For some time, there has been a great deal of confusion surrounding the International Criminal Court’s case against the Lord’s Resistance (LRA) in Northern Uganda. Let me attempt to clear up some of that confusion.

On October 13th of 2005, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC unsealed five arrest warrants for Joseph Kony, the LRA’s leader, and his four commanders. Kony and the others were charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the crime of forcing children under age fifteen into combat. UNICEF estimates that the LRA forced 25,000 children into combat over its twenty years of existence. In 2003, the Ugandan Government asked the ICC to open an investigation. The investigation focused on crimes committed by the LRA after the ICC became a working institution, on July 1st, 2002. Between then and June of 2004, investigators concluded that the LRA killed at least 2,200 people and abducted 3,200 children.  Shortly thereafter, arrest warrants for Kony and the others were issued.

However, in the summer of 2006, the Ugandan Government urged the ICC to back off while peace negotiations with the LRA leadership took place. There was even speculation that the ICC had been asked to withdraw its arrest warrants. Then, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo issued the following statement on July 12th.

The Government of Uganda did not ask for any withdrawal of the warrants of arrest. The arrest warrants remain in effect. It is the view of the Office of the Prosecutor and the Government of Uganda that justice and peace have worked together thus far and can continue to work together.

But the confusion didn’t end there. On August 4th, the LRA declared a ceasefire, and the news website reported that the ICC had indeed agreed to withdraw the arrest warrants. This claim was backed up by senior officials within the Ugandan Government. The ICC’s official website, however, said nothing of the sort.

To set the record straight, I contacted the American Nongovernmental Coalition for the ICC (AMICC) in August. I was told that the Court had absolutely not agreed to withdraw the arrest warrants for Kony and his commanders. Furthermore, my AMICC source told me that the media was failing to report that the ICC’s arrest warrants were instrumental in driving the LRA to the negotiating table, and that the Court would appear to be a political tool if it withdrew them now.

That was where things stood until yesterday, when reported that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told participants of a law conference that he fully supported the ICC’s insistence on arresting and trying the LRA leaders. According to the article:

He said it would be a "tactical error" to comply with the rebels’ condition that the indictment and warrant be lifted before they sign the peace pact in the ongoing talks in South Sudan.

"The ICC is actually very good for us (Uganda) because it makes the terrorists (rebels) come up to seek peace and end impunity. The ICC was created to fight impunity," the President said.

Museveni later went on to say:

"To ask the ICC to withdraw the warrant without any remedy is to condone impunity," the President said. "Here is a terrorist, you have not reconciled with and you throw away the stick (warrant)? We need to first create a new situation then we can talk to the ICC. I’m told it can review it," he said.

As a party to the ICC, Uganda has a legal obligation to arrest Kony and his commanders. If and when that will actually happen remains unclear. For the time being, peace and justice continue to move forward together –albeit clumsily, and with significant mood swings on the part of the Ugandan government.

Additional reading:

For a thoroughly ghastly account of the crimes against children committed by the LRA, and the origins of the conflict in Northern Uganda, read the Human Rights Watch report  “The Scars of Death: Children Abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.”

The International Coalition for the ICC provides comprehensive background information and current updates on the International Criminal Court and its work.


Personal note: I am being a blog-hog, I know, but I have to post my articles early this week, because I may not have internet access again until early next week.

Una Hardester, Senior Political Analyst