(New York) - International action is needed to end the Lord’s Resistance Army’s reported new spree of abductions and sexual violence and to help execute arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court for the group’s leaders.
Human Rights Watch has learned that since February 2008 the insurgent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) group has carried out at least 100 abductions, and perhaps many more, in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Southern Sudan. Boys are made to act as porters or subjected to military training and girls are being used as sex slaves, according to credible information, including written documentation, from foreign observers and domestic authorities in the region obtained by Human Rights Watch. The LRA is also engaged in widespread pillaging of villages.
The recent abuses have occurred amid a faltering peace process between the Ugandan government and the LRA to end the devastating northern Uganda conflict. LRA leader Joseph Kony failed to appear at an April 10 meeting to sign a final peace agreement. Kony and other LRA leaders are charged by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Kony and the LRA took advantage of the breathing room given to them and appear to be terrorizing civilians yet again,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Concerned governments and UN officials cannot sit by while the LRA goes on a criminal rampage, committing heinous abuses against children and other people.”
Efforts have been under way by those close to the peace talks to communicate directly with Kony to revive the negotiations. However, alleged LRA crimes and Kony’s month-long silence intensify questions as to whether the LRA is committed to the negotiations. The failure of LRA members to assemble in specified areas as required under cessation of hostilities agreements – exemplified by LRA members moving to the CAR – also has been an ongoing concern.
The LRA has tried to portray the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the obstacle to peace, but recent events support a different interpretation, Human Rights Watch said. Hoping to satisfy LRA demands while abiding by international standards, those involved with the Juba peace talks considered the possibility of holding national criminal trials of ICC cases. Reports that Kony is now seeking clarification on the domestic accountability processes heighten questions about his willingness to face any criminal trial.
“The ICC has been the LRA’s scapegoat long enough,” said Dicker. “The ICC has never been the stumbling block to peace. Fair, credible prosecutions of the most serious crimes committed by both sides during the northern Uganda conflict are crucial to accountability and a sustainable peace.”
Human Rights Watch called for international observer governments to the peace talks, governments in the region, the UN Special Envoy on the LRA-affected areas, the UN Departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations to work together to stem LRA abuses and to ensure justice is done. Human Rights Watch urged these international players to:
- Investigate and disclose findings of recent alleged LRA abuses in the CAR, the DRC, and Southern Sudan, including reported unpublicized UN inquiries into abuses in the CAR;
- Track and make public the LRA’s movements through intensified monitoring of regional borders;
- Monitor and interdict the flow of weapons and other supplies to the LRA;
- Develop effective plans to execute the ICC arrest warrants while minimizing the risk to civilian life and without use of excessive force, including by using the UN observer mission in the DRC (MONUC).
“The United States and the European Union should work with regional governments and UN peacekeeping forces, MONUC in particular, to curtail human rights violations and to ensure justice is done,” said Dicker. “They should track the LRA’s movements, cut off their weapons, and make plans toward delivering ICC suspects for trial. The UN should also immediately release any information it has as to recent LRA abuses.”
In the event that Kony does reemerge to sign the final peace agreement, there should be prompt implementation of key provisions of the Juba agreements that provide for trial for the most serious crimes and for the release of women and children kept by the LRA.
The conflict in northern Uganda, which began in 1986, has been characterized by serious crimes under international law and other human rights abuses by the LRA and, to a lesser extent, by government forces. The LRA has been responsible for willful killings, beatings, large-scale abductions, forced recruitment of adults and children, rape against girls whom it assigns as “wives” or sex slaves to commanders, and large-scale looting and destruction of civilian property. Abuses by the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) have included extrajudicial executions, rape, torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention, and forced displacement.
In December 2003, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni asked the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes committed by the LRA. Once the ICC exercises jurisdiction over crimes, as it has done in northern Uganda, the court has the authority to prosecute crimes by any individual, regardless of affiliation. Under its statute, the ICC has jurisdiction to prosecute only crimes committed after 2002. In July 2005, the court issued warrants for the arrest of the top five LRA leaders: Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Raska Lukwiya, and Dominic Ongwen. Lukwiya was killed in 2006, and Otti was reportedly killed in 2007. The ICC has not issued warrants for any UPDF commanders or Ugandan government officials.