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|The UN says the LRA kidnapped and enslaved more than 25,000 children [GALLO/GETTY]|
Former members of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) say they want forgiveness from the people they terrorised.
Rather than face international criminal courts, they are asking to be tried by their own tribal customs.
At the height of the conflict, almost two million people sought the comparative safety of squalid government camps set up to protect them from the LRA’s attacks.
Peace talks between the rebels and the Ugandan government have been going on since July last year, but the negotiations have been puncuated by temporary walkouts and tension.
A key sticking point is the issue of justice for the LRA’s top commanders, who have been indicted for atrocities by the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in Holland.
Human-rights campaigners argue that fighters should be given jail sentences, while many Ugandans say they, not a foreign court, should decide the rebels’ punishment.
LRA members are keen to face traditional Ugandan justice which involves rituals and ceremonies, rather than face the country’s laws and courts.
They are equally dismissive of the ICC which has indicted many LRA members. They dismiss it as belonging to the white man.
This week, members of the rebel delegation – accompanied by government representatives and diplomats involved in the negotiating process – began consultations with the victims of the conflict to hear their views.
Jennifer Akan told Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege that the courts, not traditional customs, should handle their punishment.
Martin Ojul, LRA chief negotiator
She says she was made a sex slave to an LRA commander and bore two children – the first at age 14.
She said: “They gave me a man. I was not yet old enough to have a man. That is thy thing that really hurt me most. I want them to be sent to court. According to me, I am also one of the victims.”
Traditional forms of justice, called Mataput, are on the table.
Mataput is a ritual where one seeking forgiveness steps on an egg and over a wooden stick – a sign of justice and forgiveness for some of the tribes in northern Uganda.
Martin Ojul, the LRA’s chief negotiator, argues that the majority of victims in the north want the ICC indictments scrapped, and for LRA leaders to face traditional justice.
He said: “We Ugandans we are saying we want to get together in order [to] substitute the ICC so that we handle our issue by ourselves.
“Even the victims are saying they do not want the ICC, [Joseph] Kony [former head of the LRA], has been forgiven and let us use a traditional system of solving our own problems. Before the whites came into Africa, there was already solutions on how to solve our problems.”
Capacity to forgive
Kenneth Banya knows all about the local capacity to forgive.
He was once the LRA’s third in command and widely believed to be the mastermind behind some of the group’s atrocities. Banya was captured by government soldiers in 2004.
He was granted amnesty and, having performed the Mataput, now leads a comfortable life in Gulu district, 360km from Kampala, the Ugandan capital.
“I had no problem,” he said. “I asked the community for forgiveness and I got it. Now I move freely and without fear. It can work for the others too.”