In recent days the 1.5 million people of northern Uganda have come so close to getting their extremely harmful 22-year civil war resolved… But now, the perennially disruptive issue of what to do about the indictments and arrest warrants that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has outstanding against the leaders of the oppositionist (“insurgent”) is yet again stalling– and may yet completely prevent– conclusion of the final deal.
This report from New Vision’s Milton Olupot in Juba, South Sudan, where the peace talks have been going on, tells us that:
- The peace talks in Juba hit a snag yesterday when the Government delegation rejected the LRA demand to include a guarantee in the final peace agreement that the ICC indictments against rebel leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders will be lifted.
The ICC’s indictments against Kony and four of his associates categorize in dry manner the accusations against him. The LRA has been reliably reported to have committed a large number of very shocking war crimes and crimes against humanity. On the other hand, the Ugandan government’s security forces have also, in this confrontation, committed numerous excesses and violations of the laws of war that, while perhaps not as immediately “shocking” to western sensibilities as those of the LRA, have nevertheless probably inflicted a greater total amount of harm on the families of northern Uganda.
Yet the ICC’s indictments– which came at the end of an investigation into “the situation in Northern Uganda” that was initiated by the Government of Uganda– were only against the one side: the LRA. Of course, since the Ugandan government is the sovereign government of the whole relevant terrain and exercises strong control over access to the terrain and to the witnesses and documentation located thereon, that does kind of skew things for the ICC investigators, don’t you think?
(Unlike in Darfur, where the Sudanese government has not been able totally to control access to the contested area or to the witnesses and documentation.)
… Be that as it may, I think it is still of the utmost importance for the people of northern Uganda and indeed the whole of that country that the very damaging conflict with the LRA be resolved– soon, through negotiation, and in a way that is both politically sustainable and lays out a good path for the future.
“Amnesty after Atrocity??” you may ask in horror. If so, then go buy my 2006 book with that title, and read in particular the chapter on how the 1977-92 civil war in Mozambique was very successfully brought to an end precisely with the conclusion of a comprehensive peace agreement that– along with many other forward-looking elements– included a blanket amnesty. (The president of Mozambique is now the UN’s lead representative at the Juba talks.)
On Monday, I had the pleasure of going to talk about these issues at Washington & Lee University Law School, in Lexington, Virginia. Now, I knew that the “Lee” in the name had been Robert E. Lee, the commander of the secessionist “confederate” forces in the US civil war of 1861-65. Just as the “Washington” was George Washington, commander of the perhaps equally secessionist “American” forces during the US colonists’ more successful attempt at a UDI, back in 1776. What I hadn’t realized was that, after he surrendered his forces to Lincoln’s leading general Ulysses Grant in 1865, Lee actually became the president of this college in Lexington. My hosts there drove me past the small brick chapel where he is buried.
What does Robert E. Lee have to do with all this? Well, the Confederate (southern) forces in the US civil war also committed their share of atrocities. Both those directly related to the war (war crimes) and those perhaps not directly related to it (their attempt to uphold the institution of slavery, in general; which we can certainly classify as a large-scale crime against humanity.)
Concerning war crimes, the most egregious was probably the large-scale series of atrocities connected with the maladministration of the large POW camp the Confederates maintained at Andersonville, in Georgia. Of the almost 45,000 prisoners recorded as having been received at the camp, 12,913 died. I believe– though I don’t have the source for this to hand– that no Black soldiers from the northern forces were ever even formally “received” or registered at the camp; they were simply shot or killed in more grisly fashion, on sight. Therefore, the 12,913 deaths recorded at Andersonville considerably undercounts the number of deaths/killings of captured or surrendered northern soldiers undertaken at the hands of the CSA forces.
And yet, at the end of the civil war, Robert E. Lee was allowed to go on and live out his life as a free man, and indeed as a college president; and all the forces under his command were similarly given a “parole”, that is an amnesty, by the victorious northern government. And more or less, that approach worked, though of course the institutional disadvantagement of the the formerly enslaved African-American population of the south (and north) of the country continued for many decades further. And there were some (by comparison, fairly minor) excesses committed in the southern states by the officials sent down to the south by the north in the name of “Reconstruction.”
But yes, more or less, the blanket amnesty embedded in a political settlement of outstanding differences (in particular, the one over the ending of slavery) worked at the end of the US civil war– as it has at the end of civil wars and even international wars, throughout many centuries…
But now, the officers of the ICC, sitting in their elegant offices in the very peaceful environs of The Hague, thinking perhaps about which lovely restaurant to feast at tonight or how their generous, European-style pension plans are steadily accruing as they work, have been given the power to interrupt the process of peace negotiating in the desperate and desperately poor environs of Northern Uganda… And by and large, the “rights” activists of the western world continue to applaud the ICC.
It is a funny old world we live in. But let’s continue to back all efforts for the speedy conclusion of a peace agreement ion Northern Uganda. It is time for the many hundreds of thousands of Acholi civilians who have been confined to “IDP camps” (concentration camps) by the government, in the name of war-fighting, to be able to return to their homes.