Does international criminal justice promote the settlement of on-going conflicts or does it, in contrast, stand in the way of peace agreements? This question has become one of the most pressing in the fields of international criminal law and transitional justice. The debate is perhaps best illustrated in Uganda where in mid-2006, after a twenty-year civil war, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that plagued northern Uganda with twenty years of violence, has become engaged in the most serious peace negotiations to date. In the eyes of some at least, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments against the LRA now stand in the way of a final peace deal.
Having just returned from a second field research trip to Uganda to investigate this tension between peace and justice, I thought I would use this entry to offer some preliminary thoughts that are the subject of a current work in progress. Specifically, I want first to address briefly the nature of the ICC’s impact on the conflict and the peace talks and, second, to suggest a possible means of achieving both peace and justice in Uganda.
By way of background, in December 2003, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni referred crimes committed in Northern Uganda to the ICC. Subsequent to the Ugandan referral and an investigation by the ICC, the Court returned indictments against five LRA leaders. Soon thereafter, in late June 2006, the LRA expressed willingness to engage in a new round of peace talks with the Ugandan government. This latest round of negotiations quickly came to appear far more promising than any of the previous efforts. However, the LRA leadership has repeatedly stated that the withdrawal of ICC indictments remains a prerequisite to ultimate settlement. In late June 2007, the Ugandan Government and the LRA reached an agreement laying out the principles of justice and accountability for settlement of the conflict, which contemplated domestic proceedings with alternative sentences and possibly even the use of traditional justice mechanisms. Despite the flexibility with respect to justice and accountability indicated in the agreement, almost to the day, the ICC Prosecutor took an extremely firm line in a major public address in Nuremberg, Germany, essentially excluding any possibility that his office would seek to have the warrants withdrawn. In the words of the Prosecutor: “for each situation in which the ICC is exercising jurisdiction, we can hear voices challenging judicial decisions, their timing, their timeliness, asking the Prosecution to use its discretionary powers to adjust to the situations on the ground. . . . These proposals are not consistent with the Rome Statute. They undermine the law that states committed to.”