Uganda: Can ICC Indict Museveni?

President Yoweri Museveni delivering the State of the Nation address in 2017.
10 November 2019

Several individuals and groups have in the past petitioned the International Criminal Court (ICC) over President Museveni and other officials in his government but the court has not acted.

Then why should anyone pay attention to a similar move that a number of politicians have announced?

"We want two million Ugandans to sign the petition and then see how the (ICC) prosecutor's office will dismiss it as just another complaint," Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, told Sunday Monitor.

Mr Lukwago, also the deputy president of the mock administration dubbed People's Government, said at a media briefing, where a press statement, copies of the document he says they intend to submit to the ICC, was released.

The media briefing was attended by four-time presidential candidate and Mr Museveni's arch rival, Dr Kizza Dr Besigye and other members of the People's Government.

"We shall transport a truckful of evidence; that's when you will see the amount of work we have done in assembling all this," Mr Lukwago said.

He added: "We have compiled cogent and overwhelming evidence to support indictment [of Museveni and others] on the aforesaid crimes against humanity, which include damning reports of different local and international human rights organisations and humanitarian agencies, individual accounts and testimonies of victims of state-inspired violence and torture, dossiers by whistleblowers and good Samaritans within the security agencies, as well as graphic, visual and audio recordings."

The petition

Mr Lukwago said the People's Government, led by Dr Besigye, has consulted with leaders of different Opposition formations and expects that they will turn up to sign the petition beginning next week.

The signing, Mr Lukwago said, will take place at the offices of the People's Government in Nakasero, Kampala. For one to sign a petition, they will be required to have a National Identity card.

The copy of the petition supplied to journalists lists torture, suppression and extrajudicial killings as some of the grounds for petitioning the office of the prosecutor at ICC.

The other grounds are invasion of Parliament and what the petitioners call desecration or abrogation of the Constitution, use of the state security apparatus and militia groups to persecute, dehumanise and humiliate political opponents, members of civil society organisations and the citizenry, and enforced disappearances and curtailment of civil liberties.

In Mr Lukwago's classification, the Special Forces Command, which protects the President and key installations such as oil fields, is a militia group, just like the Local Defence Units, the former Flying Squad Unit of the police and paramilitary Crime Preventers.

He argues that President Museveni has entrenched himself in office by unleashing violence against Ugandans and has continued to use the security forces to terrorise people who have contrary views to what he believes in.

"As a means of holding onto the illegitimately and illegally assumed power, Gen Museveni and his accomplices have continuously unleashed violence and terror against the citizens of Uganda to keep them muzzled and subdued," Mr Lukwago says.

'Absolute nonsense'

We were unable to get any government spokesperson to comment on the petition. Attorney General William Byaruhanga and his deputy Mwesigwa Rukutana did not pick up our repeated phone calls and never responded to our WhatsApp messages on the matter.

Mr Ofwono Opondo, the head of the Uganda Media Centre, declined to comment, saying he was on leave.

However, Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka, a lawyer and avid supporter of the ruling NRM party, who often defends it in court, said there is not much to make out of the development.

Mr Kiryowa said: "I have not read what they are saying. I do not know what issues they are raising but from what you are telling me, it is absolute nonsense. You can quote me on that. We have systems that work here. Why do you go out and fight your cheap political wars? You cannot use the country to fight your political wars. That is absolute nonsense."

Possibilities

Mr Lukwago explains that they intend to continue with their internal push against President Museveni's government but that the decision to also appeal to the ICC was informed by the frustrations they have suffered in the local courts.

The Lord Mayor was one of the lawyers who represented the petitioners who challenged the removal of the 75-year limit for presidential candidates in 2017, arguing, among other things, that it was done violently.

Both the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court maintained the deletion of the clause in the Constitution by majority decisions, and the petitioners said they were dissatisfied.

Mr Male Mabirizi, one of the petitioners, has since referred the matter to the East African Court of Justice in another case of exporting Uganda's internal disagreements to courts outside the country.

Mr Lukwago argues that their effort is different from the earlier petitions that referred President Museveni and other officials to the ICC not because of the sheer number (two million) of the people they want to append their signatures but also because of the comprehensiveness of the petition.

The draft petition is based on a number of incidents for which the petitioners say Mr Museveni is responsible, "the most recent one being the infamous Kasese massacre and army attack on Parliament".

Mr Lukwago says similar massacres have been carried out in Acholi Sub-region, Teso, Lango, West Nile, Luweero Triangle and none of the masterminds and perpetrators of the same have been brought to book.

He recognises, however, that the approach they are pursuing is not one of the most straightforward for referring cases to the ICC.

Ordinarily, cases are supposed to be referred to the court by governments of state parties to the Rome Statute of 2002, which set up the court, or the Security Council of the United Nations.

Uganda fully joined ICC in January 2004 and became the first country to refer a case to the same court, which led to the indictment by the court of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony and five of his commanders, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Mr Museveni's accusers have for long demanded that he too be investigated on the same cases, and a complaint was lodged with the ICC to that effect. The petition that Mr Lukwago presented also recasts an eye to the atrocities that were visited on the people of northern Uganda.

Mr Lukwago reckons that the ICC's prosecutor will make an exception and consider their case if millions of citizens sign it.

Indictments in vain?

It is not clear whether it is for politics or it can happen, but in the past the ICC prosecutor's office has received several petitions from individuals and groups and promised to process them, although none has ever gotten beyond that stage.

However, even if the petition that Mr Lukwago announced on Friday were to beat the odds and becomes the first ever of its category to ignite a full scale investigation by the ICC, other issues would linger.

Indictments by the ICC have not attracted too much respect from member states in the recent years, with President Museveni leading some sort of revolt against the court in this region.

Speaking during the 2014 independence anniversary celebrations in Kenya, President Museveni said:

"I will bring a motion to the African Union's next session. I want all of us to get out of that court of the West. Let them stay with their court ... I supported the court at first because I like discipline. I don't want people to err without accountability. But they have turned it into a vessel for oppressing Africa again, so I'm done with that court. I won't work with them again."

During his inauguration May 2016, Mr Museveni said at Kololo: "The problems that occurred in Kenya in 2007 and that happen in other African countries are, first and foremost, ideological. For ICC to handle them as just legal matters is the epitome of shallowness."

On that occasion, former Sudanese president Omar al Bashir, who was indicted by the ICC and had to be arrested and handed over by member states, was in attendance.

He' of course, was not arrested, and he visited several other countries in his last years in office to deliver a kick in the teeth of the ICC.

Attempts

1. In August 2008, ICC cleared Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) of their roles in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) war.

This came after the Ugandan judicial officers questioned why ICC was not investigating the army yet it was doing the same to LRA.

The ICC officials said no one had brought evidence against UPDF, but admitted that the government soldiers were not clean either.

2. In January 2017, MPs from Kasese petitioned the ICC to investigate President Museveni in his capacity as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, senior Police officer Asuman Mugenyi and Brigadier Peter Elwelu of crimes which include genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of human rights among others.

3. In 2014, Norman Magembe, a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender advocate, petitioned the ICC to investigate David Bahati, Giles Muhame and Pastor Martin Ssempa over what he called attempts to kill gays in Uganda. However, it is not clear if the case made any headway.

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