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July/August Monthly Update — Northern Uganda

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July/August Monthly Update — Northern Uganda

Posted by Enough Team on July 31, 2007

July/August Monthly Update -- Northern Uganda

Finally, after 11 months, the Juba peace talks are beginning to deal with the core issues of a conflict that has plagued Uganda for more than 20 years. After being in recess for most of May, talks resumed on May 31 to tackle the thorny issue of reconciliation and accountability. The Ugandan government is offering the Lord's Resistance Army a "soft landing" — protection from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, which has issued arrest warrants against four top LRA commanders, in exchange for submission to local traditional reconciliations ceremonies. Hoping to avoid arrest and accountability, the LRA is arguing that any accountability mechanism must have an equal focus on alleged crimes by the Ugandan army. The framework for the arrangement was agreed to by both parties on June 30, but the devil remains in the as of yet un-negotiated details.

The LRA leadership’s central concern in the peace process is securing their safety and livelihood. Getting arrested by the ICC is one of their biggest fears, making the current stage in negotiations a pivotal make-or-break point. Success will remove the regional specter of the LRA security threat and allow millions of northern Ugandans to experience peace and prosperity for the first time in 20 years. Failure, on the other hand, will doom another young generation to a life of displacement and leave a ticking time bomb tucked away near Garamba National Park, ready to tear apart both Sudan and Congo’s fragile attempts to build peace.

Peace talks between the Ugandan government and LRA, in recess until the end of July, have advanced further than any previous initiative, yielded significant security dividends for displaced and war-weary northern Ugandans, and presented a unique but fleeting window of opportunity to end one of Africa's longest and most devastating conflicts. However, inadequate representation, insufficient leverage, and inconsistent international support for the government of south Sudan's mediation efforts have slowed progress and made success uncertain.

Focused leadership and targeted influence from the international community — most importantly, the United States — is necessary to increase the costs of war for the LRA and to provide a peace partner for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. To address the critical shortage in leverage in Juba, the United States should exert its influence and appoint a senior diplomat to work in close coordination with the United Nations Special Envoy Joaquim Chissano.

ENOUGH Field Update for Northern Uganda

"The Acholi believe in forgiveness and we just want peace right now," 20-year-old Michael recently told ENOUGH staff in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu. "The ICC should go away so the rebels can leave the bush and we can return home." On the surface, Michael's plaintive call embodied an idea widely promoted — that Acholi culture has a special capacity for forgiveness embodied in traditional reconciliation ceremonies that is inconsistent with ICC's mandate to punish and imprison. "Does that mean Kony and Otti can return home?," ENOUGH staff inquired. "Oh no," Michael quickly replied, "they would be killed."

At another recent town hall conversation in Anaka IDP camp held by ENOUGH staff, elders and traditional leaders stood and announced that there was no need to prosecute the LRA leadership because the Acholi community had already forgiven the rebels. "We have our own traditional reconciliation ceremonies," one elder pronounced. "There is no desire for the ICC or anybody else to punish the LRA." Walking back to camp's squalid huts, ENOUGH asked Alex, a 19-year-old who has spend most of his life in a displacement camp, whether he agreed with the elders that Kony and Otti would be accepted back if they submitted to traditional justice. "No," Alex confided privately, "it would be much better if the Kony and Otti never returned here."

ENOUGH's conversations with Michael and Alex point to the complicated — and at times conflicting — views within northern Uganda regarding reconciliation and accountability. For the people devastated by displacement and the LRA's terror, the desire for peace and punishment coexist. Finding a way to satisfy both of these critical goals is the main challenge for current negotiations.

Talks in Juba resumed on May 31, following a recess after the parties signed an agreement on comprehensive solutions to the conflict on May 2. Chissano, who recently announced that he would be opening a main office in Kampala, with a branch in Juba, presided over the opening ceremony. On June 30, the two sides reached an agreement on the principles for accountability and reconciliation, but many of the most contentious details still need to be determined. During the negotiations, Museveni repeated his calls for the LRA leaders to submit to traditional reconciliation ceremonies, such as mato oput, as a "soft-landing" alternative to prosecution by the ICC. In Juba, the LRA have stated publicly that they would consider participating in local accountability mechanisms, but only if Museveni and the Ugandan Army were held equally accountable. Privately, however, LRA leaders have told interlocutors, including ENOUGH, that they do not accept the legitimacy of traditional reconciliation ceremonies.

