Select Committee on International Development Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Department for International Development



Brief history of the conflict

  1.  The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), under the leadership of Joseph Kony, has been active since late 1987, operating until recently out of bases in southern Sudan. The LRA emerged out of the remnants of Alice Lakwena's Holy Spirit Movement, which attracted substantial popular support in Acholi parts of northern Uganda in 1986 and 1987. Lakwena herself and a group known as the Uganda Peoples Defence Army emerged following the overthrow in 1986 of the regime of Tito Okello (an ethnic Acholi) by President Museveni's National Resistance Army. At its peak in 1998/1999 the LRA's strength was probably in the region of 6000. Following the loss of its permanent bases in southern Sudan, and intense military pressure since 2002, it probably now numbers not more than 3000 (including women and children), almost all of whom are currently located in southern Sudan or north eastern DRC.

  2.  The LRA is often characterised as a cult rather than a recognisable political movement. Joseph Kony is seen by his senior commanders as a powerful spirit medium who can foretell the future and control physical events from a distance. This could in part explain the group's resilience as it enables Kony and his commanders to exercise a degree of control over their subordinates that goes beyond normal military command structures.

  3.  The LRA's adoption of increasingly appalling methods, (including child abduction and brutalisation, and the mutilation, rape and murder of civilians) quickly reduced any support it might have expected to enjoy amongst the Acholi. Kony has complained bitterly that some Acholi elders who he claims "gave him their blessing" to wage war against Museveni abandoned him. The relationship between the LRA and the population has long been fraught with tensions and very practical dilemmas. The LRA is predominantly, though not exclusively, made up of Acholi people. Family and clan links with abducted combatants, and fears for their safety, exist within the community. This, combined with a lack of confidence in the government, means that while the vast majority of people do not support the LRA, and indeed greatly fear them, they may be reluctant to report LRA movements or presence to the Ugandan People's Defence Force (national army). Abuses of human rights by government troops and security agents during the conflict have helped undermine confidence in the government, especially in some rural communities. Although many observers accept that military pressure against the LRA is essential, and has played a part in bringing them to the negotiating table, they also doubt whether it can in itself bring about a lasting resolution to the conflict.

Mediation and the current peace process in Juba

  4.  In the 20 years the LRA insurgency has affected northern Uganda there have been a number of attempts to broker a peace deal. The current initiative is led by the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) with a strong lead from Vice President Dr Riek Machar, who is acting as mediator and hosting the talks in Juba. Negotiations began in July 2006 after a period in which Machar took time to develop direct contact with the LRA leaders including Joseph Kony himself. The LRA delegation is comprised of people largely drawn from Acholi living overseas. LRA leaders are not present in Juba but they are consulted regularly and there have been a number of meetings between the LRA leadership and the Government of Uganda (GoU) delegation. The GoU delegation is led by the Minister of Internal Affairs Dr Ruhakana Rugunda. The UN and civil society are present as observers. The process is largely financed through a fund established by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

  5.  The talks are proceeding through a structured agenda which has five items. These are:

    (i)  Cessation of Hostilities;

    (ii)  Comprehensive solutions;

    (iii)  Reconciliation and Accountability;

    (iv)  Final Ceasefire Agreement; and

    (v)  Disarmament, Demobilisation and Re-integration.

  6.  The first key landmark was the signing of a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (Agenda Item 1) at the end of August 2006. This has since been renewed three times and currently runs to the end of June 2007. The LRA has currently agreed to assemble in one location at Rwi Kwamba, west of the River Nile in southern Sudan (very close to the DRC border). A Cessation of Hostilities Monitoring Team has been established which is currently comprised of representatives of the GoU, LRA, GoSS, African Union, Denmark and Canada.

  7.  The Juba process has so far been characterised by a series of highs and lows. The process stalled and nearly collapsed between Christmas and the end of March when the LRA delegation moved to Nairobi and demanded a change of venue and mediator. Following the intervention of UN Special Envoy Joaquim Chissano a deal was struck whereby it was agreed that the talks would reconvene in Juba and would be strengthened by the presence of observers from several African countries (Kenya, DRC, South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania). Agreements were also reached on a number of other issues raised by the LRA delegation including the payment of allowances and concerns about their personal security. A major breakthrough was achieved when Joseph Kony and Minister Rugunda met in the bush in early March at Chissano's instigation.

