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MPs Probe Army and Rebel Crimes

Parliamentarians in northern Uganda gather evidence of atrocities by the Ugandan army and LRA rebels.
By Samuel Okiror
Northern Uganda members of parliament have compiled a dossier of atrocities alleged to have been committed by the Ugandan army, UPDF, and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, in the civil war between them that began 21 years ago.



The legislators are currently in northern Uganda finalising their documentation of war crimes and crimes against humanity that local people attribute to the two sides, Reagan Okumu, vice chairman of the Acholi Parliamentary Group told IWPR.



Details of the atrocities will be released soon. They include allegations of individual killing, mass killings/massacre, manslaughter, rape, abductions, shooting and bombings of homesteads and schools, burning of houses/camps, and homosexual assault by both LRA and UPDF.



In July 2005, The Hague-based International Criminal Court, ICC, issued warrants for the arrests of LRA leader, Joseph Kony and his four top commanders, Vincent Otti, Dominic Ogwen, Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Lukwiya was killed by government forces last year. Specific charges against the LRA leaders allege abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation and the killing of civilians.



"We are currently compiling a list of all atrocities committed by both LRA rebels and UPDF in the Acholi sub-region [of northern Uganda] since 1986 to date,” Okumu told IWPR. "We have two parallel teams. One is compiling and documenting all the atrocities committed by the LRA. The other is compiling atrocities committed by the UPDF. These atrocities include individual, mass killings, abduction and rape."



The rebellion in the war-torn north has left more than 1.7 million people as internal refugees. Some 100,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands have been kidnapped by the rebels, including as many as 38,000 children.



Okumu told IWPR that the dossier will be submitted to Dr Riek Machar, vice president of South Sudan, who is chief mediator at the LRA-Ugandan government peace negotiations in Juba, the South Sudan capital.



The LRA and Uganda government delegations finally worked out and signed an agreement on accountability and reconciliation on June 30. It was the third of five items on their agenda, but some details have still to be finalised. Okumo said he hoped the Acholi Parliamentary Group’s report would help the peace negotiators.



The “item three” agreement will create a commission to investigate war crimes committed by both sides. It also states that traditional tribal peace ceremonies will be used as one of the mechanisms to achieve justice and reconciliation for some war crimes.



The Uganda army and defence spokesperson, Major Felix Kulayigye, told IWPR that the Acholi members of parliament were compiling the report because they were opposed to some aspects of the Juba peace process.



Major Kulayigye alleged that they have been forcing internally displaced people to sign the documents alleging UPDF atrocities. "It's not surprising to us. We know the MPs are not happy with the Juba peace process. We are aware that [they] are forcing IDPs to sign these documents," Kulayigye told IWPR when contacted for comment.



"Have [the Acholi MPs] compiled atrocities committed by the LRA from 1986 to date? [They] have never condemned the atrocities committed by LRA."



Kulayigye said the UPDF as an institution condones neither criminality nor impunity, claiming that all soldiers who have committed crimes during the northern insurgency have been charged and punished in military courts. Some have even been executed, he said.



"We are very professional army,” asserted Kulayigye. “Any incidents committed by soldiers were handled in army courts martial in accordance with the existing laws."



The chairman of the Acholi Parliamentary Group, Livingstone Okello-Okello, strongly attacked Kulayigye's claims. He told IWPR, "What Kulayigye is talking is nonsense. We are compiling all atrocities committed by UPDF and LRA. Both armies have been denying committing atrocities in the region.



"We are independent. We are not against the peace process, as alleged by Major Kulayigye. We are the ones who [called for] dialogue between government and the rebels [to end the] rebellion. So what is Kulayogye talking about?"



Okumu said the Acholi group is continuing to document the date, and place where different incidents have occurred. Particularly successful progress had been made in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Pader and Amuru.



After the report is published and released, the Acholi MPs intend constructing four monuments to the dead and missing where annual commemoration ceremonies will be held.



Okumu told IWPR that they also intend constructing a cultural and resource centre in Gulu, the north’s biggest town, where all details of the rebellion will be available to visitors and schoolchildren.



The Acholi MPs are also asking the Ugandan government to establish a truth and reconciliation commission similar to the one held in South Africa under the chairmanship of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.



Samuel Okiror Egadu is a regular IWPR contributor in Uganda.