Negotiations are complicated by the presence of arrest warrants from the ICC against four LRA leaders including its messianic leader, Joseph Kony, and his deputy commander Vincent Otti. The ICC cannot consider accepting any alternative to prosecution unless the indicted commanders have gone through the local accountability mechanism. But the LRA commanders will not feel safe enough to leave the bush, risking arrest, to participate in any accountability mechanism until the warrants are lifted.

As the Juba peace talks slowly creep forward, the security situation in southern Sudan has also begun to improve. Most LRA remnants have left the south Sudan state of Eastern Equatoria, crossed the Nile, and assembled at their base camp just inside the Democratic Republic of Congo, within a 15-km radius from Ri-Kwangba (technically complying with the cessation of hostilities agreement, even if they are still in DRC). There were a couple of incidents of violence as they moved west, and probably around 100 soldiers remain in Eastern Equatoria, but the overall security situation has gotten better.

Policy Challenges And Opportunities

A sustainable peace that will improve the lives of millions of northern Ugandans and likely have a broad, regional ripple effect is within reach. This may be achieved by promoting the implementation of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement and strengthening Congo's attempt to rebuild its shattered state by filling the security vacuum in its eastern region. Three major hurdles remain: balancing the short-term interests of peace with the long-term interests of justice, consolidating the current security dividend while preventing the LRA from using the lull in military pressure as opportunity to rebuild, and ensuring that the Juba peace process is focused on the central issue of the LRA military leadership's security and livelihood concerns. The United States has the necessary leverage to guide the parties to a final agreement, but currently, with political will and strong leadership and vision from the United States lacking, peace will continue to shimmer on the horizon like a tantalizing mirage that heightens hopes of the war-weary but fails to materialize.

Robust accountability mechanisms involving direct participation of the LRA military leadership are necessary to break the cycle of conflict in northern Uganda. The challenge is to craft a just peace that satisfies victims' needs, meets the international community's standards, and persuades Kony to come out of the bush.

As ENOUGH's interviews with northern Ugandans like Michael and Alex suggest, there is a genuine desire for both peace and punishment among those who have suffered the brunt of the LRA's brutality. A peace agreement that is seen as letting off the LRA's leadership for its brutal crimes without it being contingent on the LRA's good behavior will engender resentment and anger among impoverished northern Ugandans who have been robbed of their own lives and livelihoods.

The ICC's investigation initially encouraged, not suffocated, prospects for peace in northern Uganda. In interviews with ENOUGH, Otti and LRA delegates have been preoccupied with removing the ICC's arrest warrants, revealing the extent to which the court's case unnerved the rebels and created pressure to cut a deal. More importantly, the Rome Statute does not serve as a stifling straightjacket to a peace deal. While establishing the principle that absolute impunity is not consistent with durable peace, the Rome Statute also clearly envisions that flexibility may be required in both deferring to local accountability solutions and balancing the need to proceed with a peace agreement as well as establishing mechanisms and delegating authority to make these difficult decisions.

Ideally, the parties will produce an agreement with credible accountability mechanisms that meet the community's needs and mirror the ICC's core principles. The ICC is a court of last resort that is only intended to step in when a country is unwilling or unable to punish individuals guilty of the gravest crimes. As stated in Article 17 of the Rome Statute, the ICC is meant to complement, not replace, national judiciaries. If the Ugandan government and LRA can come up with a strong cocktail of accountability mechanisms — traditional justice, a truth and reconciliation commission, national legal proceedings, and so on — the court's pre-trial chamber can be asked to defer to these genuine national proceedings and decide that the case is no longer admissible. Importantly, the obligation to enforce the court's arrest warrants will be automatically suspended pending the pre-trial chambers decision, providing built-in breathing space for the indicted LRA to leave the bush and participate in accountability mechanisms free of fear that they will be apprehended.

