(New York) - The UN Security Council should adopt a resolution or presidential statement supporting efforts to rein in the capacity of the Lord’s Resistance Army to attack civilians and to ensure justice for the most serious crimes committed during the northern Uganda conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today to council members.
The Security Council will be briefed on June 20 by the former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, who is the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to areas affected by the insurgent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The Security Council will be briefed on June 20 by the former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, who is the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to areas affected by the insurgent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
While the peace process between the Ugandan government and the LRA has faltered, the LRA has resumed human rights abuses, this time across three countries, including abductions and sexual slavery, according to credible information obtained by Human Rights Watch. The alleged crimes, coupled with LRA leader Joseph Kony’s failure to appear as anticipated to sign a final peace agreement on April 10 and his silence since that time, intensify questions as to the LRA’s commitment to the peace negotiations. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued warrants for Kony and other LRA leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“In the face of credible new allegations of atrocities committed by the LRA, silence by the council should not be an option,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Security Council members should act to help ensure the abuses are stopped and that those responsible for the most serious crimes committed by both sides in the northern Uganda conflict are prosecuted.”
According to written documentation from foreign observers and domestic authorities obtained by Human Rights Watch, the LRA has carried out at least 100 abductions, and perhaps many more, in the Central African Republic, Southern Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo since February 2008. The information suggests boys are made to act as porters or subjected to military training while girls are used as sex slaves.
Human Rights Watch has learned that details about recent LRA abuses also have been passed on to UN staff in the region.
“The LRA appears to be attacking civilians in three different countries,” said Dicker. “The Security Council should call for all parts of the United Nations, including all agencies in the region, to publicly disclose information they have on the abuses and to cooperate in further documenting recent crimes.”
Human Rights Watch also called for the council to insist that the LRA immediately release all women, children, and other non-combatants. Human Rights Watch further called for the Security Council to support coordination among regional governments, the UN secretariat and peacekeeping forces, and key donors to facilitate ultimate execution of arrest warrants for LRA leaders by the ICC. Due caution should be taken, however, to ensure that the execution of the arrest warrants minimizes risks to civilian life and avoids excessive force.
“UN peacekeeping forces, such as the forces for Congo, may be able to play a key role in protecting civilians at risk from alleged LRA attacks and facilitating ultimate execution of the ICC warrants,” said Dicker. “The council should see they have the resources and capacity to assist as necessary.”
The LRA has made the ICC a scapegoat by trying to present it as the obstacle to peace, Human Rights Watch said. However, hoping to satisfy LRA demands while abiding by international standards, the Ugandan government and LRA delegations agreed to pursue national trials of ICC cases. Kony’s failure to sign the final peace agreement, and reports that he may be seeking clarification on domestic accountability processes provided for in the agreement, heighten concerns over whether he is willing to face any criminal trial. Fair, credible prosecutions are not only required under international law and the ICC’s Rome Statute, but also are crucial to building a sustainable peace for northern Uganda, Human Rights Watch said.
The conflict in northern Uganda to depose President Yoweri Museveni began immediately after he took power by force in 1986. The conflict has been characterized by serious crimes under international law and other human rights abuses committed by the LRA and to a lesser extent by government forces, which Human Rights Watch and others have documented. On the part of the LRA, abuses have included willful killings, beatings, large-scale abductions, forced recruitment of adults and children, sexual violence against girls whom it assigns as “wives” or sex slaves to commanders, and large-scale looting and destruction of civilian property. On the part of the government, abuses have included extrajudicial executions, rape, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention, and forced displacement.
In December 2003, Museveni asked the ICC 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. 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 Ugandan armed forces commanders or Ugandan government officials.