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Ugandans want LRA, UPDF offenders tried for war crimes

By Rukia Makuma

A report on the Transitional Justice Bill that seeks protection for victims and witnesses and prosecution for war crimes perpetrators in Uganda has distributed responsibility among the LRA and government forces.

The UNDP report, ‘Transitional Justice in Northern, Eastern Uganda and some parts of West Nile,’ was launched on December 14, 2009. The UNDP handed over the report on behalf of the Justice, Law and Order Sector to the Principal Judge James Ogoola.

Ogoola said the bill focuses on three main areas: establishment of a formal mechanism to hear war crimes, cases of commanders who ordered genocide and atrocities; establishment of a truth telling commission like the South African commission which would be used to ask tough questions, about problems leading to wars and how to avoid the recurrence; and the establishment traditional justice where some combatants would be reintegrated into society.

Ogoola said the provisions of the bill must be in conformity with the Rome Statute since Uganda is a signatory to it. The Rome Statute was set up by the International Criminal Court to try crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

He said that the tenure of the war crimes court, provided for under the bill, will continue even after the LRA trials to handle similar crimes that may occur in future. Ogoola said a registrar and three judges have already been appointed for the war crimes court. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Ogoola said, has attached six prosecutors to the court and police have offered 12 of their best investigators to assist in the trials. He said all of them have been undergoing training for the past year.

Theophane Nikyema, the UNDP resident representative and UN coordinator who handed over the report, appreciated Uganda’™s efforts to ensure that transitional justice is understood by JLOS. The Uganda government and communities put up measures such as amnesty for rebels and the traditional cleansing system among the Acholi and Langi.

According to the study findings contained in the report, religious institutions are the most trusted to facilitate the reconciliation process. The report says 53% of the respondents believe religious organisations would ensure reconciliation followed by 51% for the traditional institutions. In the Acholi region however the traditional method was the most preferred at 65% and 64% among men and women respectively. A total of 48% respondents think government can bring reconciliation better than any other institution while 25% believe NGOs are the best. Other structures which people believe can ensure reconciliation included international agencies at 35% of respondents, regional governments at 23%, foreign governments at 11%, and elders/chiefs at 19% and unity/reconciliation institutions at 11%.

On the culpability of crime, 74% of the respondents said LRA top leaders should be held accountable while 25% of the thought the LRA rank and file should be held culpable. One out of every four respondents who supported holding perpetrators answerable think that government should be held accountable while 16% thought Karimojong warriors should be blamed. 13% of the respondents thought that government security forces should also be tried. These include intelligence organisations, the army and the auxiliary security forces. When asked about options that would bring reconciliation, 45% thought that outright forgiveness was the best option, 46% thought confession and apologies would be appropriate before perpetrators can be pardoned.

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