Museveni and Kony Both Should Face War Crimes Tribunal

A victim of the LRA rebels

A victim of an LRA rebel attack on February 21, 2004. (Photo: Peter Busomoke/AFP-Getty Images)

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni recently asked the International Criminal Court at The Hague to investigate and prosecute rebels and rebel leader Joseph Kony of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

The LRA which started as a small group after the demise of Odong Latek's Uganda People's Democratic Army (UPDA) and Alice Lakwena's Holy Spirit Movement rebel groups in the late 1980's, has for decades been known for heartless atrocities against innocent unarmed civilians mostly in the Acholi region of Uganda. The rebels are known for abducting tens of thousands of children, killings and brutalities like the chopping of lips, legs and arms of innocent civilians. The rebels' excuses for these atrocities have always been that the civilians are betraying them by reporting their presence to the government army and therefore deserving the atrocities.

To anyone who is unfamiliar with the war in Northern Uganda that started in 1986 when Museveni had just come to power, Museveni's quest to prosecute Kony might sound like a sound idea coming from a responsible person. However, to those who have suffered through the years and experienced atrocities perpetrated by both the rebels and the Ugandan army, the Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF), Museveni is just as criminal as the Kony he is trying to prosecute.

Since 1986, Museveni's army has been known to commit some of the worst atrocities on the ethnic Acholi people who occupy the regions of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader. The UPDF, also formerly known as the National Resistance Army (NRA) became infamous for burning civilians alive in huts, killings, and the rapes of both women and men in what the Acholi called tek gungu. Tek Gungu referred to rape of men and women by Museveni's soldiers who would force a man or woman to kneel down (gungu) before the rape is committed against the male or female victim. These rape incidents have been documented by Human Rights Watch and yet remain ignored by most so-called mainstream media. Museveni, despite his army's atrocities remains a Western "darling."

The period 1987-1988 was the worse in the history of the Acholi and it was also at that time that Museveni's army intensified atrocities on the civilians. It was during this period that Museveni declared a state of emergency. He entrusted his commanders like his brother Salim Saleh and Major General David Tinyefunza to help him do the job. Their atrocities included the terrible forcing of Acholi civilians in a pit dug into the earth in a place called Bur Coro. The top of the pit was then covered with soil and grass, which was then set ablaze. The civilians slowly suffocated from the smoke. These sadistic killers have never been punished.

Later, the army exported such atrocities into Teso in Eastern Uganda. In an incident that was also documented by international human rights agencies, people were forced into a train wagon in a place called Amakura and were suffocated. This incident is known in Uganda as the Amakura massacre. To make it more effective and unknown to the international community, Museveni banned media reporting on war and no journalists were allowed to enter the war zone.

By 1990, Museveni had accomplished most of what he wanted; leaving tens of thousands of Acholi dead and thousands languishing in Luzira prison for alleged treason. All these are well documented and still remain fresh in the minds of the Acholi who had trusted Museveni and thought he would treat them as citizens of Uganda rather than his adversaries.

As if his terror was not enough, in 1996 Museveni declared a presidential order that stipulated that all local Acholi living in their homes in the villages be forcefully moved into concentration camps to be surrounded by government troops ostensibly to guard them against LRA rebels' atrocities. Where else in the world but in Africa would the international community today stand for such gross violation of human rights?

Museveni's troops immediately started beating up locals to run to the camps. They burnt down crops and houses of the locals so that they would not go back to their homes. The result was the creation of communal homelessness for over 500,000 people who up to now have no permanent home, and live in some of the worse human conditions in the world. Although Museveni prefers to call the camps "Protected Camps," the locals who live there know it as a concentration camp in which terror reigns and individual freedoms don't exist.

Government soldiers claiming to be guarding these camps are well known for their atrocities on the hapless civilians. They rape the women and have contributed to the increase in the rate of HIV/AIDS — now the highest in that region.

These are just few recorded incidents and yet the majority remained unreported. Similarly, the government is indiscriminately using its Helicopter Gunship and night-guided vision technology to try to spot and kill the LRA rebels. However, the majority of the unfortunate victims are innocent civilians.

Putting these and many other such government-sanctioned abuses side by side with Kony's rebels' atrocities, it is clear that Museveni too should be tried in an international criminal court for crimes against humanity.

By jumping out first to the ICC, looking for an opportunity to prosecute Kony, Museveni is behaving like a member of a band of killers who conspicuously breaks away and starts pointing fingers at his fellow thugs knowing full well that he too will have to face justice.

To heal the wounds and scars of the 18-year old genocide in Acholi, both Kony and Museveni must appear before a war crimes tribunal.