Another round of peace talks between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels aimed at ending almost twenty years of the rebels insurgency begins today (Thursday) in the Southern Sudanese capital, Juba. On the eve of the talks, the government Wednesday advocated the use of the traditional clan-based justice systems as an alternative to jail sentences in dealing with rebel war crimes. The ritual involves a murderer facing relatives of the victim and admitting his crime before both drink a bitter brew made from a tree root mixed with sheep's blood. But the LRA rebels insist they would refuse to sign any deal unless the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrants against its top leadership are withdrawn.
Major Felix Kulayigye is the spokesman for Uganda’s ministry of defense. From the capital, Kampala he told VOA that the government is responding to the wish of the victims of the rebels.
“The government is responding to the people’s wishes, the people in northern Uganda who have indeed appealed to the government to offer an opportunity to the rebels under the traditional justice mechanism, which not only attends to impunity, but also heals the wounds of the victims,” Kulayigye said.
He said the ICC would only consider lifting the arrest warrants against the rebels’ leadership only if the ongoing peace talks are successfully concluded.
“Once the talks are successful and they accept to subject themselves to the traditional system, the ICC is willing to give that chance. But minus offering themselves to the traditional system, then the ICC would have no conviction that indeed that impunity, justice and accountability would be addressed,” he pointed out.
Kulayigye reiterated the Uganda government has very little influence on the ICC-issued arrest warrants against the rebel leadership.
“Of course you know the ICC warrants indeed are controlled by the ICC, not the government of Uganda. I’m saying that whereas the referral was made by the government of Uganda the powers to withdraw or even suspend the ICC warrants rests with the International Criminals Court itself. The government can only engage the ICC when it has a package that would act as an alternative. Minus that package, there is nothing the government can do. Actually, the ICC wouldn’t understand the government,” Kulayigye noted.
He chided the LRA’s second in command Vincent Otti for saying that the rebels would rather continue fighting if the ICC warrants are not lifted.
“Otti’s statement is actually not in good faith because the issue of the ICC warrants were highly explained by the experts who by the way happened to come from the same place as the indicted. So they explained the spirit, the operation and the workings of the ICC. And indeed the government can only engage the ICC, once there is a package that is convincing enough to prove that impunity would be addressed at the same time the victims would be reconciled with the perpetrators,” Kulayigye said.