Reconciliation is the best way in dispensing justice to the victims of the Ugandan Northern war conflict. “What I prefer is a truth and reconciliation commission, like that of South Africa, to allow us to decide who did what during the conflict by telling the truth,” says Democratic Party president Norbert Mao. “The truth and reconciliation commission approach to address the abuse of human rights during the Northern war conflict will allow Ugandans to tell the truth and be addressed accordingly.”
By Leiuh Asuman Wakida with our Top Partner The Uganda Eye
In January 2004, the Government of Uganda reported the top five Lord’s Resistance Army commanders to the International Criminal Court that has its seat in The Hague, Netherlands over the human rights abuses committed by the rebels during the 20year Northern conflict, that has left millions homeless and thousands killed.
Asked why he prefers reconciliation to criminal proceedings in the court, Mao gave three reasons to support his opinion. “We don’t support the idea of ICC because I believe we as Ugandans can address Northern human rights abuses committed during the conflict and that is the best way to go,” said Mao.
He also pointed out that the ICC is very expensive for many victims of the Northern conflict who make up the majority. “I support the reconciliation process because ICC is very expensive for the ordinary people who make up the majority of the victims,” revealed Mao.
Thirdly, Mao also thinks that most Ugandans don’t understand the way the ICC speaks justice: “The ICC is alien and many people don’t understand its process; that is why I prefer reconciliation, to reconcile our country.”
The government targeted very few suspects of human rights abuses of the Northern war conflicts and these are the top five LRA rebel commanders who include Joseph Kony, the top commander; the late Vincent Otti who was the second in command, Raska Lukwiya, Oket Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen.
His reasoning corroborates with Sultan Kasimu Opio who lost his aunt Akullo Akile and his sister Friday Angomu who was abducted by the LRA during an attack on Omoro village in Lira.
The LRA rebels are famously known for the aggravated human rights abuses against humanity and war crimes during the Northern bloody conflict.
“My sister Friday Angomu was abducted by the LRA rebels from Aboke Girls’ secondary school and she appeared after several years of captivity with one boy and also pregnant,” said a tearful Opio.
Opio said his uncle, John, was abducted by the same rebels and produced him in pieces after one month of captivity and rebels warned them of more punishments if any family member tried to revenge. Opio, married to one wife and with five children, fled the area and found himself in his present-day residence at Kireka and now lives a pauper’s life.
“We were dispersed into disarray and most of my relatives never made it to their safety destination as they were either killed by the rebels or angry residents who mistook them for rebels,” said Opio. He claims he never attended their burials and this has left a grey area in his life which he says will be very difficult to forget the rest of his life.
However, Opio, like many other victims of the northern conflict, prefers reconciliation to criminal proceedings preferred by the government.
Most victims prefer the traditional justice system popularly known as ‘Mato oput’ which involves both parties reconciling with each other. “Both parties present a sheep and the blood from these animals is mixed with the top most ‘oput’ tree leaves and brewed. Both parties take the brew symbolizing the bitterness in their hearts,” explained Opio.
Both parties forgive each other and swear publicly never to go at war again with each other and this completes the reconciliation process. “What we need today is reconciliation between us and the perpetuators and not the criminal proceedings against them,” said Opio.
The government of Uganda reported the top LRA commanders to the ICC in The Hague who were indicted for crimes against humanity and war crimes. LRA boss Joseph Kony was charged with 12 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder, inducing rape, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population and forced enlisting of children.
Uganda’s parliament ratified the ICC treaty in June 2002 and she is a dully signed-up member of the International Criminal Court. There is relative peace now in the North and many people are now back to their homes, but the victims still demand justice to be done.
Read more from our Top Partner The Uganda Eye