ICC Calls for End to LRA Aid

With peace deal seemingly going nowhere, capture and trial of rebel leader moves up agenda.

ICC Calls for End to LRA Aid

With peace deal seemingly going nowhere, capture and trial of rebel leader moves up agenda.

The International Criminal Court, ICC, has called for the international community to put a stop to aid supplies to the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, in order to put the squeeze on its leader, the war crimes suspect Joseph Kony.

In an exclusive interview with IWPR, adviser to the ICC prosecutor Beatrice Le Fraper du Hellen said international efforts now have to focus on capturing Kony, because peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government have practically collapsed.

“I really insist that cutting off the [aid] supply system… must be a priority,” said Le Fraper du Hellen. “All of us, the ICC, can… work now to cut off all aid and money that was going to Kony.”

As IWPR reported last October, South Sudan, which was mediating United Nations-financed peace talks between representatives of the Ugandan government the rebels in Juba, agreed when the process began in 2006 that the LRA should be provided with food aid on condition that the rebels remained in Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, while negotiations proceeded.

The talks are supported financially through the Juba Initiative Fund, overseen by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, which disperses funds to the participants.

The international Catholic relief agency Caritas was separately contracted by South Sudan to organise and deliver aid – funded by Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland – to the rebels.

In recent weeks, the talks appear to have finally collapsed, raising questions about the need to continue aid. Chief mediator at the talks, South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar, could not be reached for comment.

The initial shipments to the LRA were estimated to be enough for about 5,000 people, which most observers at the time said was five to ten times the true number of rebel group members.

One of the initial shipments was observed by an IWPR reporter on the border between South Sudan and DRC in July 2006. It consisted of about eight large lorries packed with vast quantities of non-perishable food items, including rice, beans, corn, cooking oil, flour and canned goods.

Critics of the food contributions have argued that they are excessive and that the rebels have stockpiled them, perhaps using them to purchase weapons.

Their concerns appear to have been well founded, as IWPR reported in April that the LRA had conducted a surge of abductions in the Central African Republic, CAR, South Sudan and DRC, making the people it abducted undergo military training, and rearming in apparent preparation for renewed conflict.

In addition to calling for money and food supplies to be cut, the ICC is also encouraging defections from the ranks of the LRA, with chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo going on the radio to urge abductees to flee the militia.

The message the ICC appears to be putting out is that they’re primarily after Kony and two other indictees, while defectors, in particular recent abductees from CAR and South Sudan, may be eligible for amnesty.

The ICC initially issued indictments for Kony and four of his commanders. Two have subsequently been killed, including Kony’s second in command, Vincent Otti, whose death has not yet been independently confirmed.

“It is possible to isolate [Kony] a little bit further,” said Le Fraper du Hellen. “Effort has to continue… to weaken the force. Just because we can’t do everything, does not mean we shouldn’t do anything.”

When Kony did not meet with peace negotiators earlier this month for the second time in two months, she said the true situation behind the talks became clear.

“He was taking advantage of this time…,” she said of Kony. “These resources (the international aid) allowed to him to rebuild the LRA.”

Despite the apparent collapse of the peace talks and growing evidence of LRA rearming, a delegation of religious leaders from northern Uganda plans to travel to Britain next week to meet with Acholi supporters of the LRA from North America and other countries to discuss a way forward with the negotiations.

The group from Uganda reportedly includes Catholic Archbishop John Baptiste Odama, Paramount Chief Onen Acana, Muslim cleric Sheik Musa Khelil and former bishop McLeod Baker Ochola.

The planned visit has drawn criticism from some quarters in northern Uganda.

Gulu Resident District Commissioner Walter Ochora said that by meeting with expatriate Acholi supporters of Kony and his group, labelled a terrorist organisation by the US, the religious leaders were cooperating with terrorists.

Ochora said that he and others were compiling details of LRA supporters and turning it over to the ICC and other interested parties.

“We know all the LRA collaborators in the diaspora and we shall submit their names, which we are already compiling, to the embassies,” said Ochora. “And we are going to give this list to the ICC and these people should be included on the list of terrorists to be arrested.

“We don’t need to kneel before any Acholi in the diaspora, begging for peace, and [are] not going to be part of the group. Instead, we shall take drastic steps against them.”

Kenneth Oketta, a leading Acholi representative in northern Uganda, said the planned meeting was simply a discussion, not an effort to convince Kony to sign a peace deal.

“We shall trace the beginning of the peace process up to the present date and find a way forward, just for the sake of peace, whether or not a deal is signed,” he said. “What we are after is peace.”

The Ugandan government and the LRA have been holding peace talks in Juba since June 2006, to end 20 years of war in northern Uganda that has killed an estimated 100,000 people and displaced nearly two million.

Meanwhile, the ICC is encouraging efforts to capture Kony.

The UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, MONUC, is in position to provide support, said Le Fraper du Hellen, adding that the force would not take the lead against Kony.

“MONUC has [a] possibility to assist the DRC authorities in an operation,” she said, but added that “the planning of the operation, and the execution of the operation will be in the hands of the states concerned”.

Some of that planning may have already been done, sources have told IWPR, as recently as early this month when Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni met his DRC counterpart Joseph Kabila in Tanzania. The two initially held talks about the Kony problem in September last year.

When asked who had primary responsibility for Kony’s capture, Le Fraper du Hellen said, “Uganda has to do it and Uganda has to be leading all the efforts.”

But that does not mean only Uganda and DRC should act alone, she said, adding that she hoped a “group of interested countries [would] approach Uganda and DRC and … and see how you can organise an arrest operation.”

Uganda first approached the ICC in late 2003 for help in investigating Kony and putting him on trial in The Hague, and in doing so agreed to his capture.

“They have never told the court that they weakened in their resolve to arrest Kony and the other commanders,” she said of the Ugandan authorities.

Le Fraper du Hellen questioned provisions of the proposed peace agreement that would set up a special court in Uganda to try Kony and his top commanders, should they be captured.

“You cannot sign an agreement and tell a criminal that we’re going to do [a trial] at a national level,” said Le Fraper du Hellen. “It is only the [ICC] that is going to decide in the end if the national proceedings are acceptable or not. Kony knows that very well.

“It will be the judges of the ICC who will decide. The decision belongs to the judges here. There is no way that anyone can guarantee to Kony that he will not be judged here.”

Le Fraper du Hellen said her concern was that Kony be tried by a competent court and not appear as if he is getting special treatment.

“If this person gets off… what does it mean for the DRC?” she asked. “What does it mean for the CAR?” The DRC currently has three former militia leaders facing trial in The Hague, and a fourth has been indicted. Indictments against individuals in the CAR are expected to be issued as well.

Le Fraper du Hellen indicated that she, like others who have been following the Kony drama closely, were anxious for the case against the rebel leader to move to the prosecution stage if a peace deal is not signed.

“We want Kony here [in The Hague],” she said. “We want Kony here tomorrow. It is really for the victims. If we don’t get him this month we’ll get him in a year.”

Caroline Auygi is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague. Peter Eichstaedt is Africa Editor for IWPR.

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