Kony, the reclusive leader from one of the worst guerrilla group in the world, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) of Northern Uganda, has refused to sign a peace deal this weekend that he was apparently supposed to sign. "Kony says he will not sign until the issue of the ICC (International Criminal Court) is resolved, until the deferrals are made," according to Riek Machar, the vice president of South Sudan. The ICC issue is that Kony has been indicted for war crimes at the international court and it has proven to be a problem because the bureaucrats at The Hague refuse to negotiate. For them no deal is possible because Kony is a war criminal and should be brought to justice.
The LRA is one of the world's deadliest rebel groups. It has been in the field for over 20 years, mainly in Northern Uganda but also with bases in DR Congo and Southern Sudan. They have a reputation for being very dangerous and unpredictable, for raping entire villages and for forcing child to kill their family so that they can not go back in their villages before enrolling them as child soldiers. They have displaced over two millions people and killed several thousands.
So Kony IS a war criminal, there is no doubt about that. But the issue here is realism vs justice. Those who thinks western conception of justice should be imposed all over the world no matter the costs will applaud the ICC's attitude with the LRA. They think the population in the region will suffer greatly but it is all for the greater good of mankind. The logic being that when other rebel leaders see they can not escape ICC indictment, they will stop doing war crimes and the planet will be a better place (criminal law has not exactly stopped people in the west from doing crimes although it has probably reduced the number). These are very noble intentions.
But the other side of the argument is that the LRA, the Ugandan government, the Southern Sudan government and the people directly involved by the rebellion (Acholi in Northern Uganda being the main group) desperately want peace. The guerrilla has been operating for 20 years, making normal life totally impossible in the region, even though the rest of the country has been happy, prosperous and stable for that timeframe, growing at 6% a year. The people merely want to be able to lead normal lives and for this, they are ready to forgive Kony. Kony has repeatedly said over the past two years that he is ready for peace and that he wants a place to retire, but it is impossible because of the ICC warrants. Since the ICC has no power to arrest Kony and destroy the LRA, all this does is force the conflict to continue even though all parties involved wants it to end. In other words, the bureaucrats from The Hague have decided to make the people from this region continue to suffer for an untold number of years for their abstract conception of justice. The window for peace might be closing as the CPA elections and referendum in Sudan might reignite the civil war. If it restarts, Kony will most certainly receive heavy backing from Khartoum as he did before, and might not be amenable for negotiations for years to come.
This story has gone mostly unreported in the western world because Africans suffering and dying apparently does not make for an interesting news story. But I hope that at least the men and women working at the ICC realizes the cost they are asking the poorest people in the world to bear for their vision of justice. I hope they have trouble sleeping at night sometimes, because the people of Northern Uganda have been having nightmares for more than 20 years.