  8.  The talks in Juba recommenced on 26 March, and on 2 May the parties reached agreement on Agenda Item 2, Comprehensive Solutions. This covers issues associated with national politics and governance, the security forces, the return and resettlement of internally displaced persons, the economic and social development of northern Uganda and transitional security arrangements. Most of the articles of the agreement draw on existing policies and the provisions of the Constitution. There is provision to return to some issues later in the process. The talks have now moved on to Agenda Item 3, Reconciliation and Accountability. Many feel that this item is the one on which it will be most difficult to reach agreement.

  9.  The peace process is very fragile but it represents the most significant attempt in recent years to end the conflict through dialogue. The Cessation of Hostilities Agreement has been associated with a major improvement in security in northern Uganda. Should the Juba process fail an alternative approach might involve greater regional security co-operation to tackle the LRA combined with a determined effort to encourage middle-ranking commanders and foot soldiers to come out of the bush. But these are much longer-term strategies and they would almost certainly involve further fighting that would prolong both the humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda and the problems faced by abducted children. There would also be implications for the people of southern Sudan and possibly the DRC.


Traditional justice processes in northern Uganda

  10.  The Acholi people of northern Uganda have a traditional process of reconciliation and conflict resolution known as "Mato Oput". In the local Luo language this literally means "to drink a bitter potion made from the leaves of the Oput tree". The ceremony of "Mato Oput" involves the person accepting responsibility for their actions then asking for the forgiveness of the community. The ceremony is conducted by a council of elders.

  11.  Mato Oput ceremonies have already played an important part in helping to reintegrate some LRA combatants who have returned from the bush. The process resonates with the LRA's own strong belief in traditional systems. It undoubtedly has an important part to play in fostering reconciliation and enabling the reintegration of people back into their communities. However the process also has its limitations. For example not all of the victims of the conflict are Acholi and some may not be willing to subscribe to a process that is not part of their tradition.

The Amnesty Act 2000

  12.  In January 2000 President Museveni signed into law an Amnesty for those involved in armed rebellion after 1986. The law began its passage as an offer of limited amnesty excluding certain offences deemed to be particularly severe. But as a result of concerted lobbying by the Acholi community, led by the Religious Leaders, and following a process of national consultation, the scope of the Act was widened to create a comprehensive amnesty managed by an Amnesty Commission. The Act provides a mechanism for receiving, demobilising and resettling insurgents. Under its provisions over 5000 former LRA members have already claimed amnesty. While a number of these have been people who were only abducted for a short period, middle and senior ranking LRA commanders have also claimed Amnesty. Importantly Amnesty provides an exit strategy for LRA combatants. The LRA leadership has recently requested the presence of Amnesty Commission Chairman, Justice Peter Onega at the Juba talks.

The International Criminal Court Warrants

  13.  The International Criminal Court (ICC) commenced a formal investigation in northern Uganda in February 2004 following a referral by the Government of Uganda. On 13 October 2005 the ICC unsealed warrants for the arrest of five LRA Commanders including Joseph Kony and his second-in-command Vincent Otti. One of those indicted, Raska Lukwiya, is believed to have been killed during fighting in August 2006.

  14.  The UK Government is a strong supporter of the ICC, which is a key part of the international community's efforts to combat impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The arrest warrants in northern Uganda were the first to be issued, and ensuring the arrest and transfer of the LRA indictees is a priority for the Court. There is also important read-across to the Court's other investigations in DRC, CAR and Darfur. In Darfur the Court has recently issued arrest warrants for two individuals, including a Government of Sudan Minister.

  15.  The UK view is that justice is an essential part of a sustainable peace. In the case of northern Uganda it is imperative to tackle impunity, to deter others taking up arms and terrorising civilians. We judge that the ICC arrest warrants have contributed to bringing increased international attention to the conflict, reduced logistical support for the LRA, exposed its activities, and helped bring the LRA to the negotiating table.

