The Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels on Tuesday signed a major agreement on how to deal with crimes committed during the brutal nearly 22-year insurgency in northern Uganda. The government and the rebels are currently engaged in peace talks mediated by South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar.
According to the new protocol, those accused of severe crimes would be tried in the High Court of Uganda while those accused of lesser crimes would face the northern Uganda traditional justice system know as Mato OPut.
Ruth Nankabirwa is Uganda’s minister of state for defense and chairperson for the Peace Talks Support Committee. She told VOA from Kampala, Uganda the Ugandan government hopes the new agreement would soon bring a positive conclusion to the peace talks.
“First of all, this protocol which has been signed is a very important protocol because it deals with important issues like handling impunity. And we hope that after that the remaining agendas are not so difficult. This is the ceasefire and then the DDR, this is demobilization and disarmament, and the reintegration. So the protocol that has been signed is very, very important. Accepting to be subjected to laws is a major achievement, and we hope that we shall be seeing a positive conclusion of the peace talks in the nearest future,” she said.
Nankabirwa said the new agreement paves the way for those accused of severe crimes would be tried in the High Court of Uganda while those accused of lesser crimes would face the northern Uganda traditional justice system know as Mato OPut.
“First of all the crimes differ. There are small crimes which will be handled by the traditional judicial system, and we shall come up with a layout of the traditional judicial system to handle reconciliation and accountability. But the other crimes, like the war crimes, are normally handled by the High Court. So what the teams have done is append their signatures on exactly that so that at the end of the day there are some in the LRA who will appear before the High Court because of their crimes,” Nankabirwa said.
LRA leader Joseph Kony and four of his lieutenants are under International Criminal Court indictment for war crimes. Nankabirwa said whether the ICC indictment stands would depend on the LRA’s commitment to the peace process.
“First of all it is Uganda which approached the ICC to help in getting Kony and his commanders because Uganda could not reach Kony because he was outside Uganda’s jurisdiction. We are hoping that if Kony and his commanders decided to be subjected to DDR, demobilization, disarmament, and then reintegrate, that would mean that they would come out of the bush and come to Uganda, and then Uganda will now be in the position to get them. And we will have no problem in subjecting them through our judicial system. ICC was created to fight impunity, and therefore the High Court of Uganda can exactly do that,” she said.
The Ugandan government said recently that it was prepared to attack the LRA if the rebels did not move quickly on reaching a peace deal. Nankabirwa said that threat was muted with the extention of the cessation of hostilities agreement. But she said the option to attack is still open.
“First, the cessation of hostilities agreement was extended up to 29 of February which is this month. And within this period my government cannot attack the LRA. But what happens after that if the LRA does not abide by what they have signed, then we will remain with no choice but to engage the countries which are hosting the LRA to make sure that they deal with the LRA,” Nankabirwa said.
She said the LRA is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo and that if the LRA makes a u-turn on the peace process, the Uganda government would use the agreement it has with the DRC government to force the rebels back to the negotiating table.