Alternatively, the U.N. Security Council is empowered under Article 16 of the Rome Statute to pass a Chapter 7 resolution in the interests of international peace and security, which would require the ICC to suspend its investigation for renewable one-year increments. Action by the Security Council would ensure that the complex political decision of prioritizing the pursuit of peace would be made by a political body capable of weighing the competing interests, thus insulating the ICC from making decisions beyond its mandate and competency.

Neither the Security Council nor the pre-trial chamber can sanction impunity. Weighing the interests of peace and justice requires caution, care, and clear awareness of the broad, long-term consequences. While the ICC's investigation should not hold hostage a peace agreement capable of ending the humanitarian plight of northern Uganda, more than northern Uganda is at stake. If the legacy of the ICC's first investigation is to cobble exceptions to the need for accountability, the ICC's legitimacy as an institution may be undermined and its capacity to deter mass civilian atrocities may be compromised. Thus the precedent established in Uganda may have unintended consequences for other important investigations such as those ongoing in Darfur.

The Juba peace process has improved security in northern Uganda, dramatically altering the landscape of the region and improving the lives of displaced civilians. These gains will remain shallow, narrow, and precarious unless the LRA assemble under international monitoring at Ri-Kwangba and fully implement the cessation of hostilities agreement.

Failure to fully implement the cessation of hostilities agreement stalls progress at the bargaining table by creating an endless series of revised agreements and stunting confidence-building between the parties. Perhaps more importantly, there will not be a security environment stable enough for the talks to proceed until the LRA assembles. If a large part of the LRA sits unmonitored and hidden in Congo's dense, remote jungles, the rebels can easily spread to CAR and remain a potent regional security threat.

Preventing a return to destabilization requires providing adequate support for the resettlement process occurring in northern Uganda. Donors must work in close partnership with the Ugandan government to ensure that conditions and protection in new resettlement camps are better than in the old ones. Conflict over most poor northern Ugandans' main remaining asset — land — is likely to erupt as people begin to trickle home and clash over disputed boundaries blurred by war and time. As recent attacks suggest, peace in northern Uganda will remain elusive as long as Karamoja is a lawless island of poverty awash with AK-47s. The continued threat of armed cattle-rustling from Karamoja complicates redevelopment by depriving northern Ugandans of both economic and physical security.

Despite its successes, the Juba peace process suffers from two debilitating flaws. First, talks are not structured to focus on the central issue for success — the security and livelihood concerns of the LRA military leadership in Garamba. After over a year, there is not a single LRA fighter at the negotiating table and the talks in Juba have not spent a single day discussing a security and livelihood package for Kony and Otti. Instead, negotiations have been primarily conducted through a delegation composed of figures from the diaspora of questionable competency. Unless rebels from the bush are part of the negotiations, there will be doubt about whether the agenda addressed in Juba accurately reflects the concerns of the military leadership and whether there will be sufficient buy-in from Kony and Otti to give the Ugandan government and the international community confidence that any peace deal will actually be implemented.

Second, there is no backbone of leverage supporting the talks. For successful negotiations to take place, Kony and Otti must know that there will be negative consequences for continuing the conflict and tangible benefits to signing a peace deal. Museveni must know that he will have partners in the process of building peace in northern Uganda. This will require significant donor funds to address the long-term political, economic, and social factors that have created a climate conducive to conflict in the north. Efforts by mediators of the government of south Sudan, Chissano, and recently added regional observers have been beneficial but are constrained by an inability to provide real guarantees and penalties to the parties. Only the United States has the capacity to provide the kinds of incentives and disincentives necessary to make sure that the parties view a peace deal as their best and only option. Without a spine to prop it up, the talks can crumble with the slightest breeze or be easily manipulated by outside spoilers with a vested interest in seeing continued conflict.

  1. Balancing peace and justice
  2. Consolidating the peace dividend
  3. Getting Juba right

ENOUGH Policy Recommendations

Peacemaking: The United States should appoint a senior diplomat to work in direct support of the peace process and in close collaboration and coordination with the U.N. Special Envoy, support the process financially, and use its significant leverage with the Ugandan government to exhaust all peaceful options for resolving the conflict.

