Bemba Arrest: The ICC Gets Serious

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Moreover, Bemba’s arrest could also spell trouble for his former sponsor, Uganda’s U.S.-backed dictator, Yoweri K. Museveni. The ICC has also been investigating alleged crimes against humanity committed in Congo, by Uganda forces and its allied militias, including Bemba’s, according to The Wall Street Journal.

[Africa: No Crimes With Impunity]

 


In recent months the International Criminal Court (ICC) had been accused of becoming politicized and losing focus of its mandate, which is to prosecute war criminals everywhere in the world.


The court was lauded when it returned indictments of five commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, including its commander-in-chief Joseph Kony. The ICC was excoriated by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, for allegedly ignoring war crimes committed against the Acholi people of northern Uganda by its national army, the UPDF, in its war against the LRA.


Now, with the arrest of Congo warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba yesterday, on war crimes charges in connection to atrocities in the Central African Republic, the ICC has taken a robust and commendable approach. A few warlords and dictators in Africa may be trembling.


Moreover, Bemba’s arrest could also spell trouble for his former sponsor, Uganda’s U.S.-backed dictator, Yoweri K. Museveni. The ICC has also been investigating alleged crimes against humanity committed in Congo, by Uganda forces and its allied militias, according to The Wall Street Journal. The alleged crimes were committed when Uganda had occupied eastern Congo.


Uganda had allegedly armed and financed the Congo militias, much in the same manner in which Liberia, under Charles Taylor, once sponsored insurgents that committed war crimes in Sierra Leone. Taylor was later indicted and after he had been removed from office, arrested and taken to a special war crimes court set up in the Hague where he is currently being tried.


As many as 6 million Congolese are reported to have died as a result of the conflict sparked by the invasion, including by Uganda. Allegedly, Uganda  sponsored several militias including Bemba’s Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC), when it then occupied eastern Congo.


Human Rights Watch in a 2003 report, “Ituri: Covered In Blood,” (Please see http://hrw.org/reports/2003/ituri0703/DRC0703-04.htm#whoiswho) identified at least 10 militias it said were Uganda-backed. These insurgent organizations were accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes.


In 2005, Uganda was found liable by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for plundering Congo’s resources and its army and allied forces of committing crimes against civilians, including massacres, mutilations, mass rapes and burning people alive. (Please see: http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/116/10455.pdf) The alleged crimes are identical in pattern and form to the ones reportedly committed against Acholi civilians in Uganda, as documented by Amnesty International in its annual reports.


The court agreed that Uganda should pay compensation, and the DRC government asked for $10 billion.


Meanwhile, on March 3, 2004, the Congo government under President Joseph Kabila, had referred crimes against humanity allegations against Uganda and its allied militias to the ICC; the court confirmed this to The Black Star News on July 27, 2007. The ICC then initiated an investigation of the alleged crimes, according to a front page news report in The Wall Street Journal on June 6, 2006.


The seriousness with which the Uganda government took the ICC matter is clear from The Wall Street Journal. According to the Journal report: “President Museveni of Uganda asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to block the Congo investigation, according to one person familiar with the matter. Mr. Annan replied that he had no power to interfere with the court, this person said. A Ugandan government spokesman, Robert Kabushenga, declines to comment on the matter.”


The arrest of warlord Bemba, on Saturday, May 24, 2008, could shed information into the financing sources of brutal insurgencies--many were fronts for criminal enterprises aligned with foreign corporations to loot minerals and natural resources. Bemba was arrested in a suburb of Brussels, Belgium. His MLC, in addition to the crimes allegedly committed in DRC  “intervened in the 2002-2003 armed conflict in Central African Republic (CAR) and pursued a plan of terrorizing and brutalizing civilians, in particular during a campaign of massive rapes and looting…” the ICC said in a statement.


“Mr. Bemba had already used the same tactics in the past, in CAR, in the DRC, always leaving a trail of death and destruction behind him,” the statement added.


Whenever his trial commences, it will be interesting to see what Bemba reveals in terms of the nature of support of financing he received from Uganda in connection with the alleged war crimes in the DRC.


Hopefully, the ICC, which has done commendable work in holding the LRA rebels accountable for the alleged crimes in Uganda, will now direct some of its resources to deal with alleged crimes committed by the UPDF against the people of Acholi in Uganda.


As early as 2004, Human Rights Watch had called for evenhanded scrutiny in a press release, “ICC: Investigate All Sides in Uganda,” (Please see  http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/02/04/uganda7264.htm)

 



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