An official of an international human rights group has urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate both parties in the northern Uganda conflict.
“We have always called on the ICC prosecutor to investigate both sides to the conflict in northern Uganda and to carry out investigations and decide whether or not to bring charges against Ugandan officials as well as LRA,” said Elizabeth Evenson of Human Rights Watch international justice program from Kampala where she is attending the first ICC’s review conference.
In its first-ever official arrest warrants, in 2005, the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, singled out Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and four of his commanders, and charged them with 33 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed since July 2002, when the ICC Rome Statute came into effect.
Evenson said that even if there isn’t an ICC case there still needs to be accountability domestically for human rights violations that were committed by Ugandan [UPDF] soldiers. “So, we will call on Ugandan government to provide accountability.”
She said having the conference in Africa has brought the court, countries and the people representing those countries a bit closer to the work the court is doing. “I think it has given them the opportunity to see the context in which the court operates and some of the challenges it faces.
Most people, Evenson said, “think of the court as something that is just in the Hague and don’t understand that a lot of the real work of the court is where the crimes took place.”
It is also very important, she said, “having the conference in Uganda as a useful moment to remind the Ugandan authorities that they have an obligation to prosecute serious crimes, and that there hasn’t been enough accountability for human rights violations that they might have carried out themselves.”
The conference is also discussing the crime of aggression, its legal definition, and the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime.
Evenson said there are a lot of differences on the issue of the crime of aggression.
“As far as we are concerned, at Human Rights Watch, we have concerns, such as if the crime of aggression is made operational we do not want the (UN) Security Council to have exclusive control over when the ICC prosecutor should be able to investigate.”
She said their organization thinks this crime should be treated like the other crimes in the Rome statute.
Evenson also expressed concern on the timing wondering whether this is the right time to bring the crime of aggression into action.
The court, she said, “is very young, still developing, its mandate isn’t as well understood as it should be. The court needs a little bit more time to do the work it is already doing before taking on the crime of aggression”
Evenson described the conference as a significant moment in the life of ICC. “Over the first 4- 5 days of the conference key challenges facing the ICC have been discussed. All hope is that these discussions push international justice and the ICC forward after the conference ends.
Elizabeth Evenson’s research focus and advocacy is the International Criminal Court. She previously conducted research on Uganda as a Leonard H. Sandler fellow in Human Rights Watch’s Africa division.