International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: Uganda

Uganda’s Human Rights Under Review

a-policemen-fires-a-teargas-canister-in-front-of-opposition-leader-kizza-besigyes-office-in-kampala-uganda-february-19-2016The United Nations Human Rights Council will be reviewing the Uganda’s human rights record tomorrow on 11/3/2016. This will be a usual occurrence as a part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The UPR which was set up in 2006 is a review process which each member state of the UN receives the ability to have their human rights record reviewed. In addition they can speak to what actions they have taken to improve human rights in their state. However in this case it is important to see what the response will be of Uganda. In 2011 the state agreed to a variety of changes that the UN Human Rights Council offered additionally offering to prosecute those violating human rights. However the state has seemed to be relatively ignorant of human right abuses as well as perpetrating some of them. In February of 2016 police were videotaped beating and teargassing people gathered to listen to opposition candidates. But the abuse has not ended there, reporters have been arrested blatantly on air for trying to report on opposition candidates. Contrast to their pledge to prosecute and punish perpetrators it can be seen that no action has been taken even since killings in 2009 and 2011 of protesters and bystanders. The state has reported this year that they have opened up human rights offices and made efforts but it seems they have remained idle. It will remain to be seen what impact the United Nations Human Rights Council will have when reviewing the Ugandan state tomorrow. The state has disregarded the UN Nations Human Rights Council and its recommendations before, only time will tell if real change will occur after this year’s review process.

Photo:A policemen fires a teargas canister in front of opposition leader Kizza Besigye’s office in Kampala, Uganda, February 19, 2016.
© 2016 Reuters

ICC’s Conflict with Africa

africapolitmapWhen the ICC was first created, it had the most support from it’s neighboring countries in Europe, and the second most support by the African nations. Today however, the support of the ICC by African nations has weakened and now some African leaders are trying to convince all African nations to withdraw from the ICC. Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, is the one responsible for this idea. “I will bring a motion to the African Union to have all African states withdraw from the court and then they can be left alone with their own court.” (Museveni). The main argument behind his idea is that the ICC is not treating African leaders with the respect that they deserve. When the ICC first investigated cases in Africa they only went after reel leaders and looked the other way with the governments illegal actions. During this time period, many African nations grew their support towards the ICC. However, things started to change when the ICC started prosecuting both rebel leaders and government officials. One they did this, African nations started to go against the ICC because they were afraid that the ICC would prosecute them for their crimes as well. Now African nations feel as though they are being targeted and the ICC currently has 8 investigations going, all of which are in Africa. What will this mean for the ICC if they lose the support of a whole continent?

The Curious Case of Dominic Ongwen: Child Soldier turned LRA Leader

As we discussed in class, Dominic Ongwen was abducted at age 10, and forced to become a child soldier in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. As the global Kony 2012 campaign asserted, Kony’s LRA thrived off of the kidnapping and manipulation of many young children—forcing hundreds of impressionable youths to commit heinous crimes on behalf of Kony, who is portrayed as “a godly person” (Invisible Children). As many of these blog posts contend, Ongwen’s adult actions (which he will be tried for by the ICC) consist of seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, to echo the sentiments of many of my classmates, “Ongwen is the first person to be tried for the very same crimes for which he was a victim,” introducing an inherent complexity to his case (ckeefe2016’s post). Will it be possible for the ICC to rectify that fact moving forward, and to determine a truly appropriate sentence for him? Will they be able to determine if Ongwen was really responsible for his actions, or if his extensive childhood trauma as a child soldier has forced him to this terrible fate?

