ICC As Apologist For Yoweri Museveni

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The fact that the ICC is defending and romanticizing a regime with a very poor record of human rights and liability for war crimes across the Greats Lakes Region discredits the ICC completely and clearly illustrates that it is not justice they are seeking in northern Uganda, but absolution of the Museveni regime and the UPDF

[Op-Ed: Africa]

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was allegedly created to have jurisdiction over war crimes, both civil and international: genocide, as defined by the United Nations; crimes of aggression; crimes against humanity; and, crimes established under treaty provisions that may constitute "exceptionally serious crimes of international concern."

But right from its inception it has remained a controversial institution to the extent that only some of its members have ratified its operational document, the Rome Statute--2000. Powerful UN members with veto rights in the Security Council such as the US, Russia and China, have refused to ratify it, weary that it could easily be abused for political motives.

If one doubted the claims of these world’s most powerful nations, then one has to look no further than the ICC’s conduct in the matter of the UN-neglected 25 years brutal conflict in the northern part of Uganda.

In this matter, the ICC was dragged in unprepared at the height of the conflict as a milito-political tool by the Museveni regime - a party to human rights abuses in the conflict - to fight the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). Imprudently, the ICC fell for the bait, and as more light is being shed on the manner in which they got involved, many observers are beginning to wonder if it was to seek justice and hold to account all those responsible for gross violation of human rights and war crimes against humanity.

Ironically, the ICC has been seeking its “justice” with the support of the hoard of profiteering NGOs, against the critical voices of the local people who have borne the brunt of the 25 years brutal conflict and are only demanding that “all parties to the conflict be investigated and those found guilty – be they on the LRA or UPDF side – be prosecuted. But the ICC, has stuck to its guns that “only the LRA and Kony committed crimes” in northern Uganda. 

Instead of advocating for and directing those with evidence to make submissions for investigation, the ICC on behalf of the Museveni government has gone as far as to challenge anyone calling for the investigation of the NRM government and its army the UPDF. This is precisely the kind of abuse that the wise super powers had foreseen when they rejected ratifying the Rome Statute.

The conduct of the ICC bureaucrats at the Hague has not been helped by their milito-political statements; putting them across not as an independent judicial institution, but as the spokesperson for the National Resistanc Movement (NRM) government in Uganda.

One such example is the recent utterance of Uganda's ambassador to the ICC, Mirjim Blaak. While responding to Gulu municipality Member of Parliament Alex Oceng Penytoo’s call to investigate both the LRA and Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF), the Ugandan national army, over atrocities committed during the war, Ambassador Mirjim said that “there is no way UPDF could have committed atrocities because the Government is very strict on their conduct.”

Penytoo had remarked that “Justice must be seen to be done across the board but not leaving the army who also participated in the killing of people.” 


It was in fact ambassador Jan Egeland, the former United Nations UnderSecretary General for Humanitarian affairs who described the war in the northern part of Uganda, in 2004, as the “world’s worst and most forgotten humanitarian disaster of our time.” The UN and the Uganda government failed to protect the 1,500 civilians who died per week -according to a World Health Organization report-- in the over 200 UN supervised and maintained concentration camps erected by President Museveni and the UPDF.

Even a layman cannot look at the conduct of the ICC and fail to notice its selective focus. It leaves no doubt that the ICC is a controversial political tool that can only persecute the weak, while unable to prosecute on equal terms those in government. Selective justice as a means to political power is not justice. Justice should not be pursued in a selective or piecemeal fashion.

The ICC claims to have conducted a "thorough investigation" into the atrocities committed in northern Uganda. The victims on the other hand, are skeptical about the fairness of ICC findings in northern Uganda, let alone its neutrality and even-handedness.

Writing in one of the most most prestigious U.S. newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, Jess Bravin in “Justice Delayed For Global Court, Ugandan Rebels Prove Tough Test,” June 8, 2006, illustrated clearly the kind of political maneuvering that was played in European Cities to get the court out of its predicament and guarantee its first case- –the LRA. 

He wrote, referring to ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo; “At a July 2003 news conference, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo announced out of the blue that he believed atrocities in Congo, a member state formerly known as Zaire, could qualify for an ICC investigation. He had provided no advance warning to Congo's government or to any other member countries. 'Diplomats make a deal before they speak publicly,' says Mr. Moreno-Ocampo. 'But I am not a diplomat.'

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo didn't follow up with an immediate investigation. But his remarks worried Congo's neighbor, Uganda, which Congo had accused of invading, committing crimes of barbarity and destabilizing its eastern territory. An attorney for Uganda met with Mr. Moreno-Ocampo in 2003 to deny his government was involved in atrocities in Congo, according to someone familiar with the matter. Discussion turned to Uganda and the Lord's Resistance. Eventually, an agreement emerged for Uganda to refer that matter to the ICC. Uganda's government saw the deal as a way to gain an international ally in its campaign against the Lord's Resistance Army.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo planned to announce the agreement in a joint news conference with Uganda's President Museveni. But several ICC staff members objected to Mr. Moreno-Ocampo appearing publicly with Mr. Museveni, citing the Ugandan government's reputed involvement in atrocities in eastern Congo, according to one court official. ICC investigations chief Serge Brammertz, a Belgian career prosecutor, 'was going bananas telling Luis not to do this, and he did it anyway,' according to the ICC official. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo appeared with Mr. Museveni at a news conference in London. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo declines to discuss internal deliberations, but says it was vital to get the Ugandan president's cooperation."

Elsewhere, in the same article, Bravin wrote:  

"In April 2004, nearly a year after Mr. Moreno Ocampo floated the idea of a Congolese case, Congo President Joseph Kabila referred alleged war crimes within his nation to the ICC. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo set up a separate team to investigate atrocities there, which will likely involve reviewing Uganda's alleged support for Congolese militias. 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, declined to comment on the matter."

This background raises doubts about the impartiality and professionalism of the ICC. The fact that it is defending and romanticizing with a regime with a very poor record of human rights and liability for war crimes across the Greats Lakes Region --as affirmed by the 2005 International Court of Justice ruling in favor of DRC-- discredits the ICC completely and clearly illustrates that it is not justice it is seeking in Uganda, but absolution of the Museveni regime and the UPDF.


Samuel Olara is human rights advocate. Contact olarasamuel@hotmail.com

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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