Conflict Resolution

Accountability and Reconciliation: Reflections Over Juba Peace Talks Agenda Item 3

Maxie Muwonge asked:

Accountability and Reconciliation: Reflections over Juba Peace Talks Agenda Item 3

Maxie J. Muwonge and Meike Westerkamp

The current Juba peace talks and negotiations between the Government of Uganda (GoU) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) offers the grandest opportunity ever, to peacefully resolve the 20 years northern Uganda insurgency frequently regarded as the Kony war. The above is attested to be in the drastic increased interest of several regional African governments like Sudan, Kenya, South Africa; International bodies-UN and ICC; regional bodies-AU; local and international humanitarian agencies; religious movements and many other institutions. They have unceasingly made efforts compelling the parties (GoU and LRA) to talk peace until a compressive peace agreement has been reached. Whereas this scenario has positively contributed to creating a peaceful environment vital for the psychological boost of the IDPs in the process of return to their original homes, there are still typical and critical points of departure on the desirable outcomes of these peace talks to heal in a significant and sustainable manner the psychological, socio-economic and political wounds of this conflict. Idyllically, accountability and reconciliation agenda item 3 of the Juba peace talks is an opportunity moment to contribute to healing some of these wounds.

Aware that at this point in time the reflections in this paper are more speculative, considering that the parties in the talks are yet to start discussing this agenda item, nevertheless, it is imperative now for peace scholars and implementers to ponder over these reflections to inform the Juba debates and post Juba implementation protocol on the issue of accountability and reconciliation. Although the two terms of accountability and reconciliation have been well studied in transitional justice by many scholars, in the case of northern Uganda and the Juba peace talks, the basic problem of these terms is that not all involved stakeholders as already mentioned are agreed on how to define or implement them. A careful trend analysis of the debates on accountability and reconciliation within northern Uganda and Uganda at large indicates shifts from reliance on such earlier positions like the ICC, whose indictments are now perceived by many in the talks as a stumbling block for the success of the peace talks, towards amnesty and traditional justice mechanisms like the Acholi “mato-oput.”. There is a perceived dissimilarity in the purpose of accountability as part of justice, with the ICC perceived to be retributive and punishment driven, while mato-oput being viewed as a way of reconciling the war affected communities through forgiveness and rebuilding broken relationships. In what seems to be pre-emptive of the Juba peace talks agenda item 3, both the GoU and the LRA seem to be comfortable with the latter.

Concurrently, the academic, political and public discourses in Uganda are changing goal posts from ‘peace first justice later’ to ‘peace at all costs’ debates. The dossier of this observation is compounded on the Juba peace process protagonist especially those in the Ugandan delegation, who are compelled not to leave Juba until they bring a peace pack for northern Uganda. Peace for northern Uganda is a paramount need. However, there might be a high price to pay: There is a danger of missing out the element of accountability for the horrendous atrocities committed on the innocent civilians of northern Uganda in pursuit of peace at all costs. Coupled to this is the danger of collapsing the Juba peace talks into an amnesty process to accommodate the war rather than setting the ground to create an enabling environment for healing the wounds of the war victims through an open space for accountability on both sides of GoU and the LRA. In addition, the traditional justice systems lack to meet international legal standards, being the crucial precondition for the ICC to hand back the case to Uganda.

To contribute meaningfully to the Juba and post Juba peace process, we need to ask ourselves some of these hard questions and attempt to explore possible actionable response. When we talk of reconciliation for northern Uganda and Uganda at large, at what point in our history do we seek redress to start the healing of the conflict wounded Ugandans? Who is reconciling with whom? At and beyond Juba, who should account to whom putting in thoughtfulness the centrality of the war victims? For sustainable reconciliation to ensure there is need for reparations. The challenge is who will meet them and in what format? Further reflection is needed on how all the above will be implemented.

The general agreement, which is also the task of the peace talks, is to arrive at an integrated comprehensive position to embrace all these worries including the ICC. Though this is easily said, there is need of unpacking this proposal, starting from the conceptual interpretation of what we are tasking Juba to package under agenda item 3. Whereas there are constitutional provisions (State objectives 3 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution) to address conflict resolution, security and disaster management, apparently, Uganda has institutions to deal with security, disaster management but not conflict resolution. With such an omission the implementation protocol of the Juba Peace process especially agenda item 3 is bound not to be properly institutionally grounded. Furthermore, from a peace practitioner’s view in Uganda, there is a conceptual dilemma wherein many people attempt to push both historical and contemporary national political and economic malfunctions into the basket of reconciliation for redress.

To support and meaningfully enrich further the Juba peace process and agenda item number 3 in particular, there is need of a more pro-victims engagement with the agenda items. Bringing on board victims´ groups and affected communities could take the trend of creating awareness over the issues and the benefits of supporting the agenda items and how these will translate into their healing and community development. Moreover, the government ought to expedite the legislation for the traditional justice systems starting with those of war affected communities in north and north eastern Uganda and therefore bringing closer the chance of a broadly accepted national justice system, including for the ICC.

The authors are writing a paper highlighting on the reflections in this abstract beyond the Juba peace process. Your opinion will be highly appreciated.


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