In Uganda, while LRA rebel leader Joseph
Kony is on the run -- and the peace process remains elusive – plans are
underway for war crimes trials and a truth commission.
those helping work out details is Professor Michael Scharf, director of the
International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Scharf is also managing director of the Public International Law and Policy
Group. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about
his recent 10-day visit to Uganda, where he worked with the government on its
war crimes and truth commission legislation.
basically trying to help the government be in a position where it can prosecute
Joseph Kony, the other leaders of the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) and other
people on all sides of the conflict that have committed atrocities," he says.
whether the legislative work would interfere with the peace process, Scharf
says, "First of all, the peace process has been going on for a while in fits
and starts, but Joseph Kony has made it pretty clear that he is not willing to
sign the deal. And just last week, there was a joint operation by the Ugandan
government army and the South Sudanese army and the Democratic Republic of
Congo's army to basically track down Joseph Kony. They destroyed all of his
bases and he's on the run. So, the peace process is sort of on hold now anyway.
But in any event, whether Joseph Kony is captured through this military
operation or he goes back to the peace table, he and a number of other people
are going to have to be brought to justice. And right now the Ugandan system is
not capable and ready to do that," he says.
the LRA leaders are not prosecuted domestically, they will be sent to the ICC,
International Criminal Court, at The Hague. But Scharf says that is not the
preferred method of prosecution.
whole idea of the International Criminal Court in The Hague is that it's a
court of last resort. And it is built [on] the premise that it wants to
encourage domestic prosecution whenever possible. And so, it may be that
someone like Joseph Kony, if he's captured, and the Ugandan government does not
yet have a functioning war crimes chamber, then he'll have to go to The Hague.
But there are many other people who need to be tried. The International
Criminal Court is only equipped to handle a couple of individuals. And what
they're going to want to do is keep the pressure on Uganda so that Uganda gets
all of its act in order so it can do domestic prosecutions. And in particular,
Uganda has become the most important case study for the International Criminal
Court because next year the ICC is having its review conference in Kampala,
Uganda. And this is the first review conference since the court was created 10
years ago and it's a moment like the Olympics where the whole world will be
looking at Uganda," he says.
cases often raise the question whether it's more important to follow the rule
of law or seek a speedy peace deal that might offer some type of amnesty to
Kony. Scharf says, "What we've learned through other empirical cases, like the
situation with (former Liberian leader) Charles Taylor, where they basically
said, all right, we won't prosecute you before the Sierra Leone tribunal if you
go into exile in Nigeria and are a good person, is that people like Joseph Kony
and Charles Taylor, who have a long history of committing atrocities and
corruption and being a warlord, cannot be trusted to be partners in a peace
says that a "sorting mechanism" is needed "so that the worst perpetrators, like
Joseph Kony, will face international justice. But other people, for example
people who were kidnapped in their youth and turned into child soldiers, will
be able to go through traditional justice or a truth commission approach so
that there can be reconciliation and peace can take hold in the country. So you
can have it both ways."
draft legislation for a war crimes tribunal, another measure addresses the
issue of a truth commission or, in Uganda's case, a truth forum. Scarf calls
the idea of a forum "very innovative." He says, "It would have both people at
the central government level and also in the region and it would also have some
international representation. They're talking about 19 experts, who would then
be there to take the testimony of people, who would come forward, much as they
did in South Africa, and confess and act contrite, and they would have a
historic record. And then most of those people would then be forgiven. If it
turned out that some of those people had committed the worst atrocities
imaginable, they would then be transferred over to the war crimes chambers for
Professor Scharf and others will
return to Uganda in February for more meetings on the tribunal and truth forum
legislation. Uganda's parliament could approve the legislation that same month.
"We're going to go back a subsequent time later in the spring to work with the
judges and prosecutors and bring them up to speed in the kinds of unique law
that applies to war crimes and the procedures and the due process that will be
required so that their process is above reproach," he says.