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Peace Initiative for Northern Uganda Passes House of Representatives

Congress has weighed in on deadlocked negotiations between Uganda and northern Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. The House of Representatives this week unanimously approved a resolution similar to one passed by the Senate back in March, asking Uganda’s adversaries to continue peace talks and recommit to a political solution to end their 21-year conflict. First-term Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) introduced the bipartisan measure. He explains why he thinks Washington should help resolve the impasse and help the talks move ahead.

“My aim was just simply that we should make sure that we passed something in the House and our measure encourages the Bush Administration to dedicate some resources to help solve this matter diplomatically,” he said.

The talks in Juba, Sudan have stalled primarily over issues of reconciliation and the international community’s support for trying the northern rebels before the International Criminal Court (ICC). LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony, who is accused of committing heinous crimes, including the recruitment, torture and abuse of child soldiers, says the Juba talks cannot go on without the lifting of international criminal prosecution against LRA members. In the hopes of finding a suitable means of justice to account for all war crimes, negotiators have been discussing channels for the accused to face traditional local justice to replace the obligations of international prosecution. Congressman Johnson says it will be up to Ugandans to find a suitable mechanism that would be fair to the victims and also bring peace to the region.

“According to Western notions of justice, I think that we would like to see some accountability in this International Criminal Court. In terms of the dictates of the local population in Uganda, there may be some popular sentiment to solving it in-house, if you will. And since this conflict will continue to rage unless it is settled among the parties, I think we’ve got to look at what the people and leadership of Uganda seek to get out of this negotiation. And if the negotiations will yield the result that accountability be within the context of the Ugandan political process, with some benchmarks of international justice prevailing, then that might be the best way to go,” he said.

Congressman Johnson says he believes the Bush Administration should appoint its own diplomatic representative to the talks to help the two sides reach agreement. He notes that the United States would not be directly engaged in direct negotiations with the LRA, a group that has long been proscribed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department. But he looks forward to American diplomats being able to help mediate disputes that can help the two sides to end their aggression.

“I know that we have many troubled regions of Africa, and it seems that right now, the issue with Darfur gets the most attention. But there are other areas, such as the situation in Uganda, that deserve public attention as well,” he concludes.