by paco on 31 Jan 2009 | Comments
A recent report in Ugandan newspaper New Vision says that Okot Odhiambo, one of the 5 Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) senior commanders wanted by the ICC, is ready to throw in the towel and turn himself in to Ugandan authorities. Apparently he was wounded last December in battle during the offensive mounted by Ugandan forces in conjunction with Congolese and Southern Sudan forces, in an attempt to end the reign of terror mounted by LRA leader Joseph Kony in and around his hideout in Garamba National Park in northeastern Congo. Kony’s refusal to sign the Juba peace agreement with the Uganda governement, after 2 years of painstaking negotiations, led to the military offensive in December. Okot says that he will turn himself in to Ugandan authorities under the condition that he not be transferred to ICC custody to face trial and be given amnesty in Uganda, and the Ugandan government has declared that they will follow the terms of the Juba peace deal even though it was never signed, which would call for Okot to face court in Uganda. This raises yet another challenge for the nascent ICC - despite the terms of the Juba peace agreement, will the ICC still demand custody of Okot? After all, the ICC was not involved in the peace deal and has a clear justice and accountability mandate, so the Ugandan government would have to mount a “complementarity” challenge to the ICC claiming that they can prosecute Okot under the Ugandan legal system - will the ICC accept this? After all, the Ugandan/LRA case was originally referred to the ICC by the Ugandan government itself, claiming that they didn’t have the capacity to deal judicially with the mass atrocities committed by Kony and his cohort. If they have developed the capacity, that would be a feather in the cap of the Rome Statute, that has as a primary goal the strengthening of the national justice systems of the member states, like Uganda.
Okot is not the first LRA commander to defect - on our video page you can see an interview we filmed with Patrick Makasi, LRA Commander of Operations, who defected in October 2007 under mounting tension in the LRA camp over the lack of progress in the peace talks, because Kony wouldn’t sign for fear of being taken to The Hague to face justice. Kony at the time killed his right-hand man Vincent Otti, but Makasi managed to get away and after several days moving through the Congolese jungle, turned himself in to MONUC peacekeepers, who gave him over to the Ugandan government.