Ugandan President urge rebels to accept traditional justice system

By Peter Clottey

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni says he hopes the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels will choose what he calls the "soft landing" approach of local justice systems to atone for their crimes, rather than face prosecution by the International Criminals Court (ICC). Human rights groups, however, have criticized the government for providing the rebels an opportunity to escape punishment for the crimes they have allegedly committed against people in northern Uganda. For its part, the LRA says it will not sign any deal unless the International Criminal Court (ICC) drops indictments against their four top commanders for atrocities.

In Kampala, spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye of Uganda's ministry of defense tells the Voice Of America that President Museveni's "soft landing" offer is clearly the best alternative for the rebels.

"To begin with, according to the national constitution, anybody who fights the state or government commits treason and therefore is a subject of the courts, and the event of conviction would be punished either by death or life imprisonment. So, by offering them amnesty the government is giving them a soft landing. Secondly, the government offering to engage the ICC in favor of an alternative traditional justice mechanism is equally a soft landing. Otherwise, they would be facing the ICC and in most cases if they are found guilty, would face life imprisonment, I'm sure," he noted.

Major Kulayigye denies that the government is giving the rebels an escape route by advocating the use of a traditional justice system rather than facing prosecution by the ICC.

"The government cannot shy away. After all it's the government that referred the case to the ICC. The purpose of the government going in for the traditional justice mechanism is that, it would achieve justice on the culprits, but at the same time it would be promoting reconciliation between the victims and the perpetrators," he said.

Kulayigye said the ongoing peace talks face a big hurdle with the rebels' demand for ICC warrants against its top leadership to be lifted.

"Of course that's the only point of contention between the government and the LRA, in that whereas the LRA wants the ICC warrants lifted, the government insists you cannot lift the ICC warrants without a credible alternative, that would ensure justice and accountability. But we are sure impunity has been addressed," Kulayigye pointed out.

He said the government is holding talks with the ICC to find an alternate way to deal with the rebels' request that would fall within international standards.

"That is why it's the question of negotiations and discussions with the International Criminal Court. It's not about unilaterally deciding to ignore the ICC warrants, but rather to positively engage the ICC to provide an alternative. If that alternative indeed meets international standards of justice and accountability, I'm sure it would it would indeed enable the Ugandan government to undertake meaningful reconciliation that would lead to permanent peace," he noted.