We write in advance of the briefing to the Security Council on June 20 by the Secretary-General's special envoy for the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)-affected areas, the former President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano.
As the peace process between the Ugandan government and the LRA has faltered, the LRA has committed an alarming wave of human rights abuses, according to credible information obtained by Human Rights Watch, including written documentation from foreign observers and domestic authorities. The LRA allegedly has carried out at least 100 abductions, and perhaps many more, in the Central African Republic (CAR), Southern Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo since February 2008. The information suggests that boys are made to act as porters or subjected to military training while girls are used as sex slaves. The LRA is also believed to be engaged in widespread pillaging.
The crimes allegedly committed by the LRA, combined with LRA leader Joseph Kony's failure to appear as anticipated to sign the peace agreement on April 10 and his relative silence since that time, intensify questions as to the LRA's commitment to the peace process. 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 - has, moreover, been an ongoing concern.
Within this context, Human Rights Watch believes that it is vital that following President Chissano's briefing the Security Council adopt a resolution or presidential statement:
- Expressing grave concern over recent abuses and calling for investigation of these and for disclosure of all findings concerning the abuses, including unpublished UN inquiries;
- Stressing the need for monitoring of the LRA's movements and for the cutting off of weapons and other supplies to them;
- Underscoring the importance of justice to achieving a sustainable peace;
- Calling for fair, credible prosecution of the most serious crimes committed by both sides in the conflict, including LRA suspects for whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants; and
- Supporting coordination between regional governments, the UN secretariat and peacekeeping forces, and key donors to curtail the LRA's capacity to commit abuses and to facilitate execution of ICC arrest warrants while minimizing the risk to civilian life and without use of excessive force.
The LRA has made the ICC a scapegoat by trying to present it as the obstacle to peace. However, hoping to satisfy LRA demands while abiding by international standards, those involved with the Juba peace talks considered national criminal trials of ICC cases. While it would be up to the ICC judges to determine the sufficiency of such trials following an admissibility challenge under the ICC's Rome Statute, such an approach - if actually implemented - would not be fundamentally inconsistent with the Rome Statute. Even so, Kony's failure to sign the final peace agreement and news reports that he has since sought clarification on domestic accountability processes heighten concerns as to his willingness to face any criminal trial.
In a presidential statement issued by the council in 2006, the Security Council indicated that it "attaches vital importance to promoting justice and the rule of law, including respect for human rights, as an indispensable element for lasting peace ... [and] reaffirms that ending impunity is essential if a society in conflict or recovering from conflict is to come to terms with past abuses committed against civilians and to prevent future such abuses." (S/PRST/2006/28) The Security Council should not remain silent in the face of renewed abuses against civilians allegedly committed by the LRA and should work to ensure that there is justice for the most serious crimes committed during the conflict.
In the event that the LRA signs the final peace agreement, the Security Council should call for 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. At the same time, the Council should reject any request for it to defer the ICC's prosecution of crimes committed in northern Uganda. Such a deferral would risk impunity by making the Security Council vulnerable to threats by the LRA to continue the conflict and abuses unless a deferral is continually renewed, while it would also constitute improper political interference in what should be an independent judicial institution. Moreover, as discussed above, the ICC has a distinct process through which national trials of its cases may be pursued, namely an admissibility challenge.
International Justice Program Director
Africa Division Director