Uganda’s government Wednesday said it will soon set up a special tribunal, which would deal with war crimes allegedly committed by the Lord Resistance Army rebels during its 20 year insurgency against President Yoweri Museveni’s government. However, internal affairs minister Ruhakana Rugunda said the tribunals would not handle alleged atrocities committed by the national army, Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) because he said the army already has existing court marshals for punishing soldiers. But the rebels have described the government’s move as “backstabbing”. The LRA also accused the government of flouting the recently signed agreement on accountability and reconciliation by targeting only the rebels for trial, while leaving out the alleged UPDF perpetrators.
Ruhakana Rugunda tells VOA English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey in a telephone interview what the tribunals would entail.
“It is true that there is going to be alternative justice mechanism to be able to handle the cases of accountability and reconciliation, following the signing of the agreement on agenda item number three. However, consultations would soon be taking place with key stakeholders to agree on the exact form of justice mechanism,” he noted.
He said the justice mechanism would be a mixture of justice systems to address the issue of the accountability and reconciliation.
“In effect it would be a combination of the formal justice system in Uganda, combined with traditional justice system, so that we get a maximum advantage from both systems in order to deal with this matter of impunity and reconciliation,” he said.
Rugunda said the soon-to-be set up tribunals would be used to prosecute only the rebels who are alleged to have committed atrocities but not the national army, the UPDF.
“The reason is because over the years of the conflict, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces Act has been used to try suspects who belong to the UPDF, and punishment has been meted out following this law. And therefore, there is a well-tested, a well-established system of using UPDF law to try the suspects. Therefore, we would continue using that law to try the suspects of the UPDF,” Rugunda pointed out.
He denied the government has deceived the rebels as is being speculated.
“No, this is just summary of what we have agreed on, the question of deceit does not arise. This is a position that is well discussed, a position that we have agreed on. In fact, what we have done is merely to announce to the country the essential content of the agreement on accountability and reconciliation, at least the principles of it,” he said.
Rugunda said he agrees with the leader of the rebels negotiating team, Martin Ojul, that both the government and the rebels should be held accountable for the atrocities committed in the northern part of the country.
“I agree with what Martin Ojul has said that accountability must cover everybody, it is just that the UPDF over the years has always had rigorous systems of accountability, and judicial systems have worked and worked very well; harsh punishment has been meted out of UPDF soldiers that have been found guilty. Some of them have actually been executed under this law, and therefore, rigorous accountability mechanisms over UPDF. All we are saying is that it should not only be UPDF that should account, but that Lord’s Resistance Army members should also account,” Rugunda noted.