Peace vs. Justice

Long before Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 created a pop buzz around the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), there was a criminal indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC), an indigenous peace process involving face-to-face negotiations with Kony, and a three-nation military assault on Kony’s camps in an all-out effort to arrest him. There was also an acclaimed documentary filmmaker/producer team in the field taking a serious look, over five years of work, at the dedicated, complex, often contradictory international approaches to ending, once and for all, the horrific violence and child abductions perpetrated by Kony and the LRA to this day. In Peace vs. Justice, now premiering in film festivals across Europe, award-winning director Klaartje Quirijns follows an engrossing array of characters between the ICC’s headquarters in the Hague and Kony’s killing fields in Uganda and Congo. Including never-before-seen footage of Kony and probing interviews with those closest to Kony and his crimes, Quirijns raises critical questions about the prospects for peace and justice in the Kony saga. Warscapes is pleased to include the never-before-seen “making of” video for Peace vs. Justice with editor Michael Bronner’s conversation with the director.  

Michael Bronner: How did you get the idea to explore the international case against Joseph Kony in a documentary?

Klaartje Quirijns: Stacy Sullivan, a producer I’ve worked with and a former journalist with a long background covering conflict and counterterrorism, was training journalists in Uganda. We were talking, and she told me that really no one in Northern Uganda was supportive of the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Joseph Kony, and it immediately struck me: Here is a story! 

MB:  What year was this?

KQ: It was 2007. I was immediately intrigued. I had been under the impression that the ICC was a great organization doing great things in Uganda. Of course, it’s not at all that simple. 

MB: Give us a bit of background…

KQ: The people of Northern Uganda had been fighting and struggling against the LRA for years and years. Betty Bigombe, a main character in my film, had been involved in various efforts to negotiate a peace agreement with Kony and the LRA beginning in the late eighties. She’s an incredible woman – she literally put her life on the line in these negotiations, traveling out into the bush to meet Kony. She reached what she believed was a critical juncture in 2003 – she was convinced that peace was within reach – but Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who was probably under pressure of the army, made a decision to end the conflict militarily. It was incredibly violent, and it failed. That’s when he asked for help and made a request to the ICC to intervene. Of course, it was not a cold request; the ICC was interested in getting involved. 

MB: The ICC indicted Kony…

KQ: That is correct , in 2005. So Kony wasn’t really such an obscure figure before the release of Invisible Children’s video. He was, in fact, the very first person to have been indicted by the ICC – in a highly-public indictment, which created a whole new set of issues. 

MB: The indictment wasn’t just for Kony, right?

KQ: Kony and the top commanders of the LRA. When I was filming, I met and interviewed Kony’s right-hand man, his top commander, Sam Kolo, who had been involved in the peace negotiations. He told me that the announcement of the indictments made Kony even more aggressive, more vicious. As he says in the film, Kony’s reaction was to feel hunted not just by the Ugandan government, but now by the whole world. Kony started to kill even more. What I thought was interesting – and important to really consider – was the fact that the peace negotiations were jeopardized by the indictments. That was the reason I wanted to make this film. When you really look at the situation, it is very different than you would think.

MB: You would think Ugandans would be happy to have the ICC intervene, after so many years of war...

KQ: The people in northern Uganda were very relieved initially. Finally, they thought, they would have the support of the international community and actually succeed in getting rid of Kony.

MB:  But then sentiment turned against the ICC?

KQ: Well, people got really frustrated because they discovered the ICC has no teeth – no army, no way of executing the arrest warrants. The ICC works with national armies, in this case with the Ugandan army, which had failed for 22 years to get rid of Kony. In short, I think when the ICC, chief prosecutor, Moreno Ocampo, promised to “end the violence,” people believed him. His failure to keep that promise was very disappointing.

MB:  What was it like to interview Sam Kolo, the former LRA commander? He was implicated in a lot of Kony's crimes…

KQ: Yes. It was one of the most disturbing interviews I did. The camera man, who had just had a baby, couldn't get over this interview, knowing that this man had probably killed babies by banging them against trees, which was one of the LRA’s known methods. I think he is one of the most opportunistic people I’ve met. He deserted when he saw that Kony would never be the president of Uganda, which is what Kony’s soldiers were always made to believe. There was an amnesty for all the LRA people, except the few who were indicted by the ICC, and Kolo simply left [and went back to a civilian life. You cannot even imagine what this man has done. It is very weird to see this community in which victims and perpetrators live together, see each other on the streets… 

MB: But that is very much a central theme of your film – that the prospect of someone like Sam Kolo coming in from the cold and rejoining the community is a dynamic many Ugandans support...  

