PRESIDENT OF UGANDA REFERS SITUATION CONCERNING LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY (LRA)
TO INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT
(Reissued as received.)
THE HAGUE, 29 January (ICC) -- In December 2003 the President Yoweri Museveni took the decision to refer the situation concerning the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The Prosecutor has determined that there is a sufficient basis to start planning for the first investigation of the Court. Determination to initiate the investigation will take place in the coming months.
President Museveni met with the Prosecutor in London to establish the basis for future cooperation between Uganda and the International Criminal Court. A key issue will be locating and arresting the LRA leadership. This will require the active cooperation of States and international institutions in supporting the efforts of the Ugandan authorities.
Many of the members of the LRA are themselves victims, having been abducted and brutalized by the LRA leadership. The reintegration of these individuals into Ugandan society is key to the future stability of Northern Uganda. This will require the concerted support of the international community –- Uganda and the Court cannot do this alone.
In a bid to encourage members of the LRA to return to normal life, the Ugandan authorities have enacted an amnesty law. President Museveni has indicated to the Prosecutor his intention to amend this amnesty so as to exclude the leadership of the LRA, ensuring that those bearing the greatest responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed in Northern Uganda are brought to justice.
According to the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor has to inform all States parties to the Statute of the formal initiation of an investigation. Following this the Prosecutor may seek an arrest warrant from the Pre-Trial Chamber. To take this step, the Prosecutor must determine that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation. The Prosecutor will work with Ugandan authorities, other States and international organizations in gathering the necessary information to make this determination.
President Museveni and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court will hold a press conference on Thursday, 29 January 2004 at 6 p.m. at the Hotel Intercontinental Hyde Park, London.
The current conflict has persisted for 17 years, during which time civilians in northern Uganda have been subjected to regular attacks. Tensions began soon after President Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986. Not long thereafter, a rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), was formed from several splinter groups originating from the former Ugandan People’s Democratic Army.
According to different reports given to the Office of the Prosecutor, the situation has resulted in a pattern of serious human rights abuses against civilians in the region, including summary executions, torture and mutilation, recruitment of child soldiers, child sexual abuse, rape, forcible displacement, and looting and destruction of civilian property.
The LRA base of combatants is drawn largely from abducted villagers, particularly children, mostly aged between 11 and 15, though children younger have been taken. According to the reports over 85 per cent of the LRA’s forces are made up of children, used as soldiers, porters, labourers and sexual slaves in the case of girls. As part of initiation into the rebel movement, abducted children are forced into committing inhuman acts, including ritual killing and mutilations. The total number of abducted children is reported to be over 20,000. Children are reported frequently beaten and forced to carry heavy loads over long distances, loot and burn houses, beat and kill civilians and fellow abductees, and abduct other children.
The reports mention that in order to evade capture, thousands of children have become “night dwellers”, walking large numbers of kilometres to regroup in centres run by non-governmental organizations, on the streets, on shop verandas, on church grounds, and in local factories heading back to their villages at dawn.
After abduction, many younger girls are reported to be assigned as servants to commanders, enduring gruelling domestic work, with long hours and continuous beatings. Older female captives are forced to become the “wives” of senior soldiers or are given as a sexual reward for obedient boy soldiers, and hence are subjected to rape, unwanted pregnancies and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
Another report stated that attacks by the LRA in the mid 1990s have forced approximately three quarters of the Acholi population to flee their homes in Gulu and Kigum/Pader districts in the north. In the past year, intensified LRA activities have led to a doubling of the population of the camps, from approximately 400,000 to 800,000.
It has also been reported that part of the violence pattern to terrorize the population includes body mutilations, cutting of hands, ears or lips of villagers suspected of government sympathies. In addition, during the course of the conflict, the LRA burned at least 1,946 houses and 1,600 storage granaries, looted at least 1,327 houses, 116 villages, and 307 shops.
The alleged crimes being committed in the region (e.g., conscription or enlisting of children under 15 years into the army, wilful killing, rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, and forced displacement of civilians) may constitute crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute.
The International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole committed after 1 July 2002: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, all of which are defined in the Rome Statute. States parties, as well as the Security Council can refer situations to the Prosecutor for investigation. The Prosecutor also has the power to initiate investigations on his or her own on the basis of information received from reliable sources with the authorization of the Pre-Trial Chamber.
The International Criminal Court was established by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 17 July 1998, when 120 States participating in the “United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court” adopted the Statute. This is the first ever permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court established to promote the rule of law and ensure that the gravest international crimes do not go unpunished. The Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002. Anyone who commits any of the crimes under the Statute after this date will be liable for prosecution by the Court.
Once a State becomes a party to the Statute, it accepts the Court's jurisdiction with respect to crimes under the Statute. For the Court to exercise its jurisdiction, the territorial State (the State on whose territory the situation which is being investigated has taken or is taking place), or the State of nationality (the State whose nationality is possessed by the person who is being investigated) must be a party to the Statute.
The Court will not replace national courts, but will be complementary to national criminal jurisdictions. The Court will only investigate and prosecute if a State is unwilling or unable to genuinely prosecute. This will be determined by the judges. Unjustified delays in proceedings, as well as proceedings which are merely intended to shield persons from criminal responsibility will not render a case inadmissible before the Court.
The Court's jurisdiction will be limited to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. It will, therefore, have jurisdiction with respect to the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, all of which are fully defined in the Statute and further elaborated by the Elements of Crimes.
The Court only has jurisdiction over natural persons aged 18 and above. Official capacity as a Head of State or Government, a member of a Government or parliament, an elected representative or a government official does not exempt a person from criminal responsibility.
Commanders and superiors will also be held liable for criminal offences committed by forces under their effective command and control or effective authority and control.
Preconditions to Exercise of Jurisdiction
The Court may exercise its jurisdiction with respect to the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes either when the situation is referred to the Prosecutor by a State party or by the Security Council, or when the Prosecutor decides to initiate an investigation of his or her own decision and on the basis of information received. However, in this last case, the Prosecutor must seek the authorization of the Pre-Trial Chamber before proceeding with the investigation.
When the situation is referred to the Prosecutor by the Security Council, the Court may exercise its jurisdiction in all cases and no preconditions are applicable.
However, in the two other cases, when the Prosecutor decides to initiate an investigation on his or her own decision with the authorization of the Pre-Trial Chamber, or when the situation is referred to the Prosecutor by a State party, strict preconditions shall be met before the Court can exercise its jurisdiction.
Indeed, in those two cases, the Court may exercise its jurisdiction only if either the State on the territory of which the suspected crime occurred (State of territoriality), or the State of which the person suspected of having committed the crime is a national (State of nationality of the suspected person), is a State party to the Statute.
If neither of these two States is a State party to the Statute, the Court will not be in a position to investigate the suspected crimes, except if either the State of territoriality or the State of nationality of the suspected person accepts the exercise of jurisdiction of the Court by declaration lodged with the Registrar. Such a declaration may be made for all suspected crimes committed after 1 July 2002 (taking into consideration that crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court are not subject to any statute of limitations).
Thus, if nationals of States parties to the Statute are victims of suspected crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court in the territory of a State which is not a party to the Statute committed by persons who are not nationals of a State party, the Court would not be in a position to investigate except if either the State of territoriality or the State of nationality of the suspected person accepts the jurisdiction of the Court, or if the situation is referred to the Court by the Security Council.
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