#GlobalJustice Weekly – Uganda strains diplomatic ties by welcoming ICC suspect


In Global Justice news this week: States took Uganda to task for its decision to welcome ICC suspect Omar al-Bashir to its presidential inauguration ceremony,  sentencing hearings began at the ICC for convicted rebel commander Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, several Coalition members welcomed next week’s 1st EU Day Against Impunity, and much more.

Countries were quick to condemn President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir’s invitation and visit last week to Yoweri Museveni’s inauguration ceremony in Kampala, Uganda. The European Union, Canada and the United States were among those delegations to abandon the ceremony in protest of the International Criminal Court (ICC) suspect’s attendance.

Other countries like Guatemala and Costa Rica also put out statements highlighting their concerns about al-Bashir’s invitation and attendance.

Al-Bashir is the subject of two ICC arrest warrants dating back to 2009 and 2010—for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide committed during the internal armed conflict in Darfur, Sudan.

ICC and UN Security Council states must arrest or avoid non-essential contact

States that have signed up as members of the ICC have legally bound themselves to cooperate with the Court. This includes arresting individuals who have been named as suspects by the ICC, such as al-Bashir, and where that proves difficult, not acting in any way that could hinder such an arrest. In the case of al-Bashir, which came to the Court by a UN Security Council referral, members of the Council are similarly obliged.

As the Coalition reminded Uganda last week, inviting al-Bashir to these ceremonial events lends credibility to ICC suspects enjoying liberty when they should instead be in ICC custody. This goes against the spirit and purpose of the Rome Statute to end impunity for grave crimes and bring justice to victims.

ICC member state Costa Rica, in a statement by Chancellor Manuel A. González Sanz,expressed alarm at the various instances in which states have undermined al-Bashir’s arrest, referring to official visits he has made to China, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Djibouti, the Central African Republic, South Africa and Nigeria.

Mass atrocities are mass atrocities, regardless of where they’re committed

Uganda’s actions send a message of indifference and disregard not only for victims of alleged crimes in Darfur, but in a perverse twist, for victims in Uganda as well, where the ICC has been a key and welcome actor in dismantling the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The LRA has wreaked havoc in northern Uganda since the late 1980s, but its members have been largely on the run in recent years. One LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, will go to trial at the ICC this year while another ICC suspect and the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony, is in hiding.

“President Omar Al-Bashir paid a visit yesterday to Uganda, a State Party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which itself had already called upon and benefitted from ICC proceedings,” said the European Union in a statement following the visit.

The United States explained the decision by the EU, US and Canadian delegations to walk out of the 13 May inauguration ceremony, echoing the EU’s concern about the apparent double-standard:

“In Kampala, President Museveni made disparaging remarks about the ICC in front of attendees, including other heads of state. […] We believe that walking out in protest is an appropriate reaction to a head of state mocking efforts to ensure accountability for victims of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, particularly when his country has committed to accountability as a state party to the Rome Statute,” said the director of the US Department of State Press Office.

Darfur: more than just an ICC concern

The United States, which is not an ICC member state, made clear that it respects the important work of the ICC where mass atrocities have been alleged, making a strong case for non-ICC member states as well as UN Security Council members to also cooperate with the ICC.

“While the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute, which is a treaty that established the ICC, we strongly support the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur.”

The United States’ response highlights some of the consequences that may follow for countries that shirk their self-imposed commitments under international law.

“So the United States and Uganda have a longstanding and strong partnership. We are concerned the Ugandan Government’s recent actions could endanger the economic and political process that has allowed our strong bilateral relationship to grow. We do urge the government to take steps to reverse this troubling trend.”

ICC member state Guatemala, in its statement on Uganda’s non-cooperation, urged non-ICC members as well as international and regional organizations to assist the ICC as it seeks to make al-Bashir fairly account for his alleged role in the mass atrocities documented in Darfur.

ICC investigations

Central African RepublicDuring convicted warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo’s sentencing hearing at the ICC this week, one victim’s testimony revealed the stigma and psychological damage that more than four years of sexual crimes can produce. An expertexplained to ICC judges that trauma resulting from the campaign of mass rapes by Bemba’s troops will linger for generations.

ICC prosecutors called for at least 25 years of prison for the ex-MLC commander. Bemba’s defense lawyers meanwhile argued that his eight years in detention while awaiting conviction at the Court are proportionate to his crimes.

Côte d’IvoireJusticeHub illustrated how Côte d’Ivoire’s post-election crisis cases arrived at the ICC. According to the Ivorian Prime Minister, one of those cases – against the Ivorian former first lady – has no future at the ICC.

LibyaUnlawful executions by ISIS in Libya stronghold amount to war crimes and possibly also crimes against humanity, said Human Rights Watch.

MaliICC judges announced that they aim to begin Malian Islamist Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi’s destruction of cultural heritage trial by mid-June.

Campaign for Global Justice

Looking to next week, May 23 will commemorate the first EU Day Against Impunity. The day aims to raise awareness of the most heinous crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as well as to promote national investigations and prosecutions of these international-level crimes.The day will feature a high-level event organized by the Netherlands Presidency of the Council of the EU, European Commission, EU Genocide Network and Eurojust. Practitioners, EU member states and institutions, and NGO and international tribunal representatives, among others, will participate in the discussions.

Six Coalition members – Amnesty International, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights Watch, REDRESS and TRIAL – have issued a statement welcoming the first EU Day Against Impunity. The statement calls on the EU and its member states to strengthen national prosecutions of crimes under international law, particularly in the context of the ongoing refugee crisis, which means that previously unavailable victims, witnesses, material evidence and even some suspects are within the reach of judicial authorities within European states.

Follow Monday’s discussions live via Twitter with #EUDayAgainstImpunity.