24 June 2009

Uganda: 'War Crimes Court Should Try UPDF'

Gulu — Civil society groups on Monday made a call for the judiciary to extend the mandate of its recently established Special Division for War Crimes, to try all suspects including elements within the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF).

Resistance Army delegates provided for the creation of a special court as an alternative to the International Criminal Court (ICC), to try LRA fighters indicted for war crimes.

But human rights activists and local leaders are irked by the provision that denies the court mandate over some UPDF soldiers also accused of maiming and killing hapless people during the two-decade conflict in northern Uganda.

The executive director of one of the civil society groups, Human Rights Focus, Mr James Otto, said on Monday that the court would shoot itself in the foot should it deal only with one party in the conflict as far as accountability is concerned.

"I appreciate the ICC but it did injustice to itself when it considered looking at only one party in the war theatre," Mr Otto said at a meeting of stakeholders held at Gulu Local Government Council.

He added: "If the special court division wants duplication, then it will not deliver justice to complainants against UPDF."

But the head of the War Crimes Division, Justice Akiiki Kiiza, reiterated that they are committed to trying all individuals suspected to have committed heinous crimes.

"We are not working for the ICC or against it. According to clause 7 on accountability and reconciliation, we are not restricted to try only three LRA commanders," Justice Kiiza said on Monday.

"We agree it's beyond us as stated in the Juba Peace Agreement. You should have asked those who signed it to explain why they wanted UPDF tried in the Military Court Martial."

Justice Kiiza was supported by Justice Elizabeth Ibanda who said the UPDF has created a desk to handle human rights abuses that were committed by errant officers during the war and in line with the best practices as captured in the Geneva Convention.

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