Compiled by Bob Chodos, from reporting by Dave Klassen and Rick Gamble. Case Studies of Child Soldiers follows this article. Photographs by Dave Klassen
In early April, the stage was set for the signing of a peace treaty between the government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The treaty was to mark the formal end of one of Africa’s longest and most brutal wars, in which the LRA, formed largely of abducted child soldiers, had massacred whole villages and terrorized the Acholi people of northern Uganda, along with others in northern Uganda and Southern Sudan. LRA commander Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity and is almost never seen in public, was to slip into a jungle clearing on the Sudan-Congo border, where the treaty had been laid out for him along with a hot buffet and mineral water. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was to sign a few days later in Juba, Southern Sudan, where peace talks had been ongoing for two years.
But Kony never showed up, and the LRA, despite its stated commitment to peace talks, was reported to be abducting children in Southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, raising fears that what had been a localized conflict in northern Uganda (with some spillover into Southern Sudan) would turn into a wider war.1
Even if the war does not resume with its former intensity – and indeed, even if a treaty is eventually signed – a difficult period lies ahead for the Acholi. Many former LRA child soldiers have returned home, some of them after carrying out unspeakable atrocities. They are at the same time victims and perpetrators, and now they need to be reintegrated into Acholi society. What is the appropriate stance toward those who have returned from the bush: forgiveness, punishment or something in between? Can traditional Acholi concepts of justice, based on reconciliation, address the deep and widespread pain the war leaves in its wake?