Answers Are Never Clear-Cut

By Phillips, Freedom-Kai | UN Chronicle, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Answers Are Never Clear-Cut


Phillips, Freedom-Kai, UN Chronicle


THE SOUTHERN SUDANESE BORDER has been flung into the spotlight of late, once again because of a civil war. This time its not Sudan's own war, but that of neighbouring Uganda.

A new chapter in the two-decade conflict was opened on 17 September 2006 when Joseph Kony, leader of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA)--the primary rebel force in Uganda--arrived in Sudan for talks with the Ugandan Government that he once terrorized. Amid mass international appeal for his indictment, LRA has begun to fulfil its obligations to the recently negotiated ceasefire. However, this precarious peace hinges on one issue of serious contention: the granting of amnesty for Kony and other LRA leaders. The result has only complicated the ongoing debate regarding the role of national sovereignty and its relation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.

The question of amnesty is of the utmost importance, not simply in the consideration of a sustained peace but also when one reflects on the atrocities committed by LRA. According to Human Rights Watch, the actions of the Resistance Army are among the most atrocious criminal acts ever committed and have been universally denounced in international humanitarian law. Even until the most recent negotiations, LRA has continued to employ horrific tactics, sadly all too common in African conflicts. Despite the obvious progress made through the recently proposed armistice, one must ask: "What will be the overall costs, domestically and internationally, of setting a precedent for amnesty?"

As civil wars go, African conflicts have historically proven to be the bloodiest. Considering the proposition of amnesty for LRA, two fundamental questions arise: first, "Is amnesty in tune with the psychological and sociocultural aspects of victim recovery?" Many scholars would say no. Obtaining justice is often seen as a vital recovery step--for it clearly reinforces that the crimes committed were universally unacceptable--and acts as a deterrent for future carnage. Furthermore, because of the integrated role of the victim in the ICC, retribution also fundamentally assists in the healing process on a national level. From this perspective, amnesty for the primary actors in such a conflict would be a horrific notion.

Conversely, however, many will correctly note that such retributive actions have a clear historical stigma. As a deterrent, the threat of legal prosecution is often quite limited. …

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