A comprehensive peace process must proceed on two tracks. The first track between the Ugandan government and LRA leaders should defuse the LRA security threat by focusing on the specific details of the LRA's return from the bush—notably security arrangements for Kony and his top lieutenants—and more technical issues such as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of LRA fighters back into society.

The second stage to be carried out by a wider set of actors from Northern Uganda, including civil society and women, must deal with the accumulated wounds of war and directly address the conditions that have made northern Uganda prone to conflict for the last 20 years. Assisted by the international community, the Ugandan government must hold an inclusive national forum to deal with the underlying political and structural issues that have fueled the cycle of conflict in the North.

Formal negotiations need to be combined with informal attempts to convince members of the LRA that they will be accepted back into the community if they return home. Facilitating meetings between the LRA and Acholi leaders, former commanders who have successfully reintegrated, and family members will be critical to overcoming these understandable concerns and building confidence that a peaceful return is possible.

Protection:The international community—particularly the United States—should pressure the Ugandan government to curb human rights abuses by its own security forces and deploy a government police force capable of protecting civilians. Uganda, Congo, and Sudan should also work with the international community to develop a regional strategy to prevent further LRA atrocities within their national borders.

Despite improved security conditions, protecting northern Ugandans from a possible return to full-scale civil conflict and addressing the plight of displaced and vulnerable northern Ugandans remains an urgent priority. The miserable condition of life in the camps is the primary cause of death in northern Uganda, with malnutrition and disease killing 1,000 people every week.

In response to the LRA attacks years ago, the Ugandan government herded people into camps, and the government must now take appropriate measures to protect people from the consequences of this encampment policy. The Ugandan government's responsibilities must be clearly laid out and international human rights officers must be deployed — preferably under UN auspices — to monitor the voluntary return of displaced Ugandans to their homes.

Furthermore, if the Juba peace talks fail to end the conflict, LRA-infiltrated Uganda, Sudan, and Congo must work together with the international community to develop a cooperative regional strategy to prevent further LRA atrocities. This collective response should have four main elements:

  1. Coordinated military actions to apprehend the ICC-indicted LRA leadership.
  2. Enticements to rank-and-file LRA to return home through offers of amnesty, improved reintegration packages, and programs targeted at improving the capacity of war-affected communities to accept and absorb former fighters.
  3. Measures to sever the LRA's supply lines by establishing a Sanctions Committee through the UN Security Council to investigate sources of support and recommend offenders for multilateral sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans.
  4. Steps to contain the LRA within the remote jungles of Congo to neutralize the threat they present to civilian populations. If military force must be used, national armies should operate in concert but within their own borders.

A forum must be created where all LRA-affected countries and the UN missions in Sudan and Congo can sit at a single table to discuss and coordinate this collective response. The United States can play an important role in ensuring that the countries work together and have the necessary capabilities to implement any backup regional security strategy. The Ugandan army has drastically improved on its poor history of protecting civilians from LRA attacks. Camps are better protected than in the past and troops have been deployed to prevent the LRA in Sudan and Congo from crossing back into Uganda. The Ugandan government should take the next steps to improve security by providing a capable police force in the war-affected areas and rebuilding the court system to enforce the rule of law.

The Ugandan government and the international community must also work to ensure that the shifting security situation in the north does not create as many problems as it solves. Adequate resettlement packages and essential services must be provided to displaced civilians who move to smaller, newly created decongestion sites instead of returning home. Rather than cutting down aid, as the World Food Program may be forced to do because of a lack of donor support, aid agencies and the international community must work with the Ugandan government to take advantage of improved security to alleviate humanitarian suffering by providing more relief. Without access to aid and resettlement packages, competition and conflict over land — the one productive resource remaining for the Acholi — will increase. The development of a new national land policy is urgently needed, but has been put on hold due to a lack of funding.

