UGANDA: Penal code to incorporate traditional justice system

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Uganda will amend its penal code to enable alleged war crimes committed during more than two decades of conflict in the north to be prosecuted within the traditional justice system, said a government minister.

Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, who is also the government's team leader in the peace talks with the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), told reporters on 4 July that the Ugandan penal code would have to be changed to provide for the Mato Oput system practised by the Acholi community of northern Uganda, who have been most affected by the conflict.

Government and LRA delegations to the peace talks in the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba reached an agreement on 29 June on the principles for handling accountability and reconciliation for crimes committed during the conflict.

"The parties committed themselves to ensuring accountability and reconciliation," said Rugunda. "This will require all those who committed crimes to admit the crimes they committed. They will be taken through a transparent justice mechanism to be agreed upon."

Those who confess to war crimes under the Mato Oput mechanism will be required to ask for forgiveness and pay reparations.

Government soldiers accused of human rights abuses will, however, continue to be tried under martial law, the minister said.

Comparing the two justice systems, Ruganda said the national penal code was punitive, while Mato Oput was "restorative [and] hence promotes reconciliation".

"We agreed to formulate and adopt an alternative justice mechanism which will draw on the strengths of the two justice mechanisms and address the weaknesses of each system," he said. "By so doing, the question of impunity will be addressed while at the same time reconciliation will be promoted."

Civilians have borne the blunt of the two-decade civil war in northern Uganda, subjected to murder, mutilation, arson and abductions, with the LRA being widely blamed for the atrocities.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted five LRA commanders, including the group's leader, Joseph Kony, and his deputy Vincent Otti - a development that has angered the rebels who now insist that the indictments must be lifted if the ongoing talks in Juba are to succeed.

The Ugandan government, which initially wanted the ICC to try LRA war crimes suspects, in 2006 announced a blanket amnesty for the LRA and now appears to prefer that the issue of justice be addressed locally.

However, on 14 June, the ICC reaffirmed its desire to ensure the LRA leaders are tried in court. Answering a question from reporters on the five who had not been picked up although arrest warrants had been issued, ICC Registrar Bruno Cathala said he wanted those people in the courtroom. "And we will get them, and that is for sure," he said.

Source: IRIN