Test Case for Accountability
Test Case for Accountability
The Kampala Attacks and Their Regional Implications
The Kampala Attacks and Their Regional Implications
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Test Case for Accountability

For sixty years the international community has struggled to find the means to punish and deter atrocity crimes on a systematic basis. Until now, efforts have been ad hoc: from Nuremberg to the international tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, to the Special Court in Sierra Leone. Now that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued its first warrants in northern Uganda, there is an historic opportunity to chart a new legal course.

But traveling through northern Uganda over the past week, I saw just how hard it will be to make this opportunity real. The infamous "night commuters" are still pouring into towns in search of refuge from the rebels, child abductions are still occurring, and child soldiers are still escaping one by one from the bush at a rate that will take decades to see all of them safe. Emergency aid workers are suddenly being ambushed and killed with regularity after the issuance of the warrants. The challenge facing the ICC here, and one it will soon confront elsewhere, is how to execute its warrants when it has no army or police under its control, but instead relies on government forces to carry out this task.

The court here depends on the ability of the Ugandan army to capture the five main leaders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), shadowy merchants of death with no identifiable political agenda. But this same army has chased chief warlord Joseph Kony and his murderous henchmen for nineteen years with little to show for it. Even as the LRA's size and capacity have slowly eroded, it is spreading geographically. It is now killing in three countries (eastern Congo, southern Sudan, and northern Uganda), its mayhem impacting on two peace-keeping operations, the humanitarian aid agencies it has begun to attack, and the million and a half people it has made homeless.

The stakes are high - for the ICC, Uganda and for international efforts at accountability. A comprehensive strategy is needed to ensure success. And success must be defined to mean the end of the insurgency, not just through prosecution of its leaders. That can come about through the apprehension or death of the suspects, through a negotiated deal that removes them from the scene and ends the war, or through a broadened effort at encouraging defectors through significantly enhanced incentives combined with stronger military pressure.

A comprehensive strategy would involve two tracks: coercive and diplomatic. Current military capacity is insufficient to neutralize the insurgency and capture suspects, and should be enhanced considerably and immediately. This can be done either through a rapid enhancement of Ugandan military capacity, or through the deployment of international military force for a short term strategic punch aimed at the LRA leadership. Either way, capacity would have to be enhanced in three areas: intelligence gathering, small unit commando tactics, and transport capacity.

The Security Council should also mandate the UN peacekeeping missions in the Congo and Sudan to pursue the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of LRA units stationed in these two countries. Together with the two national armies, they should apply credible military pressure to neutralize LRA elements that resist voluntary disarmament. Given the threat to international peace and security represented by the LRA's three-country military posture, the UN Security Council should authorize targeted sanctions on anyone found to be providing sanctuary or sustenance to the LRA in any way. This would include officials of the governments of the Congo and Sudan as well as small elements in the Ugandan diaspora.

The second track should seek to rapidly enhance the incentives aimed at luring non-indicted LRA commanders out of the bush. Ugandan mediator Betty Bigombe should put forth a comprehensive Ugandan proposal for peace using the leverage offered by the ICC. The indictments against the top LRA leadership should be used to isolate these leaders and alienate them from their troops. Incentives would involve a combination of amnesty guarantees, physical security modalities, housing, and significant livelihood opportunities. Mid and lower-ranking officers should be encouraged to defect with child soldiers under their control. Programs should also be prepared to reintegrate those children back in their home communities with adequate support.

The issue of amnesty for those clearly guilty of atrocity crimes - trading justice for peace - is always an acutely sensitive issue, and certainly will become so in Uganda if the indicted commanders continue to evade capture but indicate a willingness to go to a third country in order to end the war. No matter what transpires, a truth commission should aggressively expose the history of abuses on all sides of the conflict and support indigenous reconciliation initiatives.

Helping the ICC - and accountability - succeed is more than just a legal exercise. It is embedded in a political and military context that must be addressed if the legal strategy has any chance of succeeding. The ICC's first action has raised the hopes of many - from traumatized Ugandans to supporters of international justice. Those seeking peace in Uganda cannot afford to let it fail.

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