The International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted five top leaders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), including the commander Joseph Kony, in October 2005 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity including abduction and sexual enslavement of children.
However, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has announced a total amnesty for Kony, on condition that the rebel leader renounced terrorism and accepted peace. Talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA are due to start on 12 July in Juba, Sudan.
In an interview with IRIN at The Hague on Thursday, the ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo insisted that Kony eventually has to face trial. Below are excerpts:
QUESTION: How do you respond to President Museveni’s statement that the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, would be offered a total amnesty [despite his indictment by the ICC] if next week’s peace talks are successful?
ANSWER: We are a prosecutor’s office. We cannot make any comment on how the President of Uganda executes his mandate. What we know is that Uganda helped to carry out our investigations. We collected evidence showing how the LRA systematically attacked civilians, abducted children to use them as soldiers or as sex slaves. We even have evidence that Joseph Kony himself has been raping girls. We will show all this during the trial.
We believe that the best way to finally stop the conflict after 19 years is to arrest the top leaders. In the end, the LRA is an involuntary army [since] the majority of fighters are abducted children. Arresting the leaders is the best way to stop those crimes. That is our mission and we believe that we will achieve it in the long run. It is a challenge not for Uganda, Sudan or the [Democratic Republic of] Congo. It is a challenge for the international community. This is a new court supported by 100 states. We do our judicial work; we cannot be involved in the rest.
Q: After President Museveni’s declaration, did you get in touch with Ugandan authorities to seek clarification on the meaning and implication [of the amnesty offer]?
A: We have a clear relationship with Uganda and we expect them to execute their legal duties. We hope this will be done.
Q: How do you qualify cooperation between the ICC and Sudan on the one hand and the ICC and Uganda on the other, now that the two nations seem to prefer putting peace before justice?
A: The Ugandan government helped us a lot during the investigation. They [Ugandan authorities] have a duty to execute the arrest warrants [issued against the five LRA leaders in October 2005] because they are a member of the ICC. The case of Sudan is different. Sudan is not party to the ICC, but in October 2005, that country voluntarily signed an agreement committing itself to execute the warrants and that is very important.
I remember meeting local people in northern Uganda who were telling me that the most important issue was to make sure that Sudan was not supporting Kony. That is why it is very important that they [the Sudanese authorities] signed an agreement. Also, the current peace process is the consequence of our warrants because they pushed Kony to move from his safe haven in southern Sudan into [the DR] Congo. There was pressure. Now he [Kony] is trying to transform the situation and our worry is that in the past he used this time to re-arm and attack again. But in the long run, Kony will be arrested.
Q: Do you fear that the ICC could be accused of sabotaging the ongoing peace efforts?
A: Our efforts to render justice [will] help to restore peace in Uganda. I met the Sudanese foreign affairs minister in 2004 and he told me that Sudan was no longer supporting the LRA. Sudan reduced its support because we intervened. The [DR] Congo too has requested MONUC [the UN Peace keeping force] to arrest Kony because that country is party to the ICC. I think the court is helping. We have a mandate to render justice. We want just the five top leaders. They can do whatever with the others; they can invite them to come out as most of them are former abducted children.
Q: Kony’s deputy, Vincent Otti, says the ICC should send a team to their hideout in the Garamba national park in north-eastern DR Congo to hear their version of the story. Will you respond to the invitation?
A: This is a court. The court has to respect the law. We have to respect the victims. If these people want to give their version, they have to come to the court. The judges will guarantee their rights and safety and they will receive legal advice.