Global Policy Forum

Mato Oput Not a Viable Alternative to the ICC


By Francis Onyango

New Vision
July 11, 2007

The Acholi traditional justice system of Mato Oput has been presented as an alternative to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in trying the four commanders of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). Mato Oput has a number of weaknesses. For instance it's an Acholi traditional justice system (others have tried to make it more appealing by claiming that it is Luo jurisprudence. The LRA are alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the areas of Teso, Lango, West Nile, Southern Sudan and Congo.

Will the other ethnic groups acknowledge that justice has been done if the accused are subjected to a justice system that they do not subscribe to? These ethnic groups have their own justice systems (the Langi have Kayo Cuk, the Madi-Tolu and Atesot-Ailuc).These are bound to question why their own systems have not been used in preference to Mato Oput. This is likely to cause inter-tribal tensions.

Mato Oput was never designed to deal with large scale and trans-border crimes meted out to thousands of victims. But LRA victims are spread across various ethnic groups in three different countries. Mato Oput is more of a series of reconciliation rituals than a comprehensive justice system. It is believed the 20-year-old war has destroyed the Acholi traditional moral and social fabric and it is even doubted whether traditional leaders still command authority and respect in the sub region.

Mato Oput requires that the offenders admit guilt and unequivocally ask the victims for forgiveness. Vincent Otti has so far given a half-hearted apology for the actions of the LRA, none of the other three have individually asked Ugandans for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness with the intention of escaping justice is not in the interest of ending impunity, it only ensures the personal safety of the indicted rebel commanders.

Mato Oput also requires the clan or relatives of the offender to compensate the victim(s). Neither the rebels nor their clans have the capacity to compensate thousands of LRA victims. Only LRA rebels who are facing no arrest warrants from the ICC should be reconciled with their communities through Mato Oput, Kayo Cuk, Tolu, Ailuc or any other traditional justice system.

More Information on International Justice
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