Major steps towards peace in a decades-old conflict
Young boys preparing land for cultivation in northern
Uganda, having left the IDP camps as peace talks
progress. IRIN/Manoocher Deghati
While increased violence in other African countries grabbed the world’s attention, there has been a quiet but steady progress over the past two years towards ending one of the continent’s longest and most notorious armed conflicts – the war in northern Uganda.
Two decades after the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) launched its war in northern Uganda, persistent peacemaking efforts are finally bearing fruit. The conflict appears on the verge of resolution, as a result of internationally mediated talks between the Ugandan Government and the LRA which have accelerated at the beginning of 2008. A final peace agreement is now slated to be signed in the first week of April.
Current peace efforts, known as the “Juba” process after the town in Southern Sudan which has hosted the negotiations, are being facilitated on the UN side by Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique and Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the peace process in northern Uganda. Working closely with the chief mediator in the talks, Mr. Riek Machar, the Vice-President of the Government of Southern Sudan, Mr. Chissano has helped at critical times to reinforce the peace process, particularly through his discussions with the LRA leadership in the bush and with key international and regional actors assisting the effort.
The first major step forward came in August 2006 when the two sides signed a cessation of hostilities agreement which has since been converted into a formal ceasefire. The accord, effectively stopping the fighting while negotiations continued, brought relief to a suffering civilian population and gave space for the political efforts to flourish. This was followed in mid-2007 by the signing of agreements setting out the broad contours of a final settlement based on comprehensive solutions to the conflict – including measures to address the economic, political and social difficulties in northern Uganda, as well as a set of principles on human rights, accountability and reconciliation. As a further confidence-building measure, LRA representatives were welcomed on an official visit to Uganda towards the end of 2007.
A series of more detailed agreements signed in quick succession early in 2008 has brought the two sides close to a final settlement. These include accords on a legal framework for justice and reconciliation, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants and the recovery of war-affected areas of northern Uganda. Close attention is being paid in particular to the issue of accountability for human rights abuses, for which the International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants against senior LRA leaders. The United Nations has made clear its position against impunity, and has called for credible implementation of the commitment by the Government to establish a special court within Uganda to try those persons accused of the most serious crimes.
Following the signing of a final peace settlement, the United Nations is preparing to play a continued role along with others in the international community in assisting the parties in northern Uganda as they take on the difficult and long-term process of implementing the agreements.
- The Lord’s Resistance Army has been fighting the Government of Uganda since the mid-1980s. In all, the conflict is estimated to have killed tens of thousands and forced nearly 2 million Ugandans to flee their homes, while also spilling over into Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- Human rights abuses were widespread. The LRA became notorious for abducting children and then using them as soldiers or porters, while subjecting some to torture and allocating many girls to senior officers in a form of institutional rape. Ugandan Government forces are also implicated in abuses in their counterinsurgency efforts.
- In addition to establishing a national judicial process for serious crimes, the two parties have agreed to other measures aimed at fostering reconciliation. These include the establishment of a truth-commission-style body to examine the history of the conflict and programs of reparations for victims of the violence.
- The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has urged all sides to ensure the immediate and safe return home of roughly 1,500 women and children still associated with the LRA.
- An estimated one million people have returned home since the 2006 ceasefire, but some 850,000 people continue to live in camps for internally displaced persons, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
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