The former chief prosecutor for the Special Court in Sierra Leone says it would be a mistake not to prosecute LRA rebel leaders accused of war crimes. David Crane says the rule of law must not be abandoned in efforts to bring peace to northern Uganda.
The LRA, or Lord’s Resistance Army, says before a peace agreement can be signed, International Criminal Court indictments against its leaders must be dropped or at least suspended. LRA leader Joseph Kony and three others are accused of war crimes.
Professor Crane says in northern Uganda, after more than 20 years of war, the displacement of millions of people and the killing of thousands, it’s easy to see why it’s a peace versus justice issue.
“Certainly people want peace and it needs to be respected. Certainly people want justice and it equally needs to be respected. The situation in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army and the indictment by the ICC has in fact forced that issue to the forefront that needs to be discussed and considered. But certainly at the end of the day, despite all of the tugs and pulls on both sides as to whether it should be peace or justice, in my mind, despite the politics of it all, politicians and diplomats still must at the end of the day comport their conduct to the rule of law,” he says.
Crane says that was the position taken by Louise Arbour, when she led the International Tribunal on Yugoslavia and prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic. Arbour is now the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.
“It was a comment and a very pointed request and suggestion to me when I indicted. And the politicians and diplomats, particularly during the peace accords that were just beginning in Ghana, were saying that there should be peace and then justice. In a generic sense, that is probably a proper argument. At the end of the day though, we still have to uphold the rule of law against those who commit mass murder and terrorize a whole region of the world,” he says.
Crane says it’s not a decision made often or lightly.
“There have only been two chief prosecutors in the past 15 years that have actually had to make that decision, peace versus justice, against a head of state. Louise Arbour, as I’ve said, and myself. It is a sobering decision. It is a decision that has to be made carefully. The peace that may be at hand may be illusory. You have to have both truth and justice to have a sustainable peace. And if one of those is missing then it will just be a temporary peace,” he says.
He says part of the reason he signed the indictment against, Taylor, the former Liberian leader, was “to unveil to the world the horrors he had done and humble him before his peers, the various presidents of other African nations.”
He adds, “And to let the people of Africa know that the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of the gun. And at the stroke of my pen signing the indictment, I brought down the most powerful warlord in Africa.”
The former prosecutor for the Special Court in Sierra Leone says time has proven it was the right decision.
Prosecutors could decide whether there are any mitigating circumstances that could affect the cases against the LRA leaders. Another proposal is that the ICC indictments be dropped in favor of using the traditional Ugandan justice system. But David Crane warns those decisions should not be based on political expediency and says efforts to bypass the ICC indictments could be an attempt to downplay the seriousness of the charges.