Today, data has been collected from “87 war-torn counties,” leading to an estimate that “300,000-500,000 children are involved with fighting forces as child soldiers” (Harvard School of Public Health). These children are forced to commit unspeakable atrocities from age 7, and are even sometimes “injected with drugs to curb their inhibitions against committing violence” (Harvard School of Public Health). According to the Irish Forum for Global Health, “even when being compared to other children that lived through civil wars and have witnessed the brutality of war, former child soldiers suffer from markedly higher levels of psychological disorders” (IFGH). All three of the articles cited above assert that it is critical for child soldiers in the post-conflict environment to receive treatment, in order to overcome the enduring scars from their traumatic experiences. Perhaps the most problematic discrepancy in these international justice cases is the divide between former child soldiers that receive amnesty and mental health care, while others are prosecuted for their crimes. Ongwen is undoubtedly responsible for countless heinous atrocities he committed as Kony’s right-hand man, and should rightfully be punished to the fullest extent of the law for his wrongdoings. However, it becomes troublesome to think that he may have received amnesty if he had not been manipulated from such an early age. Further, this case poses many interesting problems due to the difficulty of assessing the state of mind of Ongwen when he committed these unspeakable atrocities and due to the lack of relevant jurisprudence for the ICC.

LRA Commander, Dominic Ongwen, at the ICC

Ongwen ICCYesterday, Dominic Ongwen made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court.  After doing a little research online in the news and on blogs, see if you can find some answers to the following questions.

Why is this case significant for the ICC? Why is it controversial that he is being charged for atrocity crimes? What have the reactions been from victims in Northern Uganda, and the Ugandan government?

Mato Oput Used to Shield Kony?

Mato oput, translated from the Acholi language literally means, “to drink a bitter potion made from leaves of the oput tree” This action is a form of reconciliation among the Acholi people in Northern Uganda. By drinking this better herb the two conflicting parties are symbolically swallowing the bitterness between them, and promise to not taste such bitterness again. Compensation follows the ceremony and the victim is paid for the harm committed against them/their tribe.


The question remains can mato oput work for mass atrocities? Although the Northern Ugandans prefer traditional justice to the ICC, I do not think that the ICC should do away with the arrest warrants for Joseph Kony and other high-ranking LRA commanders. I do not believe self-help justice can be quelled by simply drinking an herb potion and paying someone money. Perhaps, I am skeptical because I am a Westerner who does not subscribe to the same community, thus culture as the Acholi people. This practice does not aim at establishing whether an individual is guilty. The process simply seeks to restore social harmony.


Mato oput has local legitimacy because there are spiritual elements maintained by the process. Yet, challenges remain of adapting mato oput to LRA crimes. Not everyone has a clan that is still able to uphold diplomacy because many of the clans have dispersed due to violence. Clans do not have the same leadership as they once had. The scale of the crimes is also much grander and there might not be enough compensation to go around to each person. Also, as Northern Uganda tries to modernize there is the challenge of harboring the same legitimacy to the process among youth that the elders give to mato oput.

Allen hints that the reification of local rituals in a form of semi-official traditional justice has dangers that are underappreciated. The increase use and perception of mato oput legitimacy has given way to external funding. Most Acholi have decided to promote reconciliation via this “legitimate” traditional method. Could it be that mato oput is a way for Uganda to justify impunity/ to shield well-known perpetrators such as Kony? If this is the case then this local tradition violates international law.

Kony “Seeking Forgiveness”


A recent article published in Uganda’s (privately owned) Daily Monitor newspaper reports of a letter from Joseph Kony to Ugandans claiming a desire to resume peace talks:

“We are willing and ready to forgive and seek forgiveness, and continue to seek peaceful means to end this war which has cut across a swathe of Africa for the people of the Great Lakes and the Nile-Congo Basin to find peace.”

Not surprisingly, Kony also seeks to share blame for war crimes  and deaths that have occurred over the course of the rebellion with the government, and even claims that his actions were committed out of self defense while some atrocities, such as the massacres in northern Uganda, were also committed by the UPDF to “spoil” his name. Let’s pretend for a moment that Kony is sincere about making peace; are successful peace talks and an apology from the LRA really enough to foster reconciliation? Furthermore, even if peace is reached between the LRA and the Ugandan government the ICC will still maintain its outstanding warrant against Joseph Kony for the crimes he committed in the past.

