Caesar Achellam, a Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander, is now in custody of the Ugandan Army (UPDF). The UPDF claimed Sunday that Achellam, allegedly a major general in the LRA, was captured in an ambush on Saturday along the banks of the River Mbou in the Central African Republic (CAR). It is reported that he was “the fourth most senior commander in the LRA, perhaps even the LRA’s most senior strategist”. Achellam is not, however, one of the top LRA leaders indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). And once again, we are faced with the inconsistency of address of widespread and systematic human rights abuses.
In 2000, Uganda enacted an Amnesty Act that provides blanket amnesty for any Ugandan “involved in acts of a war-like nature”, including LRA members who might otherwise be charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and/or gross violations of human rights. The Amnesty Act, enacted to bring LRA fighters out of the bush in a hope to end the conflict, is due to expire and there is debate as to whether it is still relevant now when northern Uganda is peaceful. Arguably, it is now only a shield to protect those top commanders who are most responsible for the 20 years of insecurity in the region. At present, the Amnesty Act of 2000 remains in full force.
In 2009, Thomas Kwoyelo, another LRA commander, was captured by the UPDF. He applied for amnesty under the Act, his application was denied, and he was put on trial by the Ugandan government. Kwoyelo “was the first LRA commander to face trial in Uganda’s special war crimes court”. He was subsequently given amnesty according to the provisions of Uganda’s Amnesty Act, but not released and he remains in custody in Uganda in legal limbo.
What should be done with Caesar Achellam? The United Nations envoy for children and armed conflict has urged the Ugandan Government to bring him to justice. Although media reports that Achellam was captured, it is argued more likely that he surrendered in the Central African Republic. It doesn’t matter. The Amnesty Act applies to any captured, surrendered or “rescued” fighter who “renounces and abandons involvement in the war or armed rebellion”. Achellam is allegedly responsible for some of the most egregious abuses against children and yet he is still entitled to amnesty under Uganda’s Act. Only those who are indicted by the ICC seem to risk prosecution or any accountability. And yet, since the indictment of the top 5 LRA leaders in 2005, 2 have died and the others remain free, although they are considered some of the most wanted suspected criminals in the world.