On June 25, a coalition of 22 human rights organizations and civil society leaders in Uganda, Congo, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the U.S. issued a statement calling on the Ugandan government to reinstate Part II of its Amnesty Act and to promote greater accountability and reconciliation. This provision, which was allowed to expire on May 23 while the rest of the act was renewed, has proven an effective tool in the encouragement of defections among combatants within the ranks of the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA.
The lapse of the key provision came as a surprise to many Ugandans and advocates because the amnesty law has made an immense contribution to stability and recovery in Uganda. Since its enactment in 2000, more than 26,000 individuals from more than 25 armed groups, have abandoned insurgency and reintegrated into society. Approximately 13,000 former LRA have received amnesty under the act.
According to the coalition’s note accompanying its statement, the decision to allow the amnesty provision to expire appeared to be based on three assumptions: 1) the wars that the amnesty provision was addressing are now over; 2) the lapse of the amnesty provision will not have negative consequences, and; 3) it violated fundamental rights guaranteed by the Ugandan Constitution and international laws.
The coalition stressed that a renewal of the amnesty law without the key provision overlooks many of the complexities that are characteristic of the war against the LRA. For example, many LRA combatants are victims themselves, having been abducted at young ages and forced to commit atrocities out of fear. The amnesty law offers a chance at redemption and escape for these individuals who are just as much victims as they may be perpetrators.
In the past, the amnesty law, in combination with various messaging methods, has helped LRA combatants gain the courage to flee from their captors, thus weakening the LRA’s manpower. "We have messages being aired in DRC, CAR and South Sudan where we are asking the rebels to take advantage of the Amnesty Act and come home," said Archbishop John Baptist Odama of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative. "Removing amnesty will completely undermine these efforts."
Although the LRA has moved out of northern Uganda, it continues to terrorize communities within neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Therefore, the communique argues that Uganda has a moral responsibility to continue to employ all means necessary to end the suffering of other communities affected by the LRA.
The lapse of the amnesty provision was premature and legally unnecessary because it is fully in line with the Juba Peace Agreement on reconciliation and accountability as well as Uganda’s national constitution. Both of these legislative documents state that it is the government of Uganda’s responsibility to “maintain and put in place the necessary legislation to promote reconciliation within Uganda.” Granting amnesty encourages combatants to lay down their arms so that the reconciliation and reintegration process can begin. At the same time, the Amnesty Act is not a blanket provision. Amnesty is not provided to “unsuitable individuals.” Under section 2A of the Act, the Minister of Internal Affairs, with the approval of Parliament, has the power to exclude any individual from benefiting from amnesty who is deemed to be an inappropriate beneficiary. Furthermore, the Amnesty Act promotes traditional and other forms of accountability and reconciliation.
As one of the communique’s signatories, Enough urges the Ugandan government to continue the push towards the end of the LRA and calls for the adoption of additional procedures to promote greater accountability and reconciliation for former LRA rebels.
“There is a critical window now to finally end the 25 year-long LRA war, and a key step on the path to peace is to encourage LRA combatants to lay down their arms,” said Enough Executive Director John Bradshaw. “The Obama administration should urge the Ugandan government to refrain from prosecuting any LRA fighters not indicted by the International Criminal Court and consider granting them amnesty provided they go through a truth-telling transitional justice process.”
Despite contributions Part II of the Amnesty Act has made so far, the provision has yet to reach its full potential and could help bring an end to many more atrocities still being committed in the region.
Photo: LRA fighters (AP)