Rebuilding the Family Structure: There should be an emphasis, specifically by the Ugandan government, to address the effect that the conflict has had on Ugandan youth. A new study conducted by UC Berkeley and Tulane University revealed that as many as 38,000 children and 37,000 adults have been abducted by the LRA over the last 11 years—nearly double previous estimates. According to the report, 61 percent of former abductees were between the ages of 10 and 18 when they arrived at reception and rehabilitation centers. Given the scale and degree of abuse, on top of focusing the peace process between the Ugandan government and LRA, there also should be an emphasis on community-level healing processes. The conflict has brought about a disintegration of the family structure and the children have been affected the most as a result. Rebuilding at the community level is important for post-conflict societies, and initiatives such as having members of the community embrace youth victims who have suffered a loss of identity should be made a priority. The community can embrace these victims and instill a new and positive identity. The World Vision Mother Daughter Project and the Agency for Co-operation and Research in Development are calling for these types of programs and believe that the empowerment of women is necessary for the peace process to be upheld, especially at the community level.

Punishment:The International Criminal Court should continue to pursue its case against Joseph Kony and his lieutenants. If a comprehensive peace agreement is in fact implemented, then the UN Security Council should suspend the ICC cases against Kony and other indicted LRA leaders for one year at a time — conditional on their good behavior — in the interest of peace in the region.

The ICC indictments ratcheted up pressure on Kony and the LRA leadership and were crucial in driving them to the bargaining table in July 2005. Strong justice and accountability mechanisms must be central to any meaningful peace agreement to win domestic acceptance and broader international support, but also to deliver justice to victims and deter future crimes.

With respect to the indicted commanders, the most principled, pragmatic compromise balancing the short-term interests of peace and longer-term interest of justice would be third-country asylum for the indicted LRA commanders in a country that is not a member of the ICC. If the LRA undermines the talks or is responsible for their collapse, then regional partners in collaboration with the international community must exert all efforts to apprehend the indicted and bring them to justice.

Traditional reconciliation ceremonies are important to ensure reintegration and rehabilitation of returning LRA fighters. However, they are not sufficiently adapted to the scale, scope, and nature of the current conflict's crimes and must be supplemented with more formal mechanisms.

ENOUGH Activist Agenda

Be an Icon
Sign up to join this year's GuluWalk and "be an icon" for the children of northern Uganda. On Saturday, October 20, 2007, tens of thousands of people in hundreds of cities around the world will be coming together to raise their voices and raise money for a generation of children being left behind in northern Uganda and further efforts to achieve sustainable peace. An 'icon' is defined as an important and enduring symbol and by signing up to participate in this global initiative, you'll be standing up (and walking) for what's right. This event is for everyone and there's no cost to sign up and walk. Click here to 'Be an Icon' and choose to be an important and enduring symbol for the children on northern Uganda.


With peace talks at a make-or-break point, this is a crucial moment for the people of northern Uganda — and your voice can make a difference. By contacting your elected representatives, you will be joining thousands of concerned activists from across the country in "leading their leaders" on this issue. Ensure that your elected officials know that their constituents care about northern Uganda and bringing an end to this conflict.

For those of you with the passion and the means, set up a meeting with your member of Congress to show them that resolving the crisis in Darfur is a priority of yours, and should be one of theirs, too.

Call your Senators and member of Congress at 1-202-224-3121 (9:00am–6:00pm EST, Monday through Friday) and tell them to:

  • urge the Bush administration to support the peace process financially, and use its significant leverage with the Ugandan government to exhaust all peaceful options for resolving the conflict.

Call the White House at 1-202-456-1414 or e-mail at, and tell President Bush to:

  • appoint a senior diplomat to work in direct support of the peace process and in close collaboration and coordination with the UN Special Envoy, support the process financially, and use its significant leverage with the Ugandan government to exhaust all peaceful options to resolving the conflict.




Read recent opinion pieces and articles by Crisis Group:


Read Crisis Group reports and briefings.

Watch actor Ryan Gosling and John Prendergast discuss the ongoing conflict on ABC's television news program Be Seen, Be Heard, broadcast in March 2007:

  • Part 1, Ryan Gosling and Crisis Group Senior Advisor John Prendergast hope to effect change in Uganda.
  • Part 2, Fear of civil war in Uganda overshadows the recent cease-fire.


Go to Reuters AlertNet for the latest humanitarian developments, and see what World Vision, International Rescue Committee and Oxfam are doing to respond to the crisis.