Case Western Reserve University law professor Michael Scharf had just landed in Kampala after a 30-hour flight from Cleveland when the news of the joint military strike by Uganda, Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo against the jungle bases of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) was announced.
Scharf, the director of Case Western Reserve's Frederick K. Cox International Law Center, was beginning a 10-day mission to help the Ugandan government set up a war crimes tribunal for leading members of the LRA. News of the coordinated attack, code-named "Operation Lightning Thunder," meant that Scharf's work would take on an unexpected urgency.
Scharf's mission to Uganda was under the auspices of the Public International Law and Policy Group, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated NGO Scharf co-founded 16 years ago with American University law professor Paul Williams to provide pro-bono assistance on war crimes issues to foreign governments and international tribunals. Since receiving a USAID grant for the Uganda project in September, Scharf and other members of the Public International Law and Policy Group, assisted by several law firms and several dozen Case Western Reserve, American University and Vanderbilt Law students, have provided the Ugandan government a dozen legal memoranda on various issues related to transitional justice.
For his first assignment in Uganda, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Uganda asked Scharf to critique Uganda's pending International Criminal Court (ICC) legislation, scheduled to be voted on by the Ugandan parliament at the end of January. After two nearly sleepless nights, Scharf said he provided the Chief Justice and the members of the government's Justice Law and Order Sector Working Group on Transitional Justice a lengthy legal memorandum, containing dozens of specific recommended revisions to the legislation. Most of these concerned the establishment of Uganda's new Special War Crimes Chamber.
Meanwhile, day-by-day the joint forces were closing the noose on Joseph Kony and the other leaders of the LRA, who will, if captured alive, either be transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague or become the first defendants before Uganda's newly-established Special Chamber.
According to Scharf, "Kony and his followers have committed some of the worst international crimes imaginable." For 20 years, Kony's guerilla forces have terrorized the population of northern Uganda, including frequent raids in which tens of thousands of children have been kidnapped and transformed into sex slaves and child soldiers. Peace negotiations between the government and LRA leaders broke down when Kony failed to show up to sign the Juba Peace Accord a few weeks ago, and the government decided the time had come to implement the military option. If Kony is killed or turned over to the ICC, the big question is whether the government will still want to hold domestic war crimes trials. According to Scharf, "under what is known as the principle of complementarity, the ICC's main purpose is not to prosecute war criminals in The Hague but to induce governments to conduct their own local prosecutions. Because the ICC Assembly of State Parties have decided to hold their review conference in Kampala in 2010, Uganda is seen as the crucial test case for the Court. Therefore, even after Kony is no longer an issue the ICC will keep the pressure on the Ugandan government by expanding its investigations and indictments." After two days of high-level meetings about the ICC Bill and Special War Crimes Chamber, Scharf was asked to critique another piece of pending legislation, the National Reconciliation Bill, which would set up a Truth Commission for Uganda.
"The Truth Commission and traditional justice mechanisms will be for lower level members of the LRA, including child soldiers, as a means of facilitating national healing," Scharf says.
Scharf is scheduled to return to Uganda in February for another round of high-level meetings on implementation of the two Bills. He is the author of "Enemy of The State," published this fall by St. Martin's Press.
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