Overdue: ICC Investigation Of Uganda President's Role In Alleged War Crimes

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[Black Star News Editorial]

For years The Black Star News had been an almost solitary voice, demanding that the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigate war crimes committed by Uganda's military in the Democratic Republic of Congo and inside Uganda under commander in chief Gen. Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda.


The ICC had, commendably, already launched an investigation of leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army for the LRA's atrocities and indicted its commanders; yet, the ICC's silence with respect to crimes by Gen. Museveni's forces sullied the organization's reputation.

What's more, this newspaper has published scores of editorials and articles declaring that the ICC was hyprocritical in pursuing Sudan president Omar Hassan Al-Bashir on crimes of war while ignoring the genocide committed by Uganda's army in its Acholi region, and in the DRC, during Uganda's occupation of Eastern Congo.

Another lone voice in the political and public arena, has been that of Olara Otunnu, a former Uganda ambassador to the United Nations, a former foreign affairs minister, and a former UnderSecretary General of the United Nations. In several interviews with The Black Star News, Otunnu spoke about how the ICC had damaged its reputation by ignoring the alleged crimes committed by Gen. Museveni's troops in DRC and in Uganda's Acholi region, while focusing solely on those committed by the vicious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) under Joseph Kony.


Finally, today, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC Prosecuctor relented by announcing that the court would consider the alleged Uganda crimes. He had gone to Uganda to attend the ICC Review conference --wherein delegates from around the world gathered in Kampala to reflect on the ICC's record and to consider expanding its brief-- when Otunnu, who is now a presidential aspirant and leader of Uganda People's Congress, an opposition political party, confronted Ocampo about his reluctance to investigate the crimes by Gen. Museveni's army against Ugandan and DRC civilians.

Otunnu also called Gen. Museveni's hosting of the ICC's review conference, in light of the massive human rights violations he's associated with "a mockery of the Rome Statute" and added "a moment of great shame," for the court. The Rome Statute refers to the treaty, enacted in 2002, that created the court.

Ocampo called on Otunnu to formally submit evidence about the alleged war crimes committed against Acholi civilians in Uganda. "If we see need to open new investigations, we shall," Ocampo said. "They are important and I can investigate if he gives me real information," he told journalists, referring to Otunnu's charges.

Ocampo cautioned that the crimes the ICC can handle would cover the period after July 2002, when the Rome Statute came into effect.

“I have already handed over to Ocampo some information and I will be handing more information and I urge other Ugandans to provide information regarding the massacres and impunity in northern Uganda and Congo,” Otunnu quickly responded, speaking to reporters after meeting with Ocampo. “People on the ground can tell you which crime was committed by whom,” Otunnu continued, referring to civilians in Uganda's Acholi region.

“There is a trail of blood, massacre and impunity that follows Museveni," Otunnu added, referring to areas of major bloodshed--the unifying theme is that always Museveni's forces were involved. Otunnu also called for the killings of about 30 civilians by security forces in September to be investigated by the ICC.

There will be no shortage of a list of crimes committed in Uganda's Acholi region by Museveni's troops; the primary one being the confinement of two million Acholis in concentration camps --euphemistically referred to as "internally displaced people's camps -- where possibly one million or more people died through planned neglect.

Some of these camps are still just being dismantled. They certainly existed in 2005, three years into the Rome Statute, when, that year, the World Health Organization (WHO), reported that up to 1,000 civilians were dying per week; they perished from  hunger, dehydration and treatable diseases. Many women and men were also rape victims; there were even allegations that soldiers known to be HIV positive targeted some victims for rape during the long conflict between Gen. Museveni's troops and the LRA.

Some of these Victims from Uganda's Acholi region, who also attended the Review conference, are now newly emboldened and have called for Ocampo to investigate alleged war crimes by the Ugandan army.

Gen. Museveni had argued that the camps were meant to protect civilians from LRA atrocities. Otunnu questioned why the international community rejected an attempt to set up such camps in Burundi, when the regime there was also fighting insurgency, while tolerating it in Uganda. In any event, several-times more civilians perished inside Museveni's camps under the "care" of his army than at the hands of the LRA.

With respect to the DRC crimes, that verdict has been out for years, when in 2005 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favor of Congo which had alleged that Museveni's army and allied militias committed war crimes in DRC, during Uganda's occupation of Eastern Congo.  The ICJ, also known as The World Court, ordered $10 billion in compensation to Congo.

In a very important front-page article on June 8, 2006, The Wall Street Journal reported that the ICC had also began an investigation of the Congo crimes --the same crimes for which the ICJ had found Uganda liable. The Wall Street Journal also reported that some of Ocampo's colleagues were apalled by the cozy relationship he had with Museveni, who certainly knew his
responsibility for the Congo atrocities. Indeed, the same Wall Street Journal article reported that Museveni had asked Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General to block the ICC's probe, to which Annan reportedly said he had no such powers.


With respect to Gen. Museveni's role in the Congo crimes, Otunnu has observed.

“Taylor sponsored and financed crimes in Sierra Leone that is why he is being prosecuted so should Museveni who sponsored and financed crimes in Congo,” Otunnu said today, referring to former Liberia president Charles Taylor, now being tried at the Hague.

Otunnu noted that the ICC is already trying DRC suspects Thomas Lubanga and Jean Pierre Bemba and Thomas Lubanga, militia chiefs accused of presiding over massacres, mass rapes, and pillage. Yet, both these warlords had been financed and trained by Museveni, Otunnu said, wondering why Taylor could be tried for sponsoring war crimes in Sierra Leone, while Museveni spared for his role in Congo's.

Museveni is a master of PR, and sadly with Ocampo's collaboration, hoped to use his hosting of the Review conference to sanitize his role in the Uganda and DRC crimes by his army. He was at his best when he spoke at the conference this week, shedding crocodile tears for victims of atrocities in Uganda's Acholi region at the hands of the LRA and promising compensation. Of course, he didn't mention his own contributions to the calamity, and was mute when it came to the $10 billion owed to Congo victims.

Both Ocampo and Annan sat nearby during this revolting spectacle.

But great crimes can never be concealed forever. The process of accountability may have truly began today.

Let justice be pursued vigorously, without favor, on behalf of all victims and against all perpetrators, in Uganda, and throughout Central Africa.

Please post your comments directly or submit them to milton@blackstarnews.com

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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