30.10.08 17:19 Age: 3 yrs

Ugandan churches concerned over final peace agreement, international team learns


Most church leaders who talked to the delegation expressed hope that the nearly 2 million people who have been displaced by the war would return to their home by the end of the year. Photo: Feinstein International Center

By Fredrick Nzwili (*)


Guns have fallen silent in northern Uganda since the signing of a permanent ceasefire. Yet, church leaders are worried about the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) delaying the signature of the final peace agreement, they told an international ecumenical delegation visiting the country.


The eight member delegation sent by the World Council of Churches (WCC) is visiting Uganda from 27 October to 2 November to express solidarity with local churches in the country, where relative stability has returned after decades of military dictatorship and civil war.


The "Living Letters" - as the teams traveling to different countries in the context of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence are known - are meeting representatives of churches, state and civil society to discuss the plight of the displaced people in the northern Uganda civil war.


"The visit brings a sense of solidarity between Christians. It also strengthens networking," said Canon Grace Kaiso, executive secretary of the Uganda Joint Christian Council. "We need to appreciate that some of the issues that have impacted on the communities negatively in terms of injustice or conflict have an international dimension."


He said the Living Letters had come to Uganda at a time when the country was beginning the process of rehabilitation and resettlement.


"It is an enormous task: we have one million people to resettle and to help them recover from social and psychological effects of the war," Kaiso said. "For that we need to strengthen the capacities of communities to take care of each other."


Conflict resolution through dialogue


Kaiso explained to the group how the churches had struggled to get the government and the LRA to the negotiating table, despite President Yoweri Museveni believing in a military solution and feeling that the peace talks were "a sign of weakness". "But there is no conflict that cannot be solved through dialogue," Kaiso said.


In July 2006, the government and the LRA began peace negotiations in the southern Sudanese city of Juba. In August the same year, the talks produced a truce. In February 2008, a permanent ceasefire was in place. Since then, relative peace and stability have returned to the north of the country, where the two parties had fought a protracted war for 20 years.


"We have concluded the negotiations, but the final peace agreement has not been signed. This is the greatest concern of the churches," Canon Joseph Oneka, the head of the Human Rights and Good Governance Department in the Uganda Joint Christian Council Secretariat told the delegation on 27 October.


It had been expected that the parties would sign the final peace agreement in 2008, but so far the LRA leader Joseph Kony has failed to sign the pact. The church leaders explained Kony wanted the International Criminal Court (ICC) warrants of arrest lifted, so that he could face trial in Uganda, and through a traditional system.


"The ICC warrants are a concern for the LRA," said Oneka. "The government says the LRA must first sign the agreement."


In December 2003, after a request from the government of Uganda, the ICC prosecutor launched investigations which ended in October 2005 with the ICC issuing warrants of arrest for five senior LRA leaders, including Kony, for crimes against humanity and war crimes.


Since then a debate has ensued in Uganda, on whether the LRA leaders should be handed over to the ICC or should face an alternative, traditional system of justice in the country. Whilst some church leaders question the timing of the ICC process, others have supported it.


According to Justice Peter Onega, the chairman of the Amnesty Commission, the ICC warrants could be waived if an agreement that allows for accountability were signed, and a court that the international community sees as penal were set up.


Perpetrators are also victims


During a meeting with Justice Onega, the international ecumenical delegation voiced concern whether the communities would accept combatants who have been granted amnesty by the commission. The Living Letters were also keen to find out how the Amnesty Commission is dealing with cases of sexual violence.


"Victims have been welcoming those who have been granted amnesty. It has turned out to be that perpetrators were also victims. They were abducted and made to inflict injuries on their people," said Onega.


Most church leaders who talked to the delegation expressed hope that the nearly 2 million people who have been displaced by the war would return to their home by the end of the year. However, the leaders also fear this process is in danger of being disrupted if the parties don't agree on a final settlement.


"If they don't sign the agreement, the conflict could re-emerge. This could have unpredictable consequences on the community," said Oneka.



(*) Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist from Kenya. He is a correspondent for Ecumenical News International (ENI) based in the country's capital, Nairobi.



More information on Living Letters visit to Uganda


WCC member churches in Uganda


Uganda Joint Christian Council