Reconciliation and Accountability

  16.  The search for conflict resolution has on occasions created some tension between the needs for peace and for justice. As the parties discuss Agenda Item 3, Reconciliation and Accountability, the ICC warrants will be an important subject. The LRA leadership has said that they will not sign a peace agreement unless the warrants are lifted. It is our understanding that work is ongoing within the Juba mediation team to construct a mechanism of reconciliation and accountability that would incorporate elements of traditional justice, the existing Amnesty Act and a national judicial process. This would involve the indictees accepting responsibility for their actions and might provide grounds for the GoU to request the ICC to re-examine the warrants on the basis that a credible alternative form of justice is available.

  17.  However, it is likely to be a very difficult task to deliver a process which is both acceptable to the indictees and genuinely credible in the eyes of the ICC and the international community.

  18.  The ICC warrants are a question for the ICC rather than a UK/Uganda issue. It is welcome that the Ugandan government is maintaining a close dialogue with the Court. In the final analysis it is important that a way forward is found that is compatible with the Rome Statute of the ICC, national laws and the wishes of those affected by the conflict.


The Juba Talks process

  19.  Arguably one of the reasons that the Juba process has made progress is that it is locally owned and led and has a high degree of wider African engagement through the involvement of UN Special Envoy Chissano and observers from Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique and the DRC. The role of the wider international community has been, and should remain at this stage, to support the process financially and diplomatically.

  20.  Financial support to the talks is channeled through a fund, known as the Juba Initiative Fund (JIF), managed by UN OCHA. This pays for the hire of the venue, food and accommodation for the participants, the operational costs of the Cessation of Hostilities Monitoring Team and technical advice on specialist issues. The JIF had an initial operational budget of US$ 4.2 million. This has been fully funded by donors, with the UK making a contribution of approximately US$ 480,000. A request for further support is expected soon.

Work within the UN Security Council and EU Council

  21.  Work at the international level has been important in helping to create space for the current process and support to the efforts of individuals such as Special Envoy Chissano. The UK worked hard to secure EU Council Conclusions in November 2006 and UN Security Council Presidential statements in November 2006 and March 2007. These welcomed the progress made in the Juba talks and called on both sides to fully commit to the mediation process.

  22.  Further work in multilateral settings may be important to respond to emerging needs on the ground and, in the event of talks failing, to consider what next steps the international community should take.

Support to Peace Recovery and Development Efforts

  23.  The conflict has over the years led to strong feelings of alienation and marginalisation in the affected districts. It is important that the peace process is underpinned by transition and recovery programmes that bring tangible benefits to the population, particularly as they return to their homes.

  24.  The GoU is developing a Peace Recovery and Development Programme (PRDP) which is intended to provide a framework for co-ordinated action. The government currently estimates that the PRDP`s costs will be about $180 million per year over three years. The programme requires careful prioritisation. Donors in Uganda are now engaged in discussions on its detailed content. Already, as the security situation in the North has improved, people in some areas have started to return to their home areas and existing programmes are responding to changing needs. For example DFID funding to water activities is being used to both maintain water supplies to those in camps but also to rehabilitate water points in areas where people are returning to their homes. The international community is also responding to efforts to re-establish justice, law and order in the return areas, with programmes in support of the Police and Judiciary already under way.

  25.  During what is likely to be a period of uncertainty it is important that the international community ensures that its support is flexible enough to meet both continuing humanitarian needs and to support recovery where this is possible. The government's engagement is essential to address issues of sustainability and to demonstrate that it is firmly committed to the challenge of tackling the problems of the North.

Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of Combatants

  26.  Sustainable peace will require the successful return and reintegration of LRA combatants. The Amnesty Commission has developed contingency arrangements to help deal with an upsurge in caseload. The numbers of people involved will be relatively small (up to 3,000) and final arrangements will be determined by what emerges from the peace process (Agenda Item 5). Nonetheless donors in Kampala, including DFID, are already involved in discussions with the Amnesty Commission about resource requirements.

  27.  The GoU has identified the need to demobilise some of the auxiliary forces that were recruited to help fight the LRA. Discussions about donor support for this process are also under way.

June 2007

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