Arrest warrants escalate war in Uganda

On October 13, the International Criminal Court (ICC) unsealed arrest warrants for five leaders of the Ugandan cult-like gang the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA has for many years brutalized the civilian population of Northern Uganda, and abducted thousands of children, sometimes forcing the children to kill their own parents.

Yet, these indictments have the potential to derail peace negotiations and to give the Ugandan military another excuse to escalate the 19-year brute-force effort to eradicate the LRA. In the past, the LRA has responded to such stepped-up efforts with bloody, violent vengeance. Some see the recent killings of aid workers in Northern Uganda as a indication that an escalation is imminent. One of the immediate effects will be that the work of the aid agencies will be much harder and much more dangerous. That will make it very difficult to get aid to the 1.6 million Ugandans living in camps, due to the war.

As much as people suffering under the scourge of the LRA yearn for justice, the arrest warrants have the potential to make their lives a lot more miserable:

“This war has already lasted 19 years and an entire generation has never known peace. We are desperate for an end to this conflict. Many people dream of the day when the rebel leaders will have to stand trial for the crimes they have committed. We are really worried that this dream won’t become a reality,” said Emma Naylor, Oxfam’s Country Programme Manager in Uganda. “For two decades it has been impossible to apprehend the rebel leaders. The communities that we work with are already asking how the arrest warrants will be served. There is a lot of confusion and it’s fast turning to fear.”

With no means to implement the arrest warrants the ICC has to rely on the support of the Ugandan Government and the wider international community. With a reputation for heavy-handed military intervention, aid agencies are fearful that efforts by the Ugandan forces to make arrests will put abducted children – who make up the majority of the LRA rebels – in even greater danger.

“Over 80 per cent of LRA fighters are abducted children held against their will, terrorised and forced to fight,” said Emma Naylor. “Our biggest fear is that arrest warrants will be an excuse for military forces to go in all guns blazing and these children will be killed or injured in a hail of bullets,” said Naylor. “We need to find ways to help these children come home and be accepted back into their communities.”
Recent killings of aid workers leave hundreds of thousands without help and living in fear in Northern Uganda, Oxfam, 26 October 2005

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