Uganda and LRA Agree to Domestic War Crimes Court

by Julian Ku

During my latest blog-blackout, I missed the latest from Uganda. Apparently, the LRA-Uganda peace talks have reached agreement on a domestic process for prosecuting war crimes.

The Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels on Tuesday signed a major agreement on how to deal with crimes committed during the brutal nearly 22-year insurgency in northern Uganda. The government and the rebels are currently engaged in peace talks mediated by South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar.

According to the new protocol, those accused of severe crimes would be tried in the High Court of Uganda while those accused of lesser crimes would face the northern Uganda traditional justice system know as Mato OPut.

Uganda’s government seems to believe that it can get the ICC arrest warrants withdrawn against key LRA leaders. As its minister of state for defense says:

“First of all it is Uganda which approached the ICC to help in getting Kony and his commanders because Uganda could not reach Kony because he was outside Uganda’s jurisdiction. We are hoping that if Kony and his commanders decided to be subjected to DDR, demobilization, disarmament, and then reintegrate, that would mean that they would come out of the bush and come to Uganda, and then Uganda will now be in the position to get them. And we will have no problem in subjecting them through our judicial system. ICC was created to fight impunity, and therefore the High Court of Uganda can exactly do that,” she said.

But Uganda cannot recall its original referral. The decision to withdraw the ICC arrest warrants is for the ICC, not Uganda. But someone should tell Uganda’s government that.

3 Responses

  1. Julian,

    The government of Uganda has been clear that they are aware that the ICC has to make this decision. I can’t find any links right now, but this was stated very clearly by their ambassador here in The Hague earlier this week.

  2. I would have thought Uganda’s move is not directed at removing the ICC’s jurisdiction by rescinding the referral, but by reference to the complementarity of ICC jurisdiction. Now that Uganda is apparently willing and able to genuinely prosecute, the argument seems to go, the ICC case is no longer admissible.

    There might be an argument that in referring a situation to the ICC, a State party waives its right to prosecute with precedence over the ICC, as it derives from the principle of complementarity, or alternatively that the State thus certifies that it is not itself able and willing to prosecute. But whatever the merits of such an argument, I don’t think either understanding could survive changes to the situation on the ground such as may have occurred here.

    Once the ICC loses jurisdiction (assuming it can, at this stage; has a decision been made?), of course the arrest warrants will be rescinded or lose all force.

  3. Does it much matter about what the ICC does if it loses Uganda’s cooperation? It’s not like it is going to send in commandos to make an arrest; the only hope of actually enforcing a sentence would be if Uganda handed over the offending parties.

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