Global Policy Forum

ICC Hopes for Uganda Trial in 6 Months, Then Congo


By Peter Apps

January 26, 2005

The International Criminal Court hopes to start its first war crimes trial in Uganda within six months, its chief prosecutor said on Wednesday. The court also hopes to begin prosecutions in the Democratic Republic of Congo within a year, chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told Reuters in an interview. "With Uganda, I hope we can start in less than six months," he said in the South African capital Pretoria. "Congo could take a little longer." The prosecutions will be the first tried by the Hague-based tribunal, set up as the first permanent global criminal court to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and massive human rights abuses.

In Uganda, the court would investigate possible abuses by government forces, but its main effort would be focused on prosecuting leaders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) because they had committed graver offences, he said. The LRA, which has systematically targeted civilians and kidnapped children to serve as fighters, porters and sex slaves, was responsible for 3,000 child abductions and 2,000 killings in the last two and half years, he said, but in some cases there might be mitigating circumstances. "We have to prove that they are guilty and they can explain their own reasons," he said. "Even some of the top commanders were abducted when they were kids."

The court can operate only in countries that have signed up to it, unless ordered to do so by the United Nations Security Council. It would require this to investigate abuses in Sudan's Darfur region. "Sudan is not a member of the treaty," said Moreno Ocampo, who once prosecuted members of the former military junta in his native Argentina. "But the Security Council can refer me to any state in the world." The United States has also refused to sign the treaty, saying it would expose U.S. soldiers and officials to frivolous lawsuits.

Currently, the Hague-based court is investigating cases only in Uganda and Congo, but had recently also received requests from the governments of the Central African Republic and Ivory Coast to investigate crimes in their countries, he said.

In Congo, the court will investigate alleged abuses by various groups during a long war which officially ended two years ago and killed some three million people. The court aims to bring to justice the ringleaders behind abuses -- senior commanders and the financiers and politicians who back them -- rather than ordinary soldiers or individuals, who would hopefully be dealt with through their own states' legal systems, he said. The court, which can only investigate crimes that occurred since it was created in mid-2002, has had its statutes ratified by almost 100 countries, including the entire European Union.

More Information on International Justice
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More Information on International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts
More Information on Uganda


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