The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently dropped arrest warrants against Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo, the two top commanders of Joseph Kony’s marauding Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
This is after the Hague-based court had in 2005 issued the same arrest warrants against the notorious LRA warlords Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Lukwiya, Dominic Ongwen and Odhiambo to answer charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in northern Uganda. The arrest warrants were lifted after the judges satisfied themselves with evidence that the duo was deceased. This is not to abandon the fact that the LRA bandits waged a vicious war against a civilian population in northern Uganda for well over two decades.
It is, therefore, unfortunate that the two LRA commanders - Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo - did not live to face justice for the horrendous crimes they committed while they waged an unjustified and senseless war. And although they died with blood on their hands, it would have been prudent for them to stand trial and answer for the atrocities they committed. This is because the criminal enterprise and shocking brutality of Kony and his cohorts is well documented.
They wrecked havoc, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians while displacing a whole generation that was confined and lived in protected camps for decades. One of their killing fields was at Purengo where an estimated 30 people were executed in 1989. Another estimated 400 civilians were massacred by the same group in Lamwo county in Kitgum district.
The mayhem did not end there nor did it spare little innocent girls when the LRA raided a girls school - St. Mary’s College Aboke in Apac district on October 10, 1996 and abducted 139 girls whom they took as sex slaves, enlisting others as child soldiers within their rank and file.
Kony and his LRA gangsters employed machetes and hoes to maim their victims; chopping lips and ears of their captives. They forced the child soldiers to fight and kill their own mothers, fathers and other relatives. Many of the lucky survivors will never recover from the trauma visited upon them by the blood-soiled hands of Kony and his commanders.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (often referred to as the International Criminal Court Statute or the Rome Statute), the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC), was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome to specifically curtail war crimes and ensure that suspected war criminals face trial at a court of competent jurisdiction.
The statute, which came into force on July 1, 2002 and has since been ratified by 110 countries including Uganda, has drastically changed international criminal law as we have come to know it. Under this law, some far-reaching precedents have been set and one of those is that perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity have no place to hide in the modern era.
War crimes and crimes against humanity are now international in nature and this means that suspects can be picked from anywhere in the world by any spirited individual or state to face justice.
While Dominic Ongwen is now facing war crimes charges at The Hague, his bosses Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti are still on the run. There is no evidence that any of the two is dead. The hunt for these men should continue and they be brought to justice to send an unwavering message that there will be no hiding place for war criminals - today and in the future.
The author is an advocate of the High Court and a media and communications consultant.