Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Will Bemba lead the ICC to Uganda?

There is a legal precedent. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently trying Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president who is accused of supporting Foday Sanko’s rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone which, like Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC), allegedly killed hundreds of thousands of people, maimed many more and illegally sold diamonds to support their dirty little wars. There is something else, equally compelling.

While Rwanda, a country President Museveni has issues with flatly refused, Uganda, allegedly ruled by men signed the Rome Statute on March 17, 1999, and ratified the legal instrument and became a fully-fledged member of the ICC on June 14, 2002. With the stroke of a pen, President Museveni, supposedly a shrewd politician had unwittingly set a legal trap for himself, his war-mongering generals and their civilian accomplices. How did this happen?

“Embwa ye piigi kweremwa kukaga egwa omwihanba,” goes a time honoured Nkore proverb while the Iteso, “Adeka na eyari ekingok egeyari ber anwokikin ekume ke”, literally meaning (the disease that eventually kills a hunting dog first destroys its sense of smell).

The ICC-inspired arrest of Bemba on charges of war crimes in Central African Republic, will almost certainly lead to his and President Museveni’s roles in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Why? A report compiled by the United Nations, no less, implicitly states that Uganda actively supplied Bemba with arms, money and logistics during the 1998-2002 war in the DR Congo.

In his October 15, 2002 letter, addressed to the UN Security Council, the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan said “I have the honour to transmit to you the final report of the Panel, which was submitted to me by its Chairman, Mr Mahmoud Kassem. This independent report comprises an evaluation of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)”.

In paragraph 97, the report states, “The objective of the elite network in the areas controlled by Uganda has been to exercise monopolistic control over the area’s principal natural resources, cross-border trade, and tax revenues for the purpose of enriching members of the network.”

Paragraph 98 states, “The elite network operating out of Uganda is decentralised and hierarchical, consisting of high-ranking UPDF officers, private businessmen and selected rebel leaders/administrators. UPDF Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Salim Saleh and Maj. Gen. James Kazini are the key figures. Other members include the Chief of Military Intelligence, Col. Noble Mayombo, Col. Kahinda Otafiire and Col. Peter Karim.”

Paragraph 102 states “In anticipation of the withdrawal by the UPDF, a paramilitary force is being trained under the personal authority of Lt. Gen. Saleh which, is expected to continue to facilitate the commercial activities of UPDF officers after UPDF have departed. This military group draws on dissidents from Jean-Pierre Bemba’s MLC. It has been reported that Lt. Gen. Saleh discreetly provides financial support for this new rebel group”.

Based on this report, on December 19, 2005, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) convicted and ordered Uganda to pay between $6-10 billion in compensation for “war crimes, crimes against humanity and illegal exploitation of the DRC’s natural resources”.

On March 23, 2006, Thomas Lubanga, the former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), which the UN says was also supported by Uganda, was arrested and charged with war crimes, mass murder, rape, conscripting children under 15, and forcing them to participate in war”.

And in a self-incriminating move, on September 14, 2003, “State attorney Deus Byamugisha signed the consent judgement on behalf of Uganda government, agreeing to pay $226,958 to Silver Springs Hotel for the outstanding cost of hotel accommodation, booked by the President’s Office, for a number of guests linked to DRC rebels.” (“Govt. to pay 400m/- Congo debt”, New Vision, Sept. 15, 2003).

Given this evidence linking Bemba and other Congolese rebels to the Uganda government, isn’t it high time the ICC issued arrest warrants for Ugandans officials who financed and benefited from war crimes, crimes against humanity and the illegal exploitation the DRC’s natural resources? Even the New Vision has complained, “Bemba’s arrest is also likely to be seen as selective justice. As long as you commit atrocities as part of a government army, they do not qualify for war crimes, seems to be the message.” (“Bemba arrest selective justice”, May 26, 2008).

Will the ICC cover up the genocide in the DRC, as it has done in northern Uganda, by concentrating on Bemba, leaving his Ugandan godfathers and comrades in crimes against humanity?

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