Achellam’s capture and the question of amnesty

23 May 2012 | marijnlizzy

"Caesar Achellam"
23 May 2012

Ten days ago it seemed the hunt for the LRA leadership had scooped a great success. Major General Caesar Achellam, a senior LRA commander, was detained by the UPDF on May 13th, prompting UPDF spokesman Felix Kulagiye to announce “big progress because he [Achellam] is a big fish”. Yet like many apparent successes in the fight to end the LRA, his detainment has proved to be a double-edged sword, and has thrown up a number of questions that lead back to the apparently irreconcilable approaches of peace and justice.

Even the success of the feat in practical terms is less certain than advocates of the military solution might like to suggest. Achellam was filmed emerging from a helicopter and being warmly welcomed by Kulagiye and other UPDF, and went on to give a brief TV interview in which he stated “I knew that I was coming out”. His wife, child and a helper were also with him when he was found near the banks of the River Mbou in Central African Republic (CAR). Early news reports suggested he was captured in an ambush, and while no concrete conclusions can be drawn, it certainly cannot be ruled out that he surrendered, and may have been planning to defect for some time. It is perhaps arguable that this in itself is an indicator of the success of the military mission; that its increased capacity is discouraging fighters from staying in the bush. However, what happens to Achellam is going to be crucial in determining whether or not more choose to defect.

Achellam initially announced that he was being treated well by the UPDF, and that he hoped his experience would encourage others to leave the rebel ranks; it appears that he was expecting to smoothly acquire amnesty. Uganda’s LRA Amnesty Act was passed in 2000, and over 13,000 former LRA have acquired amnesty since – any former LRA with the exception of those high commanders indicted by the ICC are eligible to apply for it. However the promise of amnesty is looking increasingly unreliable. The trial of Thomas Kwoyelo is a case in point. Kwoyelo was a senior LRA commander who was arrested in 2009, and subsequently charged with war crimes by the Ugandan Department of Public Prosecutions. His lawyers protested, stating he was entitled to be set free under the amnesty act, however the prosecutors state amnesty is inapplicable to someone charged with war crimes. The trial continues in Kampala, and Kwoyelo remains in custody.

In theory, Achellam is completely eligible for amnesty, so said the chief legal advisor to the Ugandan Amnesty Commission in a statement last week. Yet the same battle lines that define the Kwoyelo trial seem to be resurfacing; the Director of Public Prosecutions insists the most senior of LRA commanders must be investigated, and imprisoned if found guilty of war crimes. The UN Secretary General’s representative for Children and Armed Conflict has also called for Achellam to be put on trial rather than given amnesty. Furthermore, the Amnesty Act is actually expiring tomorrow, and if it is not renewed, it is not just the futures of Kwoyelo and Achellam that are on the line, but the future of the LRA fighters still in the bush. Thus inevitably we are brought back to the apparent dichotomy of peace and justice; that is, the choice between forgiveness and reintegration, or trial and potential prosecution. The former hopes to encourage existing LRA to surrender, the latter to discourage such incidents from ever happening again, or so the arguments tend to go. The question is whether or not the two approaches are necessarily mutually exclusive.

Finally, it is worth examining to what extent Achellam’s removal from the battlefield, in whatever circumstances, is a significant blow to the LRA. Achellam is known to have had a fraught relationship with Kony; prior to the Juba Peace Talks (2006-2008) Achellam was highly valued for his good relationship with the Sudanese Armed Forces, and was a contender for the position of Kony’s deputy. He was eventually accused by his rival, Vincent Otti, of having accepted money from the negotiators at Juba and planning to defect. Achellam was demoted by Kony, but eventually regained his rank after Kony had Otti killed in 2007. However, to what extent he was trusted by Kony in the later years is debatable, and Achellam has been careful to downplay his role in the LRA since his capture. On the other hand, there are those who believe Achellam’s capture is a turning point for the success of the anti-LRA mission. Kampala based analyst Angelo Izama believes Achellam could be a treasure trove of intelligence that could make all the difference for the US backed UPDF mission. Whether or not he has the incentive to share it is another matter, and one no doubt linked to the amnesty he may or may not receive.

Further Reading: Uganda captures Lord’s Resistance Army commander | LRA Commander, Caesar Achellam, “Captured” – Some (Mostly Skeptical) Thoughts | The Kwoleyo Trial: A Final (?) RoundupAchellam entitled to Amnesty | Amnesty for Achellam in doubtJune 2011 Diagnostic Report on the LRA


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