War crime indictments against Ugandan rebels serve vital purpose, says UN aid official

USG Jan Egeland briefs Security Council

15 September 2006 – The concern shared by some locals in Uganda that International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments against leaders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) could jeopardize the peace process in the country’s north do not outweigh the need to ensure there is no impunity for mass murder, the top United Nations humanitarian official said today.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told the Security Council that during his recent visit to Uganda, where the LRA and Government forces have signed a ceasefire after 20 years of conflict, that the indictments dominated his discussions with internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and civil society groups.

Many IDPs told Mr. Egeland, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, that if the indictments were not lifted, they could threaten the outcome of peace talks to permanently end the conflict.

“I said I believed the indictments had been a factor in pushing the LRA into negotiations, that the indictments should not disrupt the talks, and that there could be no impunity for mass murder and crimes against humanity,” he told Council members in his briefing.

Mr. Egeland called on the parties to “look now at the different ways to develop a solution that meets local needs for reconciliation and universal standards of justice and accountability. I believe this can be done, and that peace and justice can work together.”

Last October the ICC issued its first-ever arrest warrants against Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, and four of the group’s commanders, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Those commanders are Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya.

During the brutal civil war, the LRA became notorious for abducting children and then using them as soldiers and porters, while subjecting some to extreme violence and allocating many girls to senior officers in a form of institutional rape.

In his briefing Mr. Egeland described the situation in northern Uganda as “more promising than it has been in years,” with improvements on almost every key indicator.

The number of “night commuters” – children who leave their homes every day after dusk to avoid being abducted by the LRA – has fallen from last year’s high of 40,000 to an estimated 10,000. Security has also increased so drastically in some areas that humanitarian workers have won access to camps they had not been able to reach for years.

Mr. Egeland urged the Council to consolidate those promising signs by demonstrating strong support for the peace talks between the Government and the LRA and by prodding the two sides to strike a final agreement as soon as possible.

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