KQ: This is part of their culture. We are brought up in an individualistic society: If you do something wrong, we put you in a corner, and if you have done something terrible, we put you in a jail cell. I think to understand a bit of Ugandan culture you have to understand that people see themselves in terms of a whole community, and if somebody does something terrible, you have to forgive, because you want to restore relationships. You want to bring people back into the fold, to reintegrate them into society.

MB: There is a specific ritual you show in the film, called “mato oput”… 


  • Margaret Garcia
    July 27, 2012
    Hi, was just going through the google looking for good info and stumbled across your website. I am stunned at the design that you've on this site. It shows how you appreciate this subject.
  • Jason Brooks
    June 8, 2012
    An insightful and sensitive film no doubt, Klaartje gets to the heart of the issue and in her conclusions, manages to embrace an ambiguity that is both viscerally personal and profoundly philosophical. I recently met a British guy who was serving in DRC with the UN, and he informed me that localised efforts against the LRA and Kony have come to a relative standstill. With Kony in the depths of Congo's North Eastern forest parks, there is little anyone can practically do but await the next phase of attacks. In his own words "Most of the one hundred US marines in DRC are chilling by the pool in their hotels". See this recent Al Jazeera piece about an isolated LRA attack in April: Plus this Telegraph piece which shows how the local political situation hampers effort to kill Kony: Many thanks to Klaartje for bringing us this film.
  • Jason Brooks
    June 8, 2012
    Great point Sam, pushing the debate even further than the increasingly false west/rest polarity. During my time in Africa I have been constantly reminded that the internal political structures in Uganda and many other similar countries are as much temporo-spatial extensions of the colonial apparatus as they are self-sufficient entities.
  • anne-nivat
    June 8, 2012
    This very important film draws out the inherent complexities in addressing impunity, particularly in the context of conflict, where the perpetrators continue to be in a position to do absolute harm. Does one apply the same standards of accountability that have been applied internationally, or does one tailor justice to suit those to whom injustice has been done? The timing of an indictment, and how and whether to take into consideration the voices of the victims, are all relevant questions. Anyone who has worked in a war zone and negotiated with individuals like Kony and his ilk has had to grapple with these kinds of questions, and understands that there are no pat and easy answers, and that even among survivors there are differences of opinion. Yet amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity is ultimately untenable. Kony’s reign of terror, which has stretched from Uganda, to the DRC, to CAR and South Sudan, has to end, and he has to be held accountable for the lives he has devastated. On another note, real support (psycho-social/reintegration) is needed for former child-soldiers who were abducted by the LRA, and who, notwithstanding the extraordinary ritual of “mato oput”, have for many reasons found reintegration into their communities very tough, not least because of the stigma generally attached to having been part of the LRA. This category of victim/perpetrator also faces many extraordinary challenges.
  • Katharina Wartena
    May 29, 2012
    very interesting, amazing!
  • Alain de Botton
    May 28, 2012
    The ritual of mato oput is deeply fascinating and relevant - it suggests another theme that this great film touches upon, which is the need for 'atonement'. In other words, we in the West tend to ask for justice, but deep down, what people might really want is for the wicked to atone, in other words, to realise the enormity of their crimes. The problem with the ICC is that one might get justice without atonement. Time for a version of mato oput to enter our understanding of the cycle of punishment and reintegration.
  • Samuel Gummah
    May 28, 2012
    CQ's film does not offer any easy answers because there are none! The situation gets even more complex with the involvement of publicity seekers offering 10 seconds soundbite to show they care for the poor children of Northern Uganda. International stabilization forces, foreign military advisors and exotic justice systems are a cynical way of providing western politicians an answer whenever they are asked about a situation!
  • arthur f.p.wass...
    May 27, 2012
    "ICC's crystal palace vs the mess on the ground":beyond legal narcissism. Under conditions of sheer subsistence/survival and failing states/legal disorder,a two-pronged option rests:squeezing the logic & logistics of terror by offering the suppliers (rather than perpetrators) of crime and murder credible alternative sources of living, income and (re)production.The willing executioners & lakeys of terror are equally interested in the future of their children as the victims of crime and murder.Mato oput (cleaning the past) has to be complemented by investments in robust self-defense (creating the future)