Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Give Peace in Northern Uganda a chance!”


WodOkello Lawoko.

Recent announcements by veteran leaders of Southern Sudan after meeting with the LRA top commanders, in which they declared intention for peaceful settlement of armed conflict in northern Uganda, had raised a lot of hopes, among the long suffering people living in the squalid IDP concentration camps in their own country; and among the peace loving international community.

The peace proposal by leading SPLM/A top brains, namely, Salva Kiir, Vice President of Sudan and interim President of Southern and his deputy Dr. Riek Macar, Vice President of Southern Sudan remains best option and most genuine peace proposal in 20 years of the conflict. President Yoweri Museveni's intimation to cooperate in the proposed peace negotiation has raised further hopes of bringing the longstanding conflict to an end within a foreseeable future.

For many who have known or seen the extent of damages the conflict has brought upon the people of northern and eastern Uganda, the Southern Sudanese move remains the only single affirmative action that will redeem the victims of war in the region.

Surprisingly, many international bodies, foreign governments and media seem to be missing the point, why the veteran politicians of Southern Sudan are anxious in bring a just and lasting peace to that region of Uganda.

International media, the BBC in particular and some leading newspapers inside Uganda are persuaded to carrying reports on the conflict in a manner that dispel every little attempts or hope that happen to emerge towards peace in the region.

The Daily Monitor reported “the killing of 9 people near Juba” (see Daily Monitor of 13 June, 2006, entitled LRA Kill 9 in attack on Juba) and quoted the BBC as its main source. The BBC’s position is well known since the beginning of the conflict 20 years ago. To many observers, it has position itself as another front in the war by concealing or attempting to conceal all the atrocities and human rights abuses by Uganda government forces against the helpless and unarmed victims of the war, presently living in the IDP concentration camps.

The opening paragraphs of the Daily Monitor of 13/6/2006 ran as follows:

“The Lords Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony has attacked the Southern Sudanese town of Juba killing 9 civilians.

“The BBC reported last evening that the attack took place at a construction site at Gambo along the River Nile.”

Important question any legally minded or critical reader of this article would ask is whether this report was mere allegation or had been verified and confirmed either by the Daily Monitor or the BBC, in view of the fact that there are known to be many marauding gunmen, including the UPDF around the vicinity of Juba, who are bitterly opposed to any peace negotiations between Uganda government and the LRA in the name of lasting peace.

Many previous reports by the BBC confirm that the British media has positioned itself as another front against any peace process to the northern region of Uganda. In recent interviews with both Mr. Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Macar, the BBC has been negative on peace proposal and continued to emphasize the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC), convinced that the arrests and killing of the 5 indicted individuals remain the only objective that must be fulfilled. Whether the troubled regions remain in turmoil is not of their concern.

The ICC is a recent international court, which came to being in the year 2002, and admits its deficiency and/or inability of prosecuting crimes committed before the date of its inception. It does not, however, wish to concede on Northern Uganda conflict, which commenced 20 years ago, 16 years before its promulgation.
The ICC traces its roots to the International Tribunal at Nuremberg that tried Nazi war criminals after World War 11 and led the U.N. to propose a permanent court of the kind.

According to its mandate, any crime committed prior to July 1, 2002 remains outside its jurisdiction or competence.

Unless U.N. Security Council refers a case ICC can act only within its member nations or if the court determines that a member country is unwilling or unable genuinely to address a suspected crime. Even then the U.N. Security Council can vote to block an ICC case for renewable one-year period.

The Chief Prosecutor of ICC Mr. Moreno Ocampo is a honourable man with extremely attractive credentials. He has been quick to note that in many war-torn countries regime change and peace historically come before justice can be delivered. But surprisingly is quoted to believe that in Uganda, the conflict is internal and the ICC must figure out different approach.

It is well known that when he went to Uganda he was unsure of how his presence would affect any peace initiatives in the region; and was persuaded to believe that he might be attacked or killed by the LRA!

It is obvious that those who don’t want peace to return in northern Uganda must have impregnated such unwarranted fears into him. In any case it was unhelpful on his part to have began investigations at the peek of the conflict, being escorted around by security personnel that are parties to the conflict he was investigating. He claims to have kept law profile inside the country (Uganda) but he is oblivious of the fact that with all the various details of security around him, the independence of the ICC was lost.

The victims of abductions, especially those who claim to have been rescued from the LRA by government forces underwent debriefing sessions in military barracks for long period. The ICC acquired evidence during the period when the affected regions were heavily militarised, which time, the witnesses might have been coached on what to say and threatened with death if they defied the order. The method by which the ICC gathered evidence therefore can be questionable and considered to have been conducted under duress, tantamount to interrogation in the presence of security personnel who are also party to the on going conflict and must not be admitted without further appraisal with witnesses in a free and peaceful atmosphere.

The method by which some members of the international community and governments wish to handle the northern Uganda conflict in haphazard manner must be rejected. The victims of northern Uganda conflict must be given fair chance to be heard, where justice must be seen to be done by digging deep from the beginning of the conflict, e.g. from 1986, when peace has returned and witnesses are free to speak their minds without fear or favour.

The existing mandate of the ICC disqualifies it from handling all or most crimes that were committed against the affected people in the past 20 years; and the only honourable things to do are to arrive at peace at an earliest possible time; set a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate activities of both sides of the conflict; after which a special Judicial body, appointed either by Uganda government or international organization, to try any available cases committed against humanity, etc.

The generous offer by the neighbouring Southern Sudanese and SPLA leaders to host the peace negotiation must not be missed. Any individual, group or regime that talks of surrender instead of peace negotiation miss the point or noble intentions of the SPLA leaders who themselves are just emerging from the ravage of internal wars.
The rhetoric state accredited to the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland is not helpful, if it’s true. Mr. Egeland has been quoted many times appealing for international intervention into Northern Uganda conflict, describing it as “One of the worst forgotten conflicts in the world =and worse that Darfur or Iraq” in magnitude.

If it is true that Mr. Egeland is against peace negotiation with leading LRA commanders in the name of Peace, then it is a glaring example of double standard on his part and the U.N. The main theme or objective of the proposed Juba Conference is to deliver Lasting Peace in northern and part of eastern Uganda.

My appeal and many suffering victims of northern Uganda conflict; is that “Give Peace in Northern Uganda a chance!” to leave way for any future judicial or legal action after relative peace has return in the region.