Strangely enough, in Kony’s letter he additionally appeals to the ICC, the institution he has publicly denounced and evaded for years, to investigate crimes committed by President Museveni and General Sejusa. This is especially surprising considering the fact that the 2008 government-LRA peace talks hosted in South Sudan primarily collapsed due to Kony’s insistence that the ICC drop its warrant against him. Other than attempting to provide a possible defense for himself if convicted, what could Kony possibly hope to achieve by making these claims against the government with whom he “hopes” to reconcile?

Realism and the ICC

International relations scholars as well as ordinary people have accepted that the international system is anarchic in nature, meaning there is no actor above states capable of regulating their interaction. Thus, states must arrive at relations with other states on their own, rather than it being dictated to them by some higher controlling entity. Moreover, many believe that the international system exists in a state of constant antagonism. States are also the most important actors in this system, and they are unitary and rational pursuing self-interest.

Yet, in this anarchic system, it is unclear where the ICC stands. It is an institution that operates outside of the sovereignty of states on a complementarity principle. While it operates a “back-up,” it can intervene without the consent of sovereign states because overarching international individuals believe that sovereign states are inadequately running their government or judicial procedures.

Despite the fact that states are rational actors who should be able to perceive when to call in international reinforcements, the ICC overrides their sovereignty when it gets involved. For example, in the Uganda case, it is clear that the state authorities thought themselves to be capable of handling the LRA commanders, yet the ICC still indicted Joseph Kony and four other elite LRA commanders. Are there abuses that are able to transcend sovereignty to necessitate international involvement? Also, what criteria does the ICC examine when it decides to intervene in national conflicts?

The vagueness of the Rome Statute and its articles is the main cause of frustration among sovereign nations, particularly the transitional ones. They often feel powerless before the ICC and the UN Security Council that is often behind it. Additionally, if the ICC as an institution were to create more binding, explicit provisions for its involvement in internal conflict of sovereign nations, perhaps it would build credibility. That way, its actions would not look arbitrary to other states. Further codification and explanation of the ICC will alleviate individual national concerns as to its violation of the anarchic system. Otherwise, it looks like the individual prosecutors behind the ICC and the UN Security Council are targeting states they deem irrational and incapable of using their own mechanisms to solve conflicts.

Ethics of Traditional Leaders and and What That Means for Traditional Justice

As part of my additional research for the response papers, I came upon this article by Erin Baines:

She really expounds upon the conception of traditional justice we covered in class by providing a real-life example of a former child soldier, Alice, dealing with the plight of the crimes she was forced to commit by the LRA. It is interesting because the readings for class discuss how the local chiefs aim to create a community environment where former LRA can come forward to be reconciled, yet Baines explicates that there is in fact a lot of corruption among the local chiefs. In fact, they have lost a lot of the resources that would enable them to perform rituals, thus they charge fees from former child soldiers, fees most of them cannot afford. Additionally, while the Iliff and Huyse readings espouse the necessity for mato oput in the reconciliation process, the Ugandan chiefs Baines depicts are hesitant to perform mato oput for Alice and the group. Furthermore, they do not perform it as a ritual of accountability. They refuse to perform the one ritual which has been declared “essential” in the reconciliation process. In fact, Ugandan citizens are trying to convince the ICC to defer the LRA commander cases back to national, traditional processes because of the “effectiveness” and “necessity” of this diplomatic ritual. It seems like individual faith in the intangible rituals exceeds their capacity to deliver reconciliatory relief and establish accountability. This point refocuses the argument for traditional justice on the legitimacy of the tradition and the extent to which it constitutes globally conceived justice. International criminal justice principles should be always be universally applied; that is why they exist. Unless local justice can demonstrate an ability to provide for reconciliation, truth telling, reparation and accountability, it should not be used on its own. However, it is undeniable that rituals are important to African society, therefore, a hybrid system incorporating ritual and legalistic globally conceived justice norms is essential.

Where does the state belong in traditional, local justice?

