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Friday, January 27, 2012

The ‘Give and Take’ of Complementarity

The recent acquittal of Lord’s Resistance Army rebel, Thomas Kwoyelo by Uganda’s Constitutional Court has certainly sparked my interest in the case. Kwoyelo has been charged with 12 breaches of the Geneva Conventions, which has included willful killing, taking of hostages and extensive destruction of property. The Constitutional Court has ruled that the former rebel leader was entitled to receive amnesty under the Ugandan Amnesty Act of 2000. This Act has been a positive step since its promulgation. It is estimated that the Act has demobilized around 22,000 individual’s post proclamation. What happens are that LRA members renounce and abandon their involvement in the ongoing armed rebellion, if they are to receive amnesty. Kwoyelo invoked this right under the Act but did not receive a response to his application. The case was then subsequently referred to the Constitutional Court which eventually decided that the case should be halted on the grounds that Kwoyelo was treated unfairly under the Act.

This case has certainly challenged the applicability and legal framework within which Uganda’s amnesty laws operate; and on an international level, the ICC’s principle of complementarity. Once rebels who subscribe to the Act, are granted amnesty they will face a ritual called mato oput, which is a traditional Acholi justice system practiced in Uganda. The ritual of mato oput was given centre stage as being the most appropriate to solve the current tensions between the LRA and its victims during the peace negotiations in Juba. For those of you, who might not be aware of what the ritual involves, let me briefly shed some light on it. Mato oput is “a traditional reconciliation process for a killing. It aims to promote forgiveness, healing, restoration of broken relations and ultimately greater unity and harmony between the clans of the victim and perpetrator. Compensation is usually provided to the victim as a form of satisfaction. The ritual generally involves the drinking of a bitter root mixed with local beer, also known as kwete, or water, followed by a ritual slaughtering of a goat or sheep in an exchange of food.

Reactions to the Kwoyelo ruling, has sparked mixed responses within Uganda itself. The Public prosecutor has appealed the Constitutional Court’s decision to the Supreme Court on the basis that it is in conflict with Uganda’s national and international human rights obligations. It is now left to the Supreme Court to decide in the final instance, if the case should continue.  Acholi religious leaders have praised the ruling citing that Kwoyelo deserves amnesty because it will pave the way for other LRA members who are involved in the ongoing conflict to abandon their involvement in the rebellion and peacefully reintegrate back into their communities.