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Museveni Wants LRA Warrants - For Now

He says his government may urge ICC to drop LRA indictments if rebels conclude peace deal.
By Samuel Okiror
Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni has said his government will not ask The Hague-based International Criminal Court, ICC, to lift the arrest warrants against the LRA leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders before a final peace deal is completed.



“We are not going to ask ICC to lift the arrest warrants," said Museveni while briefing journalists at State House in Kampala last week. "You must leave the warrants alone. If they [the LRA] don’t conclude the peace talks, they could be arrested and taken to the ICC or get killed. There is no shortcut.



“If they conclude the peace deal, that is when the government can write to the ICC to say we have found an alternative solution. They [the rebels] must sign the comprehensive peace agreement in Juba before any action is taken.”



Museveni referred the civil war in the north, which is now 21-years-old, to the ICC in December 2003. The ICC's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo issued arrest warrants in July 2005 for the top five men in the LRA - its leader Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen. Lukwiya died in combat last year.



The LRA leaders have been indicted on 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, the killing of civilians and forcibly using children as guerrilla fighters.



The LRA rebellion has driven more than 1.7 million people into internal refugee camps in northern Uganda. Some 100,000 people have died and as many as 38,000 children have been abducted and forced to join the insurgents.



Museveni infuriated ICC officials in July last year with a policy flip-flop when, without consulting the ICC, he offered a blanket amnesty to Joseph Kony and his top aides and opened peace negotiations with LRA representatives in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.



At the end of June this year, representatives of the Ugandan government and the LRA put ink on a crucial draft protocol that allows suspected war criminals to be tried under traditional tribal justice systems. The protocol on "Accountability and Reconciliation", the third of five items on the peace negotiators' agenda, allows LRA suspects to be tried under tribal procedures while suspects from the government army would be tried under the formal justice system.



Both sides in the negotiations have taken leave until the end of July to consult their constituents on the implementation mechanisms of their agreement, which seemed to sideline the ICC indictments.



Museveni called the briefing with Ugandan journalists on July 20, in an apparent attempt to pour cold water on recent reports that Kampala will call for the ICC warrants for Kony and his lieutenants to be rescinded.



Uganda's head of state said the ICC must be supported because it was created to end impunity for serious crimes. “One of the international bodies I support is this ICC," he told IWPR's correspondent and other journalists. "It is good because for people to do terrible things and get away with it because the world is not coordinated, it’s really bad. This court coordinates the world. We should all give it support.”



Museveni said international involvement in Uganda's devastating northern conflict through the ICC offers a soft-landing for the rebels, "because even if Kony was to go to the ICC, he would not be hanged. He would be sentenced to a life imprisonment. It is much better for him”.



However, Vincent Otti, the LRA's second-in-command, told IWPR in a satellite phone interview that even if a final peace deal is reached in Juba the LRA's fighters will remain in the bush unless the ICC indictments and warrants of arrest are scrapped.



Speaking from the rebels' main base in the Garamba National Park, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Otti said, “The ICC remains a big stumbling block to peace in Uganda. If ICC indictments are not lifted, we shall not come out. It’s simple. No.”



In a previous recent interview with IWPR from the Garamba, Otti said he was ready to hand himself over to the ICC in The Hague - but only if the court charges the Ugandan army on similar counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.



"If the UPDF [Ugandan People's Defence Force] are included on the list of indicted commanders, I will definitely go to The Hague. Short of that, I will never go,” he said.



Otti described as "very one-sided" the ICC's decision to indict only members of the LRA. “It’s not only the LRA alone who committed atrocities in northern Uganda," he said. "It’s both the LRA and the UPDF. Why did ICC indict us alone?”



Museveni, in his press briefing, warned that even if the ICC was to withdraw its arrest warrants, the government could still hunt down the rebels using national laws.



“Those fellows are still on treason charges," he said. "Even if the ICC was to lift [the arrest warrants], we shall hunt them down and our punishment is much harsher than that of the ICC. You know ICC doesn’t sentence you to death. But here, you know how things move.”



As of December last year, there were 566 prisoners on death row in Uganda. Execution is by hanging or firing squad. The penal code provides for 15 capital offences: nine are grouped under the collective heading “treason” and offences against the state. Death is a mandatory punishment for six of the treason offences.



Moreno-Ocampo has consistently said the ICC's arrest warrants would not be lifted unless there is a legal challenge from the Ugandan government or the LRA to the ICC's judges or the United Nations Security Council.



Samuel Okiror Egadu is an IWPR journalist in Uganda.



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