Amnesty or Accountability: The Fate of High-Ranking Child Soldiers in Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Arm

In May 2013, Uganda surprisingly resurrected its amnesty provision for two more years after having let it lapse only a year earlier. Uganda’s vacillation likely represents its competing desires to grant amnesty to low-level actors in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and to end impunity for decades of gross human rights violations in accordance with international criminal law. However, instead of crafting an amnesty provision that would satisfy both of these needs, Uganda reinstated the same “blanket” amnesty, or all-inclusive pardon, found in the Amnesty Act of Uganda (2000) (Act). As a result, high-level LRA actors like Thomas Kwoyelo and Caesar Acellam find themselves in a legal purgatory of indefinite detention: too culpable in the eyes of Ugandan officials to release, but too difficult to prosecute as they are entitled to amnesty under the terms of the Act.

This Note proposes a factor-based amnesty process, which would allow Ugandan officials to determine the level of culpability of each applicant and grant or deny amnesty accordingly. This case-by-case method is likely the most effective way of ensuring that a balance is struck between the aspirations of the people of a war-torn country for peace and the increasingly rigorous demands for justice in international criminal law.

Image Source – Pierre Holtz / UNICEF CAR / hdptcar.net (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License)

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