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Uganda won’t withdraw from ICC — Kadaga

President Museveni has severally criticised The Hague-based court and threatened to withdraw from it.

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THE HAGUE – Uganda will not be withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the foreseeable future, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga has said, reaffirming the government’s commitment to the Rome Statute that established The Hague-based court.

Kadaga’s remarks, from the Netherlands during the commemoration of 20 years of the Rome Statute, clears any doubts as to government’s commitment to ICC despite several reservations in the recent past.

“I want to begin by reassuring the President [of the ICC] that Uganda will not withdraw from the Rome Statute but we will continue working together,” Kadaga is quoted as saying in a statement released by Parliament on Wednesday.

“I also want to reassure you that because of that collaboration, we are the first country to issue a reference for arbitration to the ICC and we have continued to cooperate to date.”

Uganda referred the Lords Resistance Army rebels to the ICC for prosecution and Joseph Kony and his stooges were subsequently indicted by the court.

Currently, former LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo is facing war crimes charges at The Hague-based court.

Uganda has had run-ins with ICC, with President Yoweri Museveni publicly taking exception with The Hague-based court over its indictment of a sitting African heads of state.

Most notable of the African leaders is Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who remains indicted by ICC and is barred by protocol from travelling to states that have ratified the Rome Statute. The ICC laws mandate judicial officers of such countries to arrest Bashir on their soil and hand him over to The Hague.

However, President Museveni, like many African leaders, has been critical of this and maintains that ICC is biased toward African leaders.

He has on many occasions hosted Bashir in Kampala in breach of ICC rules.

Speaker Kadaga with (L-R) Uganda’s Ambassador to the European Union, Amb Miriam Blaak Sow; Peter Lewis, ICC Prosecutor; and Fatou Bensouda, ICC Chief Prosecutor, at The Hague | COURTESY

‘Government discomfort’

And, speaking in the Netherlands, Kadaga lost no opportunity to voice government discomfort with the court.

Of course, we are part of the African Union and there have sometimes been difficult situations between the ICC and the African Union. There are areas of reservation,” said Kadaga, in relation to a February 2017 African Union decision to withdraw from the ICC.

Uganda voted in favour of the withdrawal after a divisive motion sponsored by Kenya was debated by the Heads of State Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The ICC has always criticised Uganda for warming up to Sudanese President Omar Bashir, who is wanted by the court for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.

“A bunch of useless people,” Museveni once called the ICC. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, whose country is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, said the court was never about “justice but politics disguised as international justice.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, who once faced indictment by the ICC, castigated the court as a “tool of global power politics and not the justice it was built to dispense.”

Kadaga described Bashir as “an important actor” in the region, stressing his centrality in prospects for peace in the war torn and volatile South Sudan.

Khartoum and Kampala, previously at diplomatic crossroads, are now working to facilitate the recent shaky peace deal between former Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir led forces.

Kadaga said Uganda stands for a position where “justice is not sacrificed at the altar of peace, and peace is not sacrificed at the altar of justice.”

ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda lauded the statute, saying it has “stayed the course and the ICC is moving ahead with determination”.

Bensouda, a Gambian, credited the court with “creating norms, casting a deterrent shadow across the globe.”

During the first inauguration of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, Museveni said Africa supported the Court in the spirit of abhorring impunity, but that the Court has since ‘lost track and is being used as a tool of foreign domination’.

Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto became the first ever sitting heads of government to appear before the Court, although charges against the duo were later dropped for lack of evidence.

In October 2016, Burundi and South Africa formally wrote to the United Nations Secretary-General to communicate their decision to withdraw from the ICC. Around the same time, The Gambia, a tiny country tucked inside Senegal off the West African coast, also indicated that it would withdraw, only to reverse course almost immediately after a newly elected government assumed power.

Since then, the feared exodus from the ICC by African countries has not materialised. Not even after AU reportedly agreed on a strategy calling for a collective withdrawal from the court.

Meanwhile, compelled by its own courts for having failed to follow proper legal procedures, South Africa ended up revoking its notice of withdrawal in March.

The ICC’s appointment of Justice Bensouda was seen as an attempt to give it an African face.

Uganda, so much for its reservations about ICC, however, keeps seconding the appointment of its judges to The Hague-based court. Currently, Justice Solome Bbosa sits on the ICC bench.

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