Bush's Ally Museveni: Possible War Crimes Suspect

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[Black Star News Editorial]

The recent wave of human rights violations in Burma (Myanmar) deservedly elicited strong outrage from the International community and the White House. President Bush condemned the violence against pro-democracy demonstrators and the US toughened sanctions on the Burma junta.

But Bush’s invitation to Ugandan President Lt. General Yoweri K. Museveni, to visit the White House October 30, undermines all the Administration’s public pronouncements professing support for democracy, whether in Burma, the Sudan, Pakistan, or elsewhere.

General Museveni, who came to power in 1986, scrapped the Ugandan Constitution’s presidential term limits in 2005. He lied to Ugandans five years earlier when he vowed he would stand down when his term expired. He jailed opposition contender Dr. Kizza Besigye before the campaigns for the last election started; he is widely believed to have lost last year’s vote but declared victory. Ironically, during his last White House audience, Bush himself had urged the Ugandan not to alter the constitution. Bush’s invitation to such an enemy of democracy is Un-American.

Under Museveni, Uganda has become one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Yet, donor countries including the US keep sending tax payer money to the regime without holding Museveni accountable for the corruption. This is because most Americans are unaware that money that was allocated to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria from The Global Fund was embezzled by Uganda officials, including government ministers. While the war-devastated regions in Uganda deserve global and US financial support for recovery, independent monitors must be involved in any financial disbursements.

To demonstrate the contempt the general has for ordinary Ugandans, consider the following: The country is hosting the glitzy Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next month at a cost of several millions of dollars while its citizens starve to death in camps in the war-affected north. Moreover, one would expect a humane government to at least postpone the Meeting following the recent devastating floods that displaced more than 300,000 people in the north, forcing the government to ask for help from donors even while it continues to import wine and cheese for the Commonwealth extravaganza. Several thousand victims remain hungry and homeless. The U.S. maintains an embassy in Uganda so officials know these facts. Decent American citizens must reject this outrageous display of callousness.

President Bush's audience with Museveni is contemptible on several other accounts: it undermines an on-going International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of alleged crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) by the Ugandan army and allied militias.

More than four million Congolese died in the DRC conflict. Uganda initially sponsored a popular invasion in 1997 to oust Congo’s kleptocrat Mobutu Seseko, who was replaced by Laurent Kabila. The second Uganda invasion of Congo, launched on August 2, 1998, was aimed at replacing Kabila with a pliant successor. Uganda’s military blitz towards Kinshasa was halted by the intervention of Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola’s tank brigades on the Congo's side. Kabila, who had attempted to exert his independence, was murdered. The Congo was dismembered.

During Uganda’s occupation of Congo’s mineral rich Ituri region from 1998 to 2005 its army and allied militias allegedly committed heinous crimes—massacres, mass rapes, mutilations, burning of homes, and looting of the Congo's natural wealth (see http://hrw.org/reports/2003/ituri0703/DRC0703-04.htm#whoiswho).

Hoping to end the cycle of abuse with impunity, the DRC under president Joseph Kabila, who had replaced his father -and who recently was confirmed to an elected term of office- referred the alleged atrocities to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The court ruled in Congo's favor in 2005 (see: http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/116/10455.pdf). Uganda was found liable for the mass killings, mutilations, destructions and thefts and subsequently the Congo was awarded $10 billion in compensation; not a cent has been paid.

Separately, in 2004, the International Criminal Court (ICC), which handles criminal matters, launched its own investigation of alleged crimes against humanity involving Uganda’s army and allied militias.

Certainly General Museveni is aware of the grave seriousness of the ICC's probe. On June 8, 2006, The Wall Street Journal, in a front page article reported: "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."

Indictments for such alleged crimes would not be unprecedented. The ICC previously indicted Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president for sponsoring militias that committed atrocities in Sierra Leone similar to the ones allegedly committed by Uganda and allied forces in the Congo. Taylor is now being tried in the Hague for crimes against humanity. 

In light of the ICJ's 2005 rulings against Uganda on the Congo atrocities, and in light of the ICC’s action against Taylor with respect to the crimes committed in Sierra Leone, it is not beyond reason that the ICC might in the future indict Ugandan military commanders, including the commander in chief, General Museveni.

By inviting the Ugandan general, a possible suspect on war crimes charges, Bush diminishes the prestige of a White House visit. Their meeting could also be misconstrued as the Bush Administration’s repudiation of the ICC’s on-going probe, or a signal to the Court to shelve the investigation as it relates to Uganda officials: Unless, indeed these are the objectives. The ICC probe should be allowed to travel wherever the evidence leads.

The ICC has already struggled to exert its credibility. The court has indicted Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, and three of his top officers for its role in Uganda’s brutal civil war. Only recently have the LRA and the Uganda government, which for decades preferred a military solution, been negotiating, half-heartedly, to end 20 years of warfare.

Over the course of this brutal war, the LRA is charged with committing massacres against Ugandans in Acholi region, and carrying out rapes, abductions and mutilations. Uganda’s army is also charged with massive human rights abuses, including: burning of homes with civilians inside them; rapes of mothers and even fathers in front of their families; burying alive of civilians accused of rebel sympathies; mutilations; and massacres. Not coincidentally, these are the type of crimes also alleged to have been committed by Uganda troops in DRC.

More than 90% of the deaths in Uganda’s ignored war have occurred away from the battlefield. Museveni’s government has confined nearly two million civilians in concentration camps, purportedly to protect them from the LRA—according to a study by Uganda’s own Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 1,000 excess deaths per week in these camps from starvation and diseases. This translates to 52,000 annual deaths, 520,000 over the past decade, or more than one million over the war’s duration. No wonder a former United Nations Under Secretary General, Olara Otunnu has accused the Museveni government of slow-motion genocide against Acholis.

Although the ICC’s probe continues in Uganda, no government military officers or officials have yet been indicted. Bush’s meeting with Museveni retards the ICC’s work. It also provides ammunition to the LRA leaders to escalate their defiance. Even suspects indicted on other war crimes by the Court, including the Sudanese for Darfur atrocities, can now claim that the ICC indictments are selective—meant to punish some countries while US “allies” like Museveni are shielded.

Indeed, Bush views Museveni as an “ally” in the “war against terror.” After a pro-US regime was installed in Somalia, following the defeat of the Islamic Courts government by Ethiopia’s U.S.-sponsored invasion, Uganda was the only African country to rush in with “peace keepers.” 

Moreover, the fact that Uganda’s army is being investigated for alleged crimes against humanity by the ICC should have disqualified it from participating in such a force. Instead, the US paid to ship Ugandan troops to Somalia—a move Somalis may see as a blatantly hostile action. Is it any wonder that Somalia’s chaos has worsened? South Africa and Nigeria, Africa’s major powers, wary of participating in joint action with Uganda’s discredited army, and not wanting to be seen as US proxies, have declined involvement.

So, by allying closely with Museveni, the US has actually done more harm than good in the fight against extremism in Somalia and elsewhere in Africa. At the same time, the Bush Administration has disappointed pro-democracy forces while emboldening tyrants everywhere.

For more about the real Uganda see www.exposeugandasgenocide.blogspot.com
: Concerned readers can call The White House at 202-456-1414 and ask spokesperson Dana Perino why Bush is hosting Museveni. Readers can also call their Senator or Congressperson
Note: Concerned readers can also call Senator Joseph Biden, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee to register their views at 202-224-5042. Readers can also call Senator Clinton 202-224-4451 and Senator Obama 202-224-2854
Note: To read more on the global fund corruption see:
Note: For news about Uganda from an independent newspaper please visit www.monitor.co.ug
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