Global Issues

Northern Uganda -Justice at what cost?

Returning to Northern Uganda for a moment, there is an interesting dilemma hidden in Erin’s account – one particularly poignant for liberal internationalists. By most accounts, the indictment of the LRA leadership was a positive international recognition of the war crimes that had for shamefully long gone unrecognised. However, since the indictments were not supported with viable implementation mechanisms, in many respects, they now present an obstacle to a regionally (as opposed to internationally) organised and sanctioned peace process. Frustrated that the international process was getting nowhere, the regional actors took the process into their own hands are close to a preliminary peace deal. The problem is that a component of this peace deal will almost certainly be amnesty for the indicted. A condition that Musevini has offered but that the international community flatly rejects.

The political explosiveness of this dilemma was evident in the British reaction to the peace negotiations. Two days after the meetings in the DRC, it was leaked that the British were going to table a SCR on the LRA that would extend MONUC and UNMIS mandates to Chapter 7 and go after LRA assets. In short, giving the indictment the legitimate enforcement mechanisms that they should have had from the beginning. First, somewhat superficially, the British are surely in part only acting as a reaction to the news that most LRA financiers are from London. Second, however, as Erin describes, is where the root of the liberal internationalists dilemma lies:

The timing of this is painful – it will not build confidence in LRA to talk, and having seen kids wearing the t-shirts of Guatemalan dead peacekeepers in Congo (not to forget those captive women and children) a military solution is not guaranteed to avoid a high cost or a victory. The victims of northern Uganda are almost outright hostile to ICC and anything international, viewing it as an obstacle to peace.

The questions then are threefold. First, idealistically, how does one weigh the symbolic value of the ICC indictments (international deterrent etc), against the realities of the conflict on the ground. Should peace and reconciliation, however imperfect, be prioritised over international punitive justice? Second, morally, is peace on the ground worth giving five war criminals amnesty? Third, practically, how does one separate victims from perpetrators in conflicts such as Northern Uganda’s and what are the consequences of this ambiguity for international action and actual, as opposed to idealized, reconciliation?

As someone who believes in the value, and even necessity, of international legal regimes, I am in some ways torn. Part of me thinks that what is needed is a raid on all foreign assets flowing to the LRA coupled with a 20,000 person force with a chapter 7 mandate to root out the LRA combatants. I say this, however, from a markedly privileged position. I have not been living this war for the past decade. I have not seen my child kidnapped and forced to rape and kill my wife, seen my government’s soldiers slaughter innocents, and my people forced into horrific IDP camps with no hope of a future, while the international community does nothing. As Erin explains, even if a force could be deployed, killing the LRA will mean a lot more death and misery for the Acholi people. It will mean more war before, and if, it ever provides peace. Those who have lived this war want peace and traditional reconciliation, not punitive justice. Cruelly, the five indicted get amnesty, but at least the war’s victims get peace. This is the tough concession they are willing to make. Perhaps we should be too?