Joachim Chissano, the former Mozambican president and the United Nations's special envoy to areas affected by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in Uganda, recently briefed the UN Security Council in New York on the status of the Ugandan peace process.
The meeting focused on the increasingly bleak prospects for peace between the Ugandan government and the LRA, following rebel group leader Joseph Kony's refusal to sign a final peace agreement in April.
This follows closely on the heels of a failed attempt by the rebel movement to have warrants of arrest issued against Kony and his top commanders by the International Criminal Court (ICC) withdrawn as a precondition for a cessation of hostilities.
The LRA rebels are said to be fighting for the establishment of a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments. They are alleged to have kidnapped thousands of women and children, forcing them to become rebel fighters or concubines. More than 1,5-million people in Uganda's Gulu and Kitgum districts have been displaced by the fighting over the past two decades and are living in temporary camps, protected by the army.
The involvement of the ICC triggered an increase in international opposition against the LRA's numerous crimes against humanity, and significantly slowed down the intensity of attacks on civilians over the past two years, while forcing Kony to resume peace negotiations.
Ugandan army spokesperson Paddy Ankunda reportedly said that he saw no sense in negotiations and strongly favoured military action against the notorious rebel leader who, in Ankunda's opinion, had two options open to him: either handing himself over or being hunted down.
Kony's contempt for international mediators has already dashed hopes that he would sign the peace agreement to put to an end more than two decades of civil conflict. Ideally, he would like to arrange a compromise. Some of his representatives and key negotiators have recently reiterated this position, stressing that the major obstacle to peace is, in fact, the ICC.
More particularly, there are many controversies surrounding the ICC's arrest warrants for LRA leaders. For instance, in Gulu, a northern district of Uganda, people question the legitimacy of the ICC's law, given a number of consequences that resulted in the crimes of the Ugandan army -- commonly known as the Ugandan People's Defence Force -- being overlooked and, instead, placing the blame primarily on the LRA for all the atrocities committed throughout the conflict.
At present, the international community sees Uganda as a country that is willing and able to bring perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice.
Human Rights Watch recently reported that the LRA had carried out at least 100 abductions since February this year, not only in northern Uganda, but also in neighbouring countries. This has further damaged prospects of signing a peace agreement with the LRA.
At present, resolving the conflict requires a truly international approach, and the UN and other top facilitators would need to offer alternative options to revive the peace process, other than those on the negotiation table at present.
The situation is further complicated by Sudan's lack of cooperation with the ICC. Khartoum has been reluctant to work with the ICC in conducting internal trials, given the precarious position in which it finds itself regarding Ahmad Harun, the former Sudanese interior minister accused of war crimes, as well as the most recent indictment against President Omar al-Bashir for alleged crimes against humanity in Darfur, which have left 300 000 people dead and another 2,5-million internally displaced.
Due to Sudan's lack of cooperation, LRA rebels can easily cross the border into Southern Sudan and freely escape any pursuit from the Ugandan army and its allies in the region.
Critics contend that peace in Uganda does not depend totally on the LRA and on Kony's desire for the ICC to grant him immunity. Rather, the ICC has delayed the process further, given the precarious position in which it finds itself.
By granting immunity to Kony, the ICC may establish an unprecedented development in international law and, in so doing, running an ever-greater risk of ruining its reputation. On the other hand, the capture of Kony -- and his extradition to The Hague to face crimes against humanity and war crimes -- risks prolonging the conflict and plunging the region into further misery by provoking his staunchly loyal fighters to continue fighting.
The situation is indeed intricate and puzzling, but difficult choices are necessary if an end is to be made to one of Africa's longest-running conflicts.
Also appeared in Embassy, The Korea Times and The Egyptian Gazette