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Plan to flush LRA out of DRC "Recipe for Impunity"

IWPR | Published on September 25, 2007
By Samuel Okiror Egadu in The Hague (AR No. 134, 25-Sept-07)

Human rights organisations have criticised the recent deal between the Ugandan and Congolese presidents to flush out Lord's Residence Army, LRA, rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

President Yoweri Museveni and his Congolese counterpart Joseph Kabila agreed on September 8 to launch joint military operations with the UN peace keeping mission in Congo, MONUC, to push the LRA out of their Garamba National Park hideout within 90 days.

But some human rights activists are dismayed, saying the two presidents should instead be concentrating on their obligations to deliver to The Hague four LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court, ICC.

Christopher Hall, senior legal advisor at Amnesty International's international justice project, describes the landmark agreement between Museveni and Kabila as a "recipe for impunity".

"It simply commits them, not to fulfill their legal obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to arrest and surrender the four leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army to the ICC, but simply to push them over the border into Sudan, a state that has not ratified the Rome Statute and which has refused to cooperate with the court," said Hall.

The LRA has in the past operated from southern Sudan, employing many of the same tactics as on its home ground in the north of Uganda, terrorising the population with brutal killings, abductions and pillaging.

"MONUC should be launching a long overdue law enforcement effort now to arrest and surrender these persons who are suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity. There is no reason to wait one minute longer," added Hall.

LRA leader Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti, and top commanders Okot Odiambo and Domenic Ogwen are wanted by ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

They face charges of murder, rape, sexual enslavement, mutilation, abduction and recruitment of child soldiers. The fifth indicted commander, Raska Lukwiya, was killed in August last year in a battle with government forces in Kitgum.

One of the triggers for the decision by Kabila and Museveni to take military action is the LRA leadership's refusal to leave the Garamba park and bring its guerrilla fighters to assembly points in villages just across the border in Sudan.

In a ceasefire agreement reached in August last year, LRA leaders committed themselves to assembling their forces at two Sudanese villages, Ri-Kwangba and Owiny-Kibul, within three weeks. This did not happen, and further agreements to bring the rebels to the assembly points in November and December last year were not honoured.

The latest addendum to the cessation of hostilities agreement, signed on April 14 this year, contained a modification – made at the LRA's request – that the assembly area should be limited to one location, Ri-Kwangba. The operation was meant to be completed by the end of June, but once again, it has not happened.

Northern Uganda has been largely peaceful since the commencement of talks between the Kampala government and the LRA in July last year, and people have slowly begun returning to their homes from refugee camps.

However, the Museveni-Kabila deal has angered the rebels who say it violates the spirit of the ongoing peace talks in Juba, southern Sudan, and have warned that any attack on their Garamba base means a resumption of war in the region.

The chairperson of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, ALPI, told IWPR that the Kabila-Museveni deal could endanger the Juba talks. "It's an unfortunate agreement," said John Baptist Odama, also a bishop at the Gulu archdiocese. "The agreement jeopardises the trust put on the peace talks."

He said the only hope remaining for those Ugandans who have lived in refugee camps during two decades of insurgency are the Juba peace talks.

"The people have suffered a lot and need to rest by going back to their villages. If the peace talks succeed, it will be victory for IDPs, the LRA, Uganda, South Sudan, Congo, Africa and the whole world," he said. "The hope of the people lies on the talks."

The ICC insists that it is the arrest warrants against Kony and the others that have contributed to a reduction in the number of LRA attacks and have brought the rebels to the negotiating table in Juba.

In an earlier interview with IWPR, the ICC director for international cooperation, Beatrice Le Fraper Du Hellen, called upon the 105 countries that signed the treaty creating the ICC to enforce the arrest warrants.

"Those arrests warrants must be executed and enforced by Uganda, DR Congo and the other 105 state parties to the Rome Statute. Kony and his other indicted commanders must be arrested and surrendered to The Hague for trials," said Le Fraper.

"The ICC doesn't have its own police force. Its police force is 105 state parties. ICC relies on the support of 105 member states. The four most wanted LRA criminals must be arrested and surrendered to the court in The Hague."

Samuel Okiror Egadu is an IWPR journalist in Uganda.

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