18 April 2005

Uganda: Court Rules Out Kony Immunity

Hague — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Saturday he could suspend planned prosecutions linked to the war against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in Uganda to enable peace moves to succeed.

But Luis Moreno Ocampo ruled out any granting of immunity to war crimes suspects.

"As soon as there is a solution to end the violence and if the prosecution is not serving the interest of justice, then my duty is to stop investigation and prosecution," he said.

"I will stop but I will not close," he added. "Timing is possible but immunity is not possible."

Moreno Ocampo referred to the court's statutes, which say that the prosecutor may conclude there is not a sufficient basis for a prosecution because it is not in the interests of justice, taking into account all the circumstances, including the gravity of the crime and the interests of victims.

"The main interest of the victims now is their life," he said, not ruling out a resumption of prosecutions even in several years' time.

The prosecutor was speaking after talks with northern Uganda leaders who have expressed concern that the ICC's attempt to prosecute LRA rebel leaders will harm the fragile peace efforts in the region.

The leaders included MPs Jacob Oulanyah (Omoro), Hillary Onek (Lamwo), Cecilia Atim-Ogwal (Lira Municipality) Betty Amongi Ongom (Apac), Samuel Anyolo (Soroti county) Alice Alaso (Soroti) and Jesca Eriyo (Adjumani). It also included religious and traditional leaders from Teso, Lango, Acholi and West Nile.

Acholi chief Rwot David Acana II told AFP he was "satisfied" with the outcome of the talks.

He had said earlier this month that "issuing arrest warrants against rebel leaders will be the last nail in the coffin of the peace process."

The Rev. Charles Obaikol-Ebitu, representing the Iteso, said on Saturday, "Ugandans are eager to end the war. At any cost, even at the cost of justice."

A joint statement said the ICC prosecutor and community leaders "have agreed to work together as part of a common effort to achieve justice and an end of violence in northern Uganda."

In July 2004 the ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes court, opened investigations into crimes in northern Uganda.

Ocampo had also said arrest warrants would be issued against half a dozen people responsible for war crimes.

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