A new development threatens to derail the recent ceasefire between LRA rebels and the Ugandan government. The snag? Indicted war criminal Joseph Kony and two other LRA leaders — perpetrators of gross human rights abuses, including mutilation, sexual abuse, and recruitment of child soldiers — have refused to accept the deal unless ICC arrest warrants are dropped.
This dynamic brings into focus the extremely frustrating tension between securing peace and holding perpetrators of mass violence accountable for their crimes. To draw combatants to the negotiating table, mediators cannot exactly trumpet plans to arrest their leaders. However, whitewashing war crimes out of the urgency to enact a peace accord — particularly one with groups that have a less-than-stellar history of abiding by ceasefires — would severely undermine the legitimacy of the peace process, damage the entire notion of accountability, and jeopardize the prospects for post-conflict reconciliation.In Uganda, the ICC is clearly justified in — and should be commended for — issuing indictments to the ringleaders of one of the world’s most vicious — and ideologically incoherent (Kony’s only stated goal is the implementation of rule of law based on the Ten Commandments) — rebel groups. Similarly, in Darfur — where the ICC is operating for the first time without the consent of the host country — the ICC’s indictments of two senior government officials, Ahmad Haroun and Ali Kushayb, represents a key step in both establishing the staying power of the young international court and achieving a just peace in Sudan.
At the same time, however, the need for peace is paramount. A sustainable end to the long-running conflict in northern Uganda would be a welcome breath of fresh air to a region mired in turmoil. The roadblocks to peace in Darfur are even more substantial than those in Uganda, but there too, Sudanese officials’ fear of being brought to The Hague is the primary impetus behind its rejection of the ICC and its stubborn reluctance to allow non-African peacekeepers on its soil.
In both Uganda and Darfur, justice should not be sacrificed for peace; the one simply cannot operate without the other. The ICC cannot be seen as capitulating to war criminals. That said, it would be tragic, for both the court and the people of northern Uganda, if this latest ceasefire were to unravel before it even had a chance to survive.