“Traditional”, local justice seeks to add a new layer to the transitional justice framework by drawing upon traditional rituals and processes in order to enact justice.  Most of these rituals focus on restorative justice, with reparations to the victims’ families and reintegration of the perpetrators at their core.  Such efforts are intended to be community-based, for these perpetrations, especially in locations such as Rwanda and Uganda, involved perpetrators attacking members of their own community.  However, despite the goals of being community-based and rooted in tradition, some of these justice mechanisms fall under the control of the state.  Most notably, gacaca has been criticized by such scholars as Susan Thomson and Rosemary Nagy for becoming an instrument of state control (see their article: “Law, Power and Justice: What Legalism Fails to Address in the Functioning of Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts”).  Gacaca was enacted by national law, is often monitored by state security officials, and is tightly regulated and controlled by the government.  In short, through gacaca, “the Rwandan government seeks to ensure that the populace performs its vision of justice and reconciliation without opposition” (Thomson and Nagy, 14).  From such observations, then, it would seem preferable that traditional justice operate independent of state control in order to maintain its integrity.

However, such independence may also be dangerous.  In “Ritual (Ab)use? Problems with Traditional Justice in Northern Uganda,” Tim Allen argues that regulation, most likely by the state, are an important part of preventing the abuse of traditional methods.  As Allen warns, “Without regulation, rituals and customs are as likely to be adapted to interpret and punish witchcraft and sorcery as they are to deal with more ‘conventional’ instrumental killings and mutilations” (Allen, 51).  Furthermore, Allen argues that the absence of state involvement may actually create divisions within the country or at least make transitional justice less likely to promote national integration and unity (52-53).  This is because it would make it appear that the government and other regions in a state do not care about the violence in a particular region and desire to leave the locals to their own devices.

So, where should the state fit in traditional justice?  As is often the case, a middle path seems the most suitable.  The state does need to offer its support and legitimacy to methods of traditional, local justice.  However, the state must also not take full control of such methods to where they become another arm of the state.  When this occurs, it can actually create a great deal of resentment in the local populations and de-legitimize the process, as was often the case with gacaca in Rwanda.  Therefore, the state should not be wholly absent, but it must not use traditional justice as a type of panopticon.  So, in the case of state involvement, moderation is best, but if a decision is to be made, it is better to err on the side of too little than too much.

“The Case for Justice” by ICTJ

This video from the International Center for Transitional Justice makes the “case for justice” by highlighting different examples of countries in transition from violence (e.g. Colombia, Egypt, DRC, Uganda, Cambodia, etc.) and where there are impunity gaps.

  • What arguments does ICTJ make for why justice is necessary?
  • What are the different obstacles to accountability across the cases?
  • How does ICTJ’s conception of “justice” compare to those we discussed in class and in the assigned readings?

Ugandan army says Sudan is backing Joseph Kony’s LRA

A Ugandan colonel stated that they had captured an LRA member dressed in Sudanese garments and armed with Sudanese weaponry. Sudan’s ambassador denies these claims. A Ugandan rep stated that “Kony knows we can’t enter that region, so when the pressure is high in Central Africa he crosses into the Sudanese border [areas],” In the past Uganda helped support southern  Sudan. While at the same time it was believed that Sudan supported the LRA so as to weaken them and their support of Southern Sudan.

Ugandan’s Reaction to Kony 2012

Washington Post today has an article on the recent screening of Kony 2012 in Uganda.

A much over-hype recent sensation in America in the last couple week. Thousands tweeted and posted, but not really understand what the actuality of event is been going on in Uganda and Kony.

For those of us that been learning in class, we know the video is very biased and much Western point of view to the whole situation, so what would you think the screening turn out?

Not well of course, Ugandan were angry at the end the screening, felt that an “…inaccurate account that belittled and commercialised their suffering, as the film promotes Kony bracelets and other fundraising merchandise, with the aim of making Kony infamous…”

Maybe this article would help some that just reposted on facebook or tweeted about it to learn a thing or few.