Global Policy Forum

Kony Offered Free Passage to Hague


By Frank Nyakairu

June 30, 2006

The Hague-based International Criminal Court has summoned Joseph Kony to make a formal response to the war crimes charges hours after the leader of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army protested against accusations of killings and abductions perpetrated in his name.

The ICC Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, offered a safe passage to the most wanted rebel in Africa. "I invite Joseph Kony and the other commanders identified in the arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court to come forward to the court and respond to the charges," reads Ocampo's statement. "The court will guarantee their safe passage to The Hague, and they will be given every opportunity and facility to present their case before an independent judicial body with the highest guarantees of the due process."

In an interview aired on BBC TV on Thursday, Kony repeated his plea of innocence three times, when his crimes were read to him by a journalist. "I am not guilty. I am not guilty. I am not guilty," Kony said. He insisted that it is President Yoweri Museveni's soldiers who have mutilated Ugandans and carried out abductions in his name during the 20 year rebel insurgency. In October 2005, judges of the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya. Each is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed in Uganda since July 2002.

Kony, 46, and four of his top commanders, face 33 counts, including 12 counts of crimes against humanity for rape and sexual enslavement. The other 21 counts cover war crimes, including attacks against civilians and the murder and forced enlistment in the army of children.

In his first interview with the Times Newspaper and BBC news night, Kony denied mass abductions, mutilations, rape and killings widely attributed to his group. Museveni said on Tuesday that he was sending a delegation to talk peace with Kony. Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Daily Monitor, the President said he was sending a team to the southern Sudanese city of Juba, at the request of South Sudan President Salva Kirr, to explore possibilities of talking to Kony.

The new government of South Sudan has offered to facilitate peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government. Kony has a negotiating team waiting in Juba though Kampala had been reluctant to engage them. However, Kony's pleas of innocence have been received with great disbelief both locally and internationally. An international rights group, Human Rights Watch, expressed surprise at Kony's claim but said he must defend himself at the ICC. HRW East Africa co-ordinator Jemera Rone said Kony's insistence on his innocence was "amazing".

"We have testimony of extensive atrocities by the LRA," Rone told the BBC News website. She emphasised however that Kony must be presumed innocent until proven guilty by the ICC, which has indicted him for war crimes. "I think it is a good thing that Joseph Kony has come out of the woodwork and tried to engage with the international community, and I hope he will avail himself of the opportunity to clear his name," Rone said.

Kony described himself in an interview with the BBC's News night programme as a "freedom fighter" and called for peace talks. He said stories of LRA rebels cutting off people's ears or lips were Ugandan government propaganda. He also denied that his group kidnapped children. But earlier this year, UN humanitarian affairs chief Jan Egeland described the LRA's activities as "terrorism of the worst kind anywhere in the world" and the conflict as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The south Sudanese vice-president, Riek Machar, is trying to broker a new peace deal. HRW's Rone said legal proceedings against Kony "should not mean there are no peace negotiations in northern Uganda - the two should be independent of each other."

A senior criminal lawyer, Simon Byabakama Mugenyi, said, "Even if a suspect willfully submits to defend himself, it still goes back to the same due process. In the case of the ICC, it is a peculiar organisation it entirely depends on whether it has provisions in the Rome Statute that allow willful submission," said Byabakama who is a government prosecutor.

Article 54 in Part 5 of the Rome Statute the Chief prosecutor has powers to "Enter into such arrangements or agreements, not inconsistent with this Statute, as may be necessary to facilitate the cooperation of a State, intergovernmental organisation or person."

More Information on International Justice
More Information on Joseph Kony
More Information on ICC Investigations in Uganda
More Information on the International Criminal Court
More Information on Uganda


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