2002 when the ICC came into existence can be legally prosecuted by the court.

In the LRA's 20-year war with the Ugandan government, violence has spilled over another border - that of southern Sudan, where LRA fighters also had bases.

This prompted Riek Machar, vice president of the Southern Sudan regional government, to offer money to Kony to facilitate a peace deal. Machar also offered to host talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government.

The spiralling violence, which has seen tens of thousands of northerners killed and maimed in the fighting, also prompted Museveni to offer Kony amnesty if he gave himself up - a move which many human rights organisations felt undermined the ICC.

It was Museveni who originally referred the LRA situation to the ICC in late 2003, and its chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, decided to open an investigation in July 2004.

The Ugandan government is now obliged by international law to execute the arrest warrants issued by the ICC, as the court has no independent police force. However, Margot Stroeken, programme officer for Uganda at the independent Centre for Justice and Reconciliation in The Hague, says all 100 countries that are signatories to the Rome statute which created the ICC are obliged to help serve the arrest warrants.

Richard Dicker from Human Rights Watch said the United Nations Security Council needs to adopt a resolution that calls on all governments in the region to cooperate with UN peacekeeping forces to see that the arrest warrants are executed.

Dicker, the director of HRW's International Justice Programme, said that it is not the fault of the ICC that it has been unable to execute the arrest warrants for Kony and his men. "Leadership from the Security Council is needed to create the framework for combined action," he said. "The LRA is responsible for crimes in southern Sudan and north eastern Congo as well [as northern Uganda]. This is a sub-regional issue."

But does the ICC still have a role in prosecuting LRA war crimes if talks hosted in south Sudan can broker lasting peace with the Uganda government?

In a statement in July, the ICC's chief prosecutor stressed that the Ugandan government did not want arrest warrants to be revoked, and that "it is the view of the prosecutor and the Ugandan government that justice and peace have worked together thus far and can continue to work together”.

Dicker believes it is unwise to pit the ICC against local justice. "We are talking about a 20-year conflict with many horrific crimes, and the ICC has charged the five most senior LRA commanders," he said. "There is ample opportunity for local justice, but it is not an appropriate vehicle to try crimes of the gravity of which the LRA leadership is accused."

Moreno-Ocampo also said last month that the ICC prosecutors believe the best way to stop the conflict, restore security to the region and ensure crimes are not exported to other countries is to arrest the top LRA leaders.

Dicker echoed this, stressing that an amnesty for the LRA Five cannot be on the table as part of a peace package, "These individuals have been charged with murder, sexual slavery and mutilation. Peace needs to be achieved in a way that does not reward those responsible for 20 years of mayhem."

Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

More IWPR's Global Voices

FakeWatch Africa
Website to provide multimedia training and resources for fact-checking and investigations.
FakeWatch Africa
Africa's Fake News Epidemic and Covid-19: What Impact on Democracy?