What's ICC up to in northern Uganda?; Is the International Criminal Court (ICC) a facilitator of peace in northern Uganda or a stumbling block? Michael Bartlet looks at the dilemma facing northern Uganda, the ICC, and the prospect of peace.

Author:Barlet, Michale

The 22-year-old rebellion in northern Uganda has killed tens of thousands and laid waste to a generation. Once described by the UN undersecretary, Jan Egeland, as the "biggest neglected humanitarian emergency in the world", the brutal war conducted by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has resulted in children being abducted to become soldiers and sexual partners, forced the displacement of nearly two million people, and devastated the region agriculturally and economically.

The rebellion has been fought to a stalemate in which the rebels cannot take over even regional government but neither can the government dislodge them from the borders with Sudan and Congo. Peace talks mediated by the Sudanese vice-president, Riek Machar, began two years ago, leading to a cessation of hostilities on 26 August 2006. Since then, there have been agreements on "comprehensive solutions", "reconciliation and accountability", "permanent ceasefire" and "disarmament and demobilisation".


In early 2008, the delegations initialled a "final peace agreement" but on 10 April the LRA leader, Joseph Kony failed to turn up in Ri-Kwang-Ba (South Sudan) to sign.

At the nub of his refusal was unwillingness to face trial before an international tribunal and the adequacy of arrangements for an alternative. He claimed that he did not understand the relationship between a proposed special division of the Ugandan high court, for trying crimes committed during the conflict and traditional Acholi justice mechanisms.

So to what extent does Kony's failure to show up now put the whole process at risk? The International Criminal Court (ICC) is pivotal to the conflict. While supporters credit it with bringing the LRA to the negotiating table, and undermining Sudan's support for the LRA, detractors criticise it for failure to hold the Ugandan government to account for war crimes and scuppering a final agreement.

President Yoweri Museveni referred the situation to the ICC in December 2003. In July 2005, the court issued arrest warrants against Kony and four senior commanders.

The court illustrates a complex relationship between justice and peace. While the UN Security Council recognises that the worst crimes are a "threat to international peace and security", many community leaders feel that the arrest warrants, which cannot be withdrawn without the consent of the court, are themselves a tangible threat to peace in northern Uganda.

Since the cessation of...

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