Today, the International Criminal Court takes half a step in the quest for justice when it is expected to hear whether there is enough evidence to try Lord’s Resistance Army commander, Dominic Ongwen, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The general presumption is that in northern Uganda, there should be no doubt as to the culpability of the LRA rebels for the horrific atrocities committed during the almost two decades of their war of attrition. But that will be determined in court. Closer to home, this hearing revives the question of accountability for the many war crimes and crimes against humanity, which have been visited upon Ugandans almost throughout our existence as a Nation-State.
One side of the argument is that we should have a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission where everything can be laid bare in all its sordid detail. The current government, however, has not shown much enthusiasm for such an approach. But this lack of interest will not sweep away the need and demand for closure.
It is self-defeating for the government to seal off sites of mass graves as it recently did in Lango and Teso, hoping to prevent Opposition politicians from paying tribute to our dead. The very conduct of the government whenever the issue of war crimes pops up paints a picture of a party that is afraid of something. This tendency has fed public suspicion.
An impression has been created that some people in authority do not want the truth about the massacres in West Nile’s Ombaci or Buganda’s Luweero Triangle to come to light. That these individuals are frightened of what could be revealed about the horrors that were brought upon Acholiland or the unspeakable atrocities committed in Lango and Teso.
Against that background, at least two presidential candidates have declared that they will ensure there is a full accounting for our bloody history if they are elected to office in February. This is a courageous stand. Ugandans should acknowledge anybody who is willing to see that justice for all is achieved. We must not shy away from confronting our dark past in the vain hope that we can sweep away the pain under the pretence that all the bad guys are dead and buried.
We must exorcise the ghosts of our fallen; find and lay to rest all the skeletons of this sad history through an honest accounting. Victor’s justice, where only the crimes of the vanquished are highlighted, will not do. There has to be a record of all perpetrators and victims so that our posterity may learn from this and not repeat the